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hunter scouting for elk
Image courtesy MTNTOUGH.com

The best advice we can give elk hunters before the start of a new season is to plan, plan, plan. It’s not enough to pick a spot on a map and hope for the best come opening day, even if you’ve hunted there in prior seasons. Elk populations move on or increase/decrease in numbers. Some hunting areas may have been impacted by weather, fires or land purchases that took place earlier in the year. Scouting for elk is as much a part of the hunt as quartering a bull after a successful shot—it’s not a chore, it’s a necessity.

That being said, let’s kick off this gear list starting with…

A Decent Pack

5.11 Skyweight 36L Pack

You don’t need to bring along your elk pack for this excursion, a relatively lightweight pack with ample storage space will suffice. With all the venturing you’re about to do and the gear you’ll need to stow, you’ll want a sturdy pack like the 5.11 Skyweight 36L Pack that’s as ready for the elk woods as you are. Within this pack, we recommend stowing small life-saving necessities like:

Now that that’s settled, let’s get down to business with mission-critical items such as…

Maps & GPS Devices

Many sporting goods stores sell maps of various hunting areas and, despite living in the digital age, we all still need to know how to read a paper map. Paper doesn’t require batteries, folks. Know what else doesn’t require batteries? A compass. They’re available in all sizes so you have zero excuses about not packing one.

garmin inreach mini 2

That being said, let us all give thanks to technology for the invention of GPS devices like the Garmin InReach Mini 2 and apps like OnX. These devices allow you to explore various areas without having to spend several hours in the truck seeking out viable hunting territory. Plus, in the off-chance you get lost, you can find your way back to the truck or call in for help.

Once you’ve decided on a hunting area, it’s time to get moving and see the location for yourself. This brings us to the next item on our gear list…

Food & Water

Camelbak Crux Hydration Reservoir

Pack lightweight, protein-packed foods and plenty of water. Bring whatever your dietary needs require but for the love of all that is holy, bring lots of water and keep extra gallon jugs in the truck. If bulky water bottles aren’t your thing, opt for a hydration bladder like a Camelbak Crux Hydration Reservoir that you can easily slip into your pack. You may not realize it, but your body works harder at altitude which means dehydration rears its ugly head faster than it does at lower altitudes.

Now that we’ve taken care of the inside of your body, let’s talk about the outside of it…

What To Wear

Despite it being summer, you still need to pack clothing that is suitable for varying temperatures, particularly at high altitudes. There’s a joke in many mountain states about switching from heat to A/C within the same day, even in summer. Check the weather before heading out, but bring extra layers just in case.

Merrell Oakcreek Mid Waterproof Boots

As for footwear, bring sturdy, waterproof boots with good ankle support like the Merrell Oakcreek Mid Waterproof Boots because you will be walking a lot. Don’t take this opportunity to break in your new hunting boots (that’s a different article), we don’t want you to risk blistering up your feet miles away from the truck. For now, comfort is king.

On the topic of comfort, another thing about trekking at high altitudes is that you are a lot closer to the sun. This means packing a hat to shield your eyes from glare and sunscreen to prevent sunburn.

Speaking of eyes, let’s discuss another critical item for this excursion…


When it comes to scouting for elk, you have to bear in mind that you are observing not hunting. This means you need to look for various vantage points that allow you to view long distances. It’s one thing to view the terrain from a well-worn hiking trail, it’s another issue altogether to view it from a few hundred feet above. To help with this endeavor, you’re going to need a decent pair of binoculars plus a harness to keep them at the ready.

Leupold BX-2 Alpine Binoculars

We recommend the Leupold BX-2 Alpine Binoculars with its Advanced Optical System which eliminates glare and maximizes true light transmission for ideal clarity. These binos deliver optimal high-definition, edge-to-edge image clarity and they increase glassing time at dawn and dusk by up to 20 minutes. Not bad!

On the topic of observation, let’s move on to our next item…

Notebook & Pen

Save battery life on your phone by bringing a good old-fashioned notebook and an ink-filled pen to take notes of what you see while scouting. Jot down elk behavior patterns, water sources, trail markers, bedding areas, predator signs, and other observations to help you plan out your hunt. You’re going to be on the move quite a bit which means you’re going to see all kinds of things, so keep track of as much information as possible. Be sure to bring along a plastic bag for storing your notebook in case a surprise rain shower comes your way and ruins your notes.

Speaking of being on the move, let’s discuss the last item on our gear list…

Trekking Poles

Trekking poles do more than just reduce fatigue from extensive hiking. They can also help judge the depth of water, clear trails, and provide much-needed stability on slippery or unsteady ground.

 PEAX SISSY STIX Backcountry Z Cork Collapsible Trekking Poles

We suggest the PEAX SISSY STIX Backcountry Z Cork Collapsible Trekking Poles as they are lightweight, absorb vibration, and can be easily stowed away when not in use.

Well, folks, that’s about all we’ve got. By all means, adjust your gear list based on the specific terrain, weather conditions, and duration of your scouting trip. For those of you planning on a multi-day elk scouting excursion, make sure all your camping gear is in good condition, and remember to clean up after yourself before heading home. Above all things when scouting for elk, always prioritize safety, comfort and compliance with local regulations.

Check out this helpful article from MTNTOUGH on exploring the challenges of elk hunting and how to up your chances of a successful hunt >>> mtntough.com/blogs/mtntough-blog/elk-hunting-difficulty

Disclaimer: We may earn a modest commission on the sales generated by our affiliate links. Thanks for supporting us!

Yes, You Can Hunt Elk On Your Own
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