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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Just wanted to throw a question out for those who hunt water holes. I have always spot and stalked big game. I never have sat on a water hole and maybe it is because I don't have enough patience. I have a archery elk hunt coming up and the area I am looking has a bit of water. Some look better than others as they are tucked in some trees and away from where I would suspect more pressure being. I am just curious on if there are any tips you guys would be willing to give on hunting water holes. Is there certain things to look for at water or Is it as simple as just sitting and waiting? Is there something more special that I have missed. I am all self taught in the big game hunting world and hunting water or out of a treestand/ground blind has never been something I am particularly good at. I like to learn new things and this will be my first archery hunt. I am shooting great and comfortable with broadheads out to 70. Working on increases that, not to shoot at an animal that far, just because the further I go the more comfortable I am at closer ranges. Any help or advice would be awesome from you guys. Thanks
 

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You’re going to need to find water that they want to use. Seems like common sense, but that can be pretty difficult at times. What determines if that, has some to do with location and how far away from pressure it is and other factors I still don’t understand. Elk are strange animals, and what you would assume makes logical sense when trying to figure them out, couldn’t be further than what they are actually doing.

for example. I located a spring a couple years ago on google earth. I know elk are in the area, I’ve been hunting it 10 years. There’s feed near by that they always feed in. There’s thick pines on a north facing slope that they bed in. Way off the beaten path from other hunters. I figured this spring would be money. I was actually a little irritated that I hadn’t found it sooner when hunting there. I’ve walked past it many times. Just didn’t ever see it was there. Put up a cam first of June. Went back the end of July. I had maybe 20 elk total in 2 months. Now that isn’t uncommon, many times elk move after they strip velvet, feed dries up in other areas, bulls start to gather cows, etc… so I kept the faith and put up a stand. I could tell the area had previously been used by bulls for wallows, good trails headed in there. I was confident it would be a good spot. The elk never showed. Turns out the cattle hammered it really hard. The deer loved it. And it had several frequent bears. But the elk never hit it like I thought. A bull or 2 would come in once every couple weeks, tear the place up and leave. Left a cam on it for 2 more years just to see if the first year was an off year. Same thing. So I crossed it off the list. What’s even stranger is 1/4 mile from there is another water source that is incredible and has elk hit it every day.

another example. I found a spring years ago while blood trailing a calf my buddy shot. I didn’t love the location of it. Very close to a very popular trail. The area gets hammered with other hunters. No cover 100 yards to the north of it for at least a mile. Not much cover surrounding it…. Over run with cattle. Feed is almost nonexistent once they move in. It’s steep. I Just didn’t like it. But, I did know some big bulls had been killed in the area every fall, so the next year when I drew a big bull tag, I put up a cam on it just because. That spot turned out to be one of the best elk water holes that I know about still to this day. Consistently every year, it’s loaded with elk.

I would try to find an area that is known to hold elk. I’d make sure they have a feeding area near by and plenty of cover close too. It also really helps if you can locate a place that has feed and cover, but also a limited water supply within the entire vicinity. If they are limited on options with water sources, that greatly increases your odds that they will hit the place you are hunting. With the new camera laws, if I found a place I was interested in, I would put up a cam before the bowhunt starts and let it sit on the spot the entire fall and not check it until the following year when it’s legal to check it again. That will give you a very good idea if the spot is worth investing time in or if you need to be looking somewhere else.
 

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All I can offer is to expect company. There is no secret water on any unit.

That being said get there early and stay late if that is how you decide to hunt.
I disagree. I’ve got a few springs that I have had cams on since 2007 and never got a picture of another hunter. You’re probably correct that no springs are 100% undiscovered. But there are still some that never see hunter traffic.

sitting water isn’t as popular for the majority of hunters. I don’t think many guys have the patience to sit still all day long. Spot and stalk is the wet dream fantasy that most bowhunters prefer as the method of hunting.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
You’re going to need to find water that they want to use. Seems like common sense, but that can be pretty difficult at times. What determines if that, has some to do with location and how far away from pressure it is and other factors I still don’t understand. Elk are strange animals, and what you would assume makes logical sense when trying to figure them out, couldn’t be further than what they are actually doing.

for example. I located a spring a couple years ago on google earth. I know elk are in the area, I’ve been hunting it 10 years. There’s feed near by that they always feed in. There’s thick pines on a north facing slope that they bed in. Way off the beaten path from other hunters. I figured this spring would be money. I was actually a little irritated that I hadn’t found it sooner when hunting there. I’ve walked past it many times. Just didn’t ever see it was there. Put up a cam first of June. Went back the end of July. I had maybe 20 elk total in 2 months. Now that isn’t uncommon, many times elk move after they strip velvet, feed dries up in other areas, bulls start to gather cows, etc… so I kept the faith and put up a stand. I could tell the area had previously been used by bulls for wallows, good trails headed in there. I was confident it would be a good spot. The elk never showed. Turns out the cattle hammered it really hard. The deer loved it. And it had several frequent bears. But the elk never hit it like I thought. A bull or 2 would come in once every couple weeks, tear the place up and leave. Left a cam on it for 2 more years just to see if the first year was an off year. Same thing. So I crossed it off the list. What’s even stranger is 1/4 mile from there is another water source that is incredible and has elk hit it every day.

another example. I found a spring years ago while blood trailing a calf my buddy shot. I didn’t love the location of it. Very close to a very popular trail. The area gets hammered with other hunters. No cover 100 yards to the north of it for at least a mile. Not much cover surrounding it…. Over run with cattle. Feed is almost nonexistent once they move in. It’s steep. I Just didn’t like it. But, I did know some big bulls had been killed in the area every fall, so the next year when I drew a big bull tag, I put up a cam on it just because. That spot turned out to be one of the best elk water holes that I know about still to this day. Consistently every year, it’s loaded with elk.

I would try to find an area that is known to hold elk. I’d make sure they have a feeding area near by and plenty of cover close too. It also really helps if you can locate a place that has feed and cover, but also a limited water supply within the entire vicinity. If they are limited on options with water sources, that greatly increases your odds that they will hit the place you are hunting. With the new camera laws, if I found a place I was interested in, I would put up a cam before the bowhunt starts and let it sit on the spot the entire fall and not check it until the following year when it’s legal to check it again. That will give you a very good idea if the spot is worth investing time in or if you need to be looking somewhere else.
Thanks Moose! The area has everything you mention other than it has a lot of water. I have been looking around for sign and wallows and things like that. I have just never had the patience to sit all day in one spot. I guess if I find something promising I will just have to try it. The area is a high pressure unit so I know I may see people. The only thing is there isn't supposed to be any atv or motorized roads in this one area I am looking. I have never been in there during the hunts so it is new. Just trying to gain some pointers on a different way of hunting to have options.
 

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Thanks Moose! The area has everything you mention other than it has a lot of water. I have been looking around for sign and wallows and things like that. I have just never had the patience to sit all day in one spot. I guess if I find something promising I will just have to try it. The area is a high pressure unit so I know I may see people. The only thing is there isn't supposed to be any atv or motorized roads in this one area I am looking. I have never been in there during the hunts so it is new. Just trying to gain some pointers on a different way of hunting to have options.
Even in places with lots of water, they still have holes they prefer over others. Kinda like when we have 5 gas stations in town, but prefer to use just the 1 for whatever reason. That one might even not have the cheapest gas, but you still go there because it feels safer, it has a certain drink we like, the cute girls hang out there…. If you find a place that you like and the animal sigh is there, throw up a stand and try it. You never know until you do.

if elk are use to people being the area in general, they seem to tolerate hunters a little more compared to places where they have almost no human contact other than hunters. I’ve noticed that in places where they do see people regularly, let’s say you bumped them mid day out of their bed, they hang around a little longer before running off. Lots of people traffic in areas isn’t always necessarily a bad thing. It’s when you have guys consistently blowing elk out of the same place day after day trying to kill them, that’s when elk change their patterns or move locations.
 

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I've happened upon springs in the woods that I never knew were there. The one is where you would never think one would be. Tons of track and activity for sure and off the beaten path. These types of locations are what you want to find.
 

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Where I usually hunt the trees are pretty thick and spotting elk out a ways isn’t common. So sitting a spot is necessary especially when the ground is dry and crunchy. There are usually only certain water sources that they use. Like other have stated many factors play in regarding which they use. I seem to find that the elk like fresh/ moving water. Small trickling springs and sources where the cattle don’t muddy it.
One thing I try to keep in mind is animals can be wary when coming in to the water. So I try to be back a ways setting up on one of the trails leading to/from depending on time of the day and wind direction. i
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Where I usually hunt the trees are pretty thick and spotting elk out a ways isn’t common. So sitting a spot is necessary especially when the ground is dry and crunchy. There are usually only certain water sources that they use. Like other have stated many factors play in regarding which they use. I seem to find that the elk like fresh/ moving water. Small trickling springs and sources where the cattle don’t muddy it.
One thing I try to keep in mind is animals can be wary when coming in to the water. So I try to be back a ways setting up on one of the trails leading to/from depending on time of the day and wind direction. i
Flyin, this actually helps a bit. This area I am looking at has super thick trees on one side of the canyon. It has some small streams running through it and I know elk are in there I just don't know how pressured it gets in there. It also has some benches in the thick trees with small meadows that I have seen elk in. That obviously is where I want to focus more. I am not ruling out other parts of this area. As a whole it looks promising and leads to other areas that may produce as well.
You brought up an interesting point about being back a little bit on a trail. Would you setup in a spot that is close enough to water to shoot if you had a shot and close enough to the trail if one came walking in? or do you try to just be in the area of the water hole but hunt the trails? I am hoping I stumble on a stream that I haven't found yet that can produce. I am trying to work on patience with archery hunting. That is probably my number one weakness, which is funny as I can sit in a boat all day fishing or waiting for a duck to fly over. Something with big game creates a mindset that I need to be moving and searching. Hopefully, I can find a decent little area that looks like the elk are coming in to and sit it long enough.
 

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We hunt elk in an area with lots of water. Where the elk water or what water they are using changes from year to year and day-to-day. In this area it would be really hard to "pattern" what the elk or a specific bull is doing because they don't do the same thing regularly...probably because there is so much water. I would recommend getting in the area you plan to hunt and checking the different water sources for fresh sign. If you see it, don't be afraid to stay there and wait it out.

I have also noticed with elk that they will often water in the middle of the day....sometimes we get stuck on hunting first light and last light of the day expecting those times to give the most action. But, I have seen whole herds of elk hit watering holes at the hottest part of the day.
 

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sitting water isn’t as popular for the majority of hunters. I don’t think many guys have the patience to sit still all day long. Spot and stalk is the wet dream fantasy that most bowhunters prefer as the method of hunting.
And while the guys that are out bungling one stalk after another are booing the elk all over hell and getting frustrated, the guys with the discipline to sit in one place for hours on end are busy being the 10 percent of the hunters that kill 90 percent of the elk.

Most everything has already been covered. Find water that the elk are actually using, then wear a groove into a comfy spot with your butt. Preferably in a tree stand.
 

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We hunt elk in an area with lots of water. Where the elk water or what water they are using changes from year to year and day-to-day. In this area it would be really hard to "pattern" what the elk or a specific bull is doing because they don't do the same thing regularly...probably because there is so much water. I would recommend getting in the area you plan to hunt and checking the different water sources for fresh sign. If you see it, don't be afraid to stay there and wait it out.

I have also noticed with elk that they will often water in the middle of the day....sometimes we get stuck on hunting first light and last light of the day expecting those times to give the most action. But, I have seen whole herds of elk hit watering holes at the hottest part of the day.
I guess it depends on the area. I hunt an area that has multiple water sources, but you can pretty much set your watch to one specific water hole getting hammered every year.
 
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