The importance of studying maps and planning elk hunting routes that maximize your strengths cannot be understated. As I look at the ever growing archive of Google Earth files and saved Caltopo maps, I’ve tried to amalgamate most of our mapped routes into one single categorical label.
My elk hunting buddies and I are reasonably fit, willing to pack an elk out from almost anywhere, consider a hunt’s enjoyment nearly ruined if we encounter other hunters on the mountain, and seek to maximize the utility of our lightweight approach by bivy hunting along 3-5 day loops. We also try to minimize trail miles, and hopefully, target spots that get better as hunting pressure on the surrounding landscape intensifies.
I’ve come up with the term “cross cut mapping”. Now I’m neither a carpenter, nor the son of a carpenter, but my dad was never afraid to tackle anything around the house growing up, so by default, I’m a competent wood worker. A rip cut is when you cut with the grain of the wood. For instance, you take a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood and turn it into 2, 2 x 8 sheets of plywood. A cross cut is when you take a 2 x 6 x 8 piece of lumber and cut it in half to create 2 4 foot pieces of 2 x 6. Simple, and most of you know this.
To describe cross cut mapping, let all access points, trailheads, parking lots, dead end forest service roads, and trails represent the grain of the landscape. To hunt with the grain of the landscape is to batter the ground in the same manner that it’s meant to be walked. Along trails, from primary access points, following the natural seams and contours of the landscape.
A couple years ago, we got a hair-brained idea to consider the Maroon Bells Wilderness area for our next DIY elk hunting adventure. Now, we’ve since tossed that notion aside, but I’ll use some mapping examples to illustrate what I’m talking about. In fact, feel free to go hunt these exact loops and tell me what you see. They’ve got the PAG stamp of approval (inside joke there).
If you’re hunting with the grain of the landscape, you’d just stay on the dashed trail leading up East Creek drainage. There is nothing wrong with that, you might kill an elk, it’ll be easier packing since you’re near the trail, and navigational worries are kept to a minimum, but it doesn’t maximize our skill set and approach to elk hunting. Now look at the red trail we digitized in. See how it initially uses trail to gain elevation but quickly deviates to a side hilling approach to probe likely benches and attacks some really steep terrain to access some hanging basins that are perched way above main trails in the area.
You can click on the map photos to view at full resolution.
Another example of the same thing. Most hunters are going to work the trail up towards American Lake, loop up towards Hayden Peak, and be back to the trailhead by dark. The red trail is great 2-3 day loop hike that hunts through a perfect combination of steep dark timber, open high country, and hanging basins inaccessible from the main trails below. It smartly uses an established trial to gain most of the initial elevation and then spurs off side hill.
I think the cross cut analogy should be making sense by now. At some point, you might have to deviate from the well traveled path in order to find unpressured elk in hard-hunted areas such as OTC Colorado. Hunting against the grain isn’t for everyone, and it can definitely put you in some uncomfortable situations if you’re not careful. In fact, we very nearly over-extended our abilities to pack out an elk in our 2014 hunt, so we’re still learning. That said, hopefully this cross cut mapping mindset will help you see something a little different the next time you look at a topographical map of your hunting area. It’s worked for us and we’ll be putting it to the test again this fall with some new elk hunting spots in Colorado.