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April 2024
Author: Garth Jenson

“Hunting pressure” is typically used as a derogatory term and has different meanings, depending on the individual who is using it. The phrase I hear all too often with having the good fortune of being able to talk with a lot of hunters across the country is, “Hunting pressure is way higher now than it used to be.” This is a huge misconception that is thrown around as fact all the time in hunting circles. Let’s take Colorado for an example. I don’t think I have talked to one elk hunter in the last five years who hasn’t said the elk hunting pressure in Colorado hasn’t increased ten-fold over the past 20 years. The fact is, Colorado has lost just over 40,000 elk hunters since the earliest record they currently have available from 2005. I could go over every western state and repeat this same statistical data across the board. I think a more accurate phrase would be, “Hunters aren’t as comfortable with hunting pressure as they used to be.”

Now that we have established that hunting pressure is still existent but not to the level most hunters perceive it to be, we can talk about how to use that hunting pressure to our advantage.

Most hunters in the field try to avoid other hunters when selecting an area to hunt, but that is often easier said than done. When I realize that I’ve put all my eggs in this basket for the day or a multi-day spike camp and now I’ve got Fred and all his huntin’ buddies surrounding me, I have two choices. I can either boob about the crappy hunting and raw deal life has handed me, or I can suck it up and figure out where the other guys intend on hunting and use that to my benefit to allow them to push the game to refuge areas and possibly concentrate them even more. Nine times out of 10, this is going to require more work to be in the best position, but good things don’t come easy.

Chances are the other hunters have a primary approach to the hunting area, so I always take note of where the likely roads and trails are located that are being used to access the hunt area. They will most likely use these as jumping off points to attack the area, so I can assume that early in the morning, they will be somewhat close to these markers as they start the day. Then I look at my map and try and come up with a natural direction of flow those animals would use when fleeing this general area. Depending on the animal, this could be a temporary shift in location or a permanent one, but regardless, they will be on their feet for some time before they feel safe enough to relax and become more stationary. The wild card in this scenario is always what time the hunters start making their way into the hunt area and how far they will go. These scenarios will often play out over time, and I often adjust my hunt areas once these scenarios unfold a little more.

Once I feel comfortable that I have isolated a few likely refuge areas that can’t be seen from trails or roads, I then try and locate vantage points that allow me to glass that country effectively. Best case scenario is if my vantage point is within shooting distance to any likely approach or bedding areas if hunting with a rifle. Obviously, you can’t predict every move an animal will make but species do react to pressure similarly and have predictive patterns if you’ve paid attention to prior hunting experiences. One thing to keep in mind when hunting areas that have substantial hunting pressure is that success won’t come easy. Meaning, these animals have survived year in and year out and won’t show themselves very long during daylight hours, so you will have to put in the time and look at the same hillsides and patches of cover multiple days until they slip up. I try and focus on the small openings within the cover and saddles leading to and from these refuge areas.

I often have morning glassing/shooting knobs and afternoon glassing/shooting knobs. This is primarily if I determine that hunting pressure in that area has been heavier during the morning, early afternoon, or evening. I always want to situate myself in the best possible spot for a shot when those animals hit their escape routes. Conversely, I want to be sitting in the best possible vantage point to look into cover they might be using for bedding when the pressure is off and they are deeper in their bedding areas. Again, these are tactics I have picked up over time hunting areas multiple times and have witnessed them year after year using similar routes to get away from hunters. I have learned that all animals have primary escape routes they use over the years and know exactly where they are going when eluding hunters coming from any direction. The images in this article depict scenarios I have seen play out and where those animals have fled from hunting pressure and taken refuge to wait out the storm. I will go over these images and give the scenario in what unfolded. I won’t touch on all of them, but it will give you a good idea of what the scenarios are and what to look for.

In image 1, I had been scouting elk in this area and had found most of the elk sign throughout these burnt canyons stemming from the main trails. Most elk were located at least one-quarter mile up the draws and bedding on north- facing slopes. Camps started rolling in and posted up all along the trails close to water and I began to see a shift in bedding locations. Opening morning found hunters ascending the canyons, mostly working their way up the bottoms and glassing uphill to locate elk. Seeing this and noticing the overall direction, I began to shift my focus to the denser cover to the west. I looked over my onX and noticed a couple possible vantage points where we could ambush elk being pushed from their feed areas in the morning and intercept them on their way to bedding and cover. Day two found several elk filing past us as we waited on one of our vantage points and my daughter was able to take a nice bull on his way to their refuge area “R.”

Image 2 is a deer hunting spot I have hunted many times. The refuge area in this image is tough to hunt because it is flat and thick, but that is why they like holing up there. Most of the deer throughout the summer months will bed and feed on the east side closer to roads and trails. Once the hunts start, pressure starts ramping up from those same roads and trails and deer start to take refuge. Honestly, there are not a lot of glassing points or ambush spots for this area. However, I have had great luck turning up bucks in here with tracking and still hunting.

Image 3 is another spot I have hunted multiple times and have repeatedly found a common theme in where bucks will take refuge from hunting pressure. I believe this is a case when the refuge areas are so close to roads that they get overlooked, but at the same time they can’t be seen from the road. Many times, I have glassed these refuge spots early in the hunt and found very few bucks. As the hunt progressed, more and more bucks started showing up, and there were different bucks almost daily.

Image 4 is a prime example of elk filing out through pinch points along bluffs and moving into rougher terrain to hole up. I was actually hunting deer in this area and noticed a lot of outfitter drop camps along these trails (I can only assume it was because the terrain was not as steep and more manageable), of which most were hunting elk. As the season progressed, we witnessed day after day elk that were plentiful in this shaded area on the left side of the image getting driven into and past the glassing points we were posted up on. Often, herds of 20+ elk would come within 200-400 yards from us through these saddles. They then took refuge in timbered slopes in the shaded areas on the right of the image for the duration of the hunt.

Image 6 portrays an area I found bucks held up in after hunting pressure had kicked in full swing. I actually found this spot when scouting and noticed the amount of traffic coming from the roads out to glassing points surrounding this canyon by looking at my onX

and locating little refuge spots that could not be seen from any of these glassing knobs hunters were driving and hiking into. In order to glass these areas, I had to move around a bit and couldn’t see very much terrain from one location. It was eventually effective, but the vantage points I had were certainly less desirable than others that gave a better field of view. It was an important lesson that it’s not always how much country you can see, but how much of the right country you can see.

One common theme you will see throughout looking at these images is that my glassing and shooting locations are most often in hard-to-reach areas that require more work to get to, especially if you are trying to beat the animals to their bed ground in the morning. Keep in mind, hunting pressured animals is always harder than hunting unpressured animals on private land. If you are going to be successful and actually go on hunts in this day and age, you have to adapt and hunt less desirable areas. Just remember, hunting is about the pursuit, and if you are fortunate enough to be able to take part in hunting, you are truly blessed and there is not a bad hunt.