ELK HUNTING: Avoiding Crowds on Public Lands

FremontNF-BLMWhether you’re stalking a trophy bull, calling-in northern green-heads, or searching for a wily buck, one thing holds true for all – pressure matters. Sportsmen who hunt and fish public lands inherently understand this and for those crazy few of us interested in success, avoiding crowds is often strategy #1 for ensuring success

If you are looking for the next ‘secret spot’ on public lands, the following series of posts on how to avoid the crowds on public lands may be of interest to you. Each is broken down by species, and each includes links to other valuable external resources, with many more tips.  


If you’ve hunted elk, you understand that elk avoid human disturbance perhaps more so than any other game species. Motorized disturbance has a greater impact on elk than foot or horse traffic; however, heavy human pressure of any kind can just as easily drive elk into more secluded areas. Finding these secluded areas often takes extra effort, research, and time. If you’re going to put the time and money into hunting elk, why not do it right?

Randy Newberg of On Your Own Adventures explains that he avoids human pressure by applying for less popular units with limited public access. He then looks for often overlooked access easements to otherwise “locked-up” public lands. While Randy has also gone to extreme of renting a helicopter (to prove a point) to access otherwise inaccessible lands, he explains that asking landowner permission can achieve the same results.

Hunter and video producer, Mark Seacat explains that he uses a similar strategy. He looks for difficult-to-access public areas that provide elk with much needed ‘security habitat.’ Seacat explains that “Most hunters limit themselves. They want an easy fix. But wild public lands give hunters who are willing to put their foot to the trail and work hard a great opportunity.”

While large blocks of wilderness are often a go-to for elk hunters seeking to avoid crowds, this past year I purchased tag for a very popular over-the-counter unit in Colorado and was warned by both locals and the wildlife manager that because there was such limited access into the wilderness area, it was difficult to avoid the crowds unless you had a horse. Horseless, we found another over-shadowed roadless area where a friend had found many elk and little pressure during the archery season.

Opening day of rifle brought substantially more pressure than expected, so by the second day we adapted and followed a private property boundary on a three-plus mile hike into a secluded, human-less chunk of public land, bordered by private and just full of elk. We targeted this area, hiking in and out each day, so not to disturb the elk while camping and with the help of a little fresh tracking snow, our hard work paid off with a tasty cow elk!

There may not be any truly secret spots on public lands, but if you are flexible, willing to walk the extra mile and prepared with research you might just be able to avoid the crowds - and find the elk.

Do you have tips for avoiding the crowds on public lands? Please share.  

About Caitlin Thompson