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E-scouting for elk with Google Earth

For many of us, it is extremely hard to get the time to get boots on the ground to scout areas for elk.  This is especially true for all of you nonresidents out there. In addition, spending two or three days of our precious days is a waste of precious time. Time you could use to be actually hunting.

E-Scouting May Be Your Answer. 

E-Scouting is a way to scout from the comfort of your home well ahead of the start of the hunting season. That way, when the season finally begins you’re prepared to get out and hunt much quicker. With the help of Google Earth’s free technology and a few other e-resources, you can now scout for elk from your computer. Other information could come in handy like harvest reports, fire history, and rainfall statistics.  However, for now, we are going to focus on finding likely honey hole by using Google Earth to e-scouting for elk in Wyoming.

Google Earth For Your E-scouting Needs When Hunting Elk In Wyoming

Google Earth is a popular and free program that every hunter should be using. Google Earth allows you to explore any area in Wyoming, or anywhere else, in 3D using satellite imagery. With this program, you can start looking for and identifying the best elk spots.  There are many tools that come bundled in the software that will be helpful for locating and marking watering, bedding, and feeding areas used by elk. You will then be able to upload or copy the GPS coordinates for the areas you found on Google Earth to a hand-held GPS unit.  If you are not a GPS person, you can print maps.

Marking your locations is fairly simple.  To add a mark you need to click “Add Placemark” and move the waypoint to that spot on the map. You will need to change the name of the mark to something that is clear and makes it easy to know what the mark points to. Examples of names are “Water”, “Food”, and “Cover”.  Giving the marks numbers after the name is optional but it helps to make the waypoints easier to read.Another helpful hint is to lay out your expected route to an area and save it on Google Earth.  You will be able to upload this to your GPS also and it will be really helpful getting to your spot in the dark.

How To Add A Placemark On A Water Hole

Opening a Placemark

Opening a Placemark

Change Placemark Name

Change Placemark Name

Renamed Placemark

Renamed Placemark

Closing In On Your Elk Hunting Location

Hunting elk in Wyoming can be one of the best experiences you could have. Provided of course you know where to look.  Using Google Earth to e-scout will allow you to take a whole unit, which could be hundreds of square miles, and break it down into smaller areas that you can focus your attention on.  This is accomplished by looking for the things that elk will need most during the season you will be hunting.  Basically, you are going to be taking your time and studying the imagery in an attempt to find the things that elk will need most during the season you will be hunting them.  You will do this by looking for sanctuary, water, food, and bedding areas the elk may be using on a daily basis.


The first thing you need to look for is a sanctuary area.  This will allow you to eliminate many areas were elk are not.  Elk by nature like to stay away from any places frequented or inhabited by humans. Therefore, you generally need to start your e-scouting in locations that are away from roads and ATV trails.  You should eliminate all the areas less than ½ mile, preferably 1 mile, from these roads and trials.  However, sometimes there are areas that are within that ½ to 1 mile that may be steep, have rough terrain, or is just so thick that other hunters will not attempt to go there.  Once you have eliminated these areas, you can spend your time looking for the other three necessities the elk need.

It is may also be a good idea to decide how far you are willing to hike and eliminate all of the areas beyond that.  This will keep you from spending time e-scouting for elk in an area that you will never go to anyways.

How To Create a 1 Mile Buffer Zone Around a Road

Open the ruler

Open the Ruler

Choose The Units You Want To Use

Choose The Units You Want To Use

Draw A Line The Distance You Want To Make Your Buffer

Draw A Line The Distance You Want To Make Your Buffer

Make A Path 1 Mile From The Road

Make A Path 1 Mile From The Road

Make A Path On The Other Side Of The Road

Make A Path On The Other Side Of The Road

Water Sources

Water is essential for elk because they need to drink water on a daily basis. You can use this basic fact to your advantage by searching for and marking water sources on the map. Water holes and creeks great starting points.  Many times, these areas are pretty obvious; however, if they are not, you simply need to look for an area that is greener and lusher than the surrounding areas.  It is important to try to find as many of these locations as you can because elk are very cautious and don’t like to use the same water hole every day.

Another reason to find the green, wet areas are wallows.  When you are hunting on hot days and are not having any other luck hunting elk, wallows are a good alternative to wandering around aimlessly.   Elk will come to their wallows on these hot days to cool off during mid-day.  You can take advantage of this by finding a location that overlooks this wallow or on a trail that leads to the wallow and waiting for the elk to come to you.

Food Sources 

Food is the next element on your list. And understanding the eating habits of elk is important to find the right spots.  This is because elk eat primarily during the early morning and late evening hours.  Once you have these areas located you will be able to set up at a glassing location and glass these feeding areas.  This will be your best chance of finding elk during most times of the year.

Unlike mule deer, elk are primarily grazers and they need about 20 pounds of food a day.    You will often find elk grazing in openings and burn areas feeding on native grasses, which are their primary food source most times. Grassy areas are usually easy to find, especially in areas that are heavily timbered.  Elk will favor large meadows that can typically be found on south-facing slopes. However, once the hunting pressure starts, elk may start eating shrubs and forbs in dense areas.  Don’t get discouraged if you can’t pinpoint these dense feeding areas on Google Earth. They’re not as easy to identify and are one of those things that sometimes can only be found with boots on the ground.

Bedding Areas

When hunting elk in Wyoming it’s better to remember that elk retreat to cover areas during midday to bed. Many times it is also where a startled herd would flee to, so identifying them is just as important as locating water sources.  To locate bedding areas you want to look for areas with heavy cover on north and east facing slopes of the mountains.  Steep slopes and ridges make these timbered areas even better.  If you are able to find a very steep area with a bench in one of these areas, you have likely hit the jackpot.

Just remember that you don’t want to enter bedding areas unless there’s a very good reason.  If you spook and elk out of its bed, it can and probably will run for miles and it may be days or weeks before they return.  You want to learn these areas though so you will know where the elk will typically go when they are done feeding in the mornings or where they will be coming from in the evening.  With this information, you will be able to possibly set up for a mid-morning or afternoon ambush while the elk are traveling to or from feeding.

Putting It All Together

Once you have all your areas covered, mapped out, and marked, it’s time to save all your waypoints and send them to your GPS unit. These are the actual points that will guide you on your first actual boots on the ground trip to the area.  They make all the hours you put poring over Google Earth worthwhile.  However, if you don’t have a GPS, you can still use those waypoints. Simply print them off Google Earth and take the printed maps with you. You may need to print out more than one map for each area just to have high-quality pictures. Bear in mind that the printed maps don’t have coordinates and won’t be as accurate as GPS. Still having them with you will guide you around and increase your chances of hunting elk in Wyoming.


When you put all of these elements together you will have one spot ready to check out when hunting season starts.  However, you should find several of these areas.  If the first spot does not work out during hunting season, you move to the next.  Just keep going down your list until you find the elk.

An Area Showing Ridges Running Roughly East To West

1.  An Area Showing Ridges Running Roughly East To West

After Dropping A Placemark Drag It To The Location You Want It

2.  After Dropping A Placemark Drag It To The Location You Want It

Rename The Placemark

3.  Rename The Placemark

Add A Second Feeding Area

4.  Add A Second Feeding Area

Add A Bedding Area

5.  Add A Bedding Area

First Hunting Spot

6.  After Adding A Placemark Showing The River & A Closed Road That Provides Access You Have Your First Spot


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