Make the Wind your Friend
by Mark Kayser
Rather than tend camp at mid-day, consider heading into the elk lair.
“It’s over until tonight,” said my guide. The “it” in question was the hunt. The reason? Rising temperatures causing unpredictable shifts in the mountain thermals combined with breezes from a changing weather pattern. Some guys just don’t like
Understanding thermals should help you navigate elk country hour-by-hour. Specifically, it will tell you which direction to travel when approaching a herd. You simply need to know the course of the wind to creep within bow range of an elk, undisputed champ of the olfactory challenge.
In basic terms, morning thermals are created by cool temperatures that spur air to descend down a mountain, carrying scent with it. As the sun and daytime temperatures warm surrounding surfaces, thermals begin an upslope journey that continues much of the day. Toward nightfall, cooling once again causes air to plunge.
Weather fronts, brisk breezes, prevailing winds and other meteorological events combine to create questionable shifts in air movement—the very reason many elk veterans call it quits at midday. If you don’t have time to dawdle on your annual archery elk hunt you may find one of the following strategies useful when the midday wind swirls.
Scout for steep, deep and sheer elk country. It’s not a guarantee, but cliffs, deep valleys, gorges and other radical terrain features may actually act as a funnel to capture and move wind in a consistent direction during uncertain periods of the day. In open forest settings, wind direction may bounce as cooler air bumps against warmer pockets. A cliff, on the other hand, can direct wind along its face giving you a section of country to hunt until thermals again dominate at dusk.
One location in Colorado I’ve hunted several times sits below a sheer granite cliff. Pockets of timber scattered amongst boulder fields create cool bedding cover for herds and the cliff location provides consistent wind direction when winds elsewhere are dicey.
Wallows can also be good bets. Visit a wallow at midday to determine if the prevailing air flow is consistent enough (or the locale provides a pocket of stillness) for a ground-based approach to work. If not, embrace your inner whitetail hunter and take to the trees. A treestand may give you the edge to sail your scent high over the heads of incoming elk, or at least send it farther up the mountain and away from your location. If packing a treestand isn’t an option, look for steep faces and ledges above a wallow to give you the same height advantage.
Elk prefer to bed in locations where they have command of the wind instead of a surprise draft every few minutes, which is why learning the area you’re hunting is so key. Knowing past bedding haunts or actually dogging a herd to its bedroom gives you the advantage of wind reconnaissance. Back away from the suspected hideout and reconnoiter the area for a locale with a reliable, downwind advantage. Move to within hearing distance of the likely herd lair and call.
You can imitate a stray cow, an irritable satellite bull or merely rake a tree to sound like a riled suitor. Use any clues from the morning bugling ruckus to determine the bull’s brashness and match the calling strategy. And remember, elk can hear you, sometimes even see you, and not spook. But one whiff of you and the party’s over.