Washington Elk Hunting October 2020

nice bull on my trail cam

This is my first year hunting elk in Western Washington, but I’m learning a lot and putting in the time to climb the elk hunting learning curve quickly. I wanted to share about this, not from the perspective of an expert, but from the perspective of someone seeing elk hunting fresh, which means if you too are trying to get into elk hunting, my learning journey could be valuable to you as well.

I do have some awesome mentors, though none of them are actively hunting elk in Western Washington now or in the recent past. Luke is an accomplished hunter, who hails from Utah and usually gets multiple elk every year. You can read about my trip with him from the start of the 2020 year here.

You already know my fishing partner Ash from many posts and videos throughout the year, and also Kevin who currently hunts deer, but grew up hunting elk and deer in SW Washington.

One of the most important aspects to hunting or fishing is just committing to put the time in, in the woods or on the water. The best place to do that is somewhere with reasonable prospects for success that’s also close to home.

Old Elk tracks found in some soft earth
Old Elk tracks found in some soft earth

I scouted the heck out of my spot near Mt Rainier in August and September prior to the elk hunting season. I started out just hiking the trails on public land I found on OnX Maps. It didn’t take me too long before I found elk tracks and elk poo.

One of the big helps to being confident going off trail and hitting the woods is a great handheld GPS device. The above Garmin GPSMAP 64 is fantastic and I used it extensively throughout the scouting effort before the elk hunting season began.

The next step was to setup trail cams to try and capture elk moving through the area. Another big plus towards success is to show up at dawn to do your scouting for elk, because you may get lucky and actually see elk returning from their night time feeding areas. Now you have fresh tracks that you can follow and setup even better trail cam locations closer to bedding areas.

I did exactly that and found 3 cow elk crossing the road in front of me. I parked my truck and tracked them for a few hundred yards. I was able to discover a massive area where elk had been moving in and out of, fresh poo and tracks everywhere. The best part is that it was an area that every other hunter would just drive past and ignore.

Cow elk heading out to feed
Cow elk heading out to feed in the evening

I eventually got these elk on my trail cam, during archery season even…I had a muzzleloader tag, so I couldn’t wait until I had a chance to fill that tag!

I had one hangup though: I was going to be in Forks for opening weekend of elk muzzleloader season in Western Washington. I thought, that’s okay, I will get after it Monday-Friday with fewer hunters in the woods.

Here’s one big thing I didn’t count on: during the rut and post-rut the elk behavior totally changes. They herd up and move around based on hunting pressure and bulls try to keep their harem of cows away from other bulls that might challenge them. I removed my trail cams before opening weekend so I’m not sure if they were still there or not before the intense pressure of opening weekend occurred.

I also learned that opening weekend got hit really hard. People buzzing all over with vehicles, quads, etc. If I had to do it again, I would have been there on opening day, sitting on my pre-scouted travel route downwind, near the bedding areas and tried to take one in the first hour of shooting light before the weekend pressure forced them out of my reach.

great views from the elk woods
Great views from the elk woods

Suffice to say, my elk I had nailed the pattern down for, were completely gone. In fact, so were all the elk in the entire area I had scouted. Over the 4 days I hunted it, I went into the nastiest most protected ravines and ridges and all I could find was old elk sign. Lots of it.

Next year, I’m thinking of switching to archery, to be able to pattern and take elk that I’ve put the work in for. I’m also considering hunting some larger swaths of public land. I really like the idea of hiking way back into a place to get away from other hunters. Unfortunately, a lot of public land has logging roads connecting even remote areas.

Wherever you have convenient, easy access, expect lots of people to be there. My GMU / public land area I focussed on, was not large enough to offer protected areas that would provide a retreat for pressured elk on the opening day of muzzleloader.

chanterelles top view
A few chanterelles I picked on the last day of hunting

I did find these chanterelles though which offer a nice consolation prize.

I’m looking forward to the late muzzleloader this year as a chance for some redemption. I will be scouting a much larger and more remote area between now and then.

2 Replies to “Washington Elk Hunting October 2020”

  1. Had exactly the same experience. Not sure I’ll hunt in WA again without having to switch back to my bow, unless I can get private land access without paying 💰 💰 💰.

    1. Marc,

      Thanks for commenting, and sorry your comment wasn’t approved very fast. I have all these protections on the comments area due to spammers, but your next comment won’t require approval. I totally agree with your conclusion as well. I do have one other possibility I’m considering, which is to find a GMU with enough public land where I can get far enough away from the drivable road. I will be testing this out during the late muzzleloader season and hopefully I can fill a tag before the end of the year. Good luck!


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