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Using elevation bands on goHUNT Maps to locate key mule deer areas

Using elevation bands to locate mule deer hunting spots

Using elevation bands was key to locating an off the beaten path area where I took this old Colorado buck.

When it comes to planning out a hunt, there are certain things I’ve been doing for a lot of years in my digital scouting efforts that as of recently, I’m excited to finally talk about. The reason I’ve been holding back was waiting for the release of goHUNT’s 3D web mapping application. And if you haven’t tried out goHUNT Maps yet, it’s worth a look as you will be blown away at the level of detail and different tools and layers that are fully catered for Western hunters.

With that said, the following article is going to showcase some of the ways you can use elevation bands to aid in your mule deer scouting, research and hunt planning.

The importance of elevation bands

Using elevation bands for mule deer hunting

One of the main aspects of my digital scouting, especially for mule deer hunting, is utilizing elevation bands to quickly narrow down an area to hunt based on the time of year I have a tag. And I’m happy to say that goHUNT has incorporated this feature into our mapping platform!

goHUNT’s elevation bands are layers separated into 1,500 ft sections. You can use these in a plethora of ways by turning on one layer at a time or turning them all on to get a big picture view of an entire state.

goHUNT Maps Elevation bands showing an entire state

As you can see in the screenshot above, if you turn on all of the elevation layers for a state at the same time, it is basically a heat map of all the different 1,500 ft bands of elevation. Warm colors being the lowest elevations and cooler colors showcasing all the higher elevations.

Below is a summary of the elevation band breakdown on goHUNT Maps:

  • 11,500+ ft
  • 10,000 to 11,500 ft
  • 8,500 to 10,000 ft
  • 7,000 to 8,500 ft
  • 5,500 to 7,000 ft
  • 4,000 to 5,500 ft
  • <4,000 ft

How do you use these elevation bands to your advantage?

First off, I should define an elevation band in my terms. Since I’m a mule deer hunter, my definition for an elevation band is “usable habitat during a certain core time period of a mule deer’s seasonal needs to survive.” This definition can obviously be expanded to other species as well.

For example, if you're looking for a high country hunt, you can simply select the higher elevation bands and instantly see where in the unit or state, those elevation bands can be found.

If you caught the two-part series (Part 1 and Part 2) I did a few years ago on summer scouting for late fall mule deer hunting success, I broke down elevation bands. Below is an excerpt from that article:

It takes a few years to figure out where and what terrain types bucks tend to prefer during a specific time of the year across the West. But you can cut your learning curve down.

Various types of mule deer zones:

  • Summer alpine zone - 10,000 to 13,000 feet
  • Subalpine zone - 9,000 to 11,000 feet
  • Dark timber, pine and aspen - 7,000 - 11,500 feet
  • Transitional zone - 6,000 to 9,000 feet
  • Sagebrush winter range zone 4,000 to 7,000 feet

The above zones are just a basic summary and a rough generalization. Keep in mind that where you are in the West, these elevation zones could vary.

Using general mule deer biology to your advantage

Mule deer are amazing animals. During the course of the year, you can find them in a plethora of different habitats. When it comes to mountain mule deer, it’s safe to say they live a pretty good life. From the high alpine slopes in the summer to the most picturesque color changes of early fall, snow-capped mountains during the late fall and finally migrating across the landscape to sagebrush filled winter ranges.

Throughout a calendar year, mule deer can be found occupying a certain elevation band based on a multitude of factors. The summer months are spent gorging themselves on high alpine groceries, late September and first few weeks of October you might find them in the timber slightly below summer elevations, etc., etc.

During the fall (for the most part) bucks and does occupy a particular elevation band. What they are looking for is feed, security away from hunter pressure, and access off the mountain if a giant snowstorm arises and they need to migrate. Using elevation bands can also help you to find a little piece of the mountain that has all the needs of a big mature mule deer and also has the security of being remote and away from places most hunters would consider.

Remember, I define an elevation band as “usable habitat during certain core time periods of a mule deer’s seasonal needs to survive.” Basically, that band is a snapshot in time that occupies a mule deer essential needs.

Planning a future high country mule deer hunt?

Elevation bands for early high country mule deer hunts

If you're planning a 2021 high country archery mule deer hunt in August or early September, you can select the 10,000 to 11,500 ft and the 11,500+ ft elevation bands to visually see where that high country exists and what the terrain looks like in those areas. And then to narrow things down further, it might be a great idea to just look at the areas that are at 11,500+ ft. This gives you a huge leg up in trying to figure out where to concentrate your efforts in your research.

High elevation bands for early season mule deer

Again, if you're in the research phase or maybe you're hunting a general tag that encompasses a bunch of units, you can use elevation bands to quickly see what unit might either have the most high country (better chance for plan A, plan B, plan C spots) or to quickly find out what units might have the perfect amount of groceries to keep those deer in the high country during your respected archery or early season muzzleloader hunt.

What this does is make your scouting efforts a lot faster because from there, you can then start to pick apart the terrain for possible areas bucks will feed, where they might bed, locate glassing spots, etc. This is also a fantastic way to also see what units you might want to apply for if you're looking at an early archery deer tag next year. You can cover an entire state with the higher elevation bands, and then zoom in on the maps and carefully analyze all of the high country terrain in an easy to look at format, and you're able to do this for all of the units that you have a chance to draw. So as you can see, goHUNT Maps and our Draw Odds and Filtering 2.0 tools greatly complement each other.

Planning a late season mule deer hunt this year?

You can also utilize elevation bands to quickly narrow down potential late-season hunting areas for mule deer. Let's say you have an early November tag, and you've done your research or have some really good intel that leads to an understanding that in your particular hunting unit, bucks should start to stage around that 7,000 to 9,000 ft transitional zone. So to visually see where you might want to concentrate your hunting efforts, you can jump over to goHUNT Maps, select the state and click on the elevation layer. Then turn on the 7,000 to 8,500 ft elevation band and boom! You can now see all the potential areas that deer could be at during a time of year. From there, you can dive in deeper and hone in your hunting strategy.

Stacking elevation bands, migration and public/private layers

Stacking layers on goHUNT maps for mule deer hunting

Layer stacking to showcase where I could concentrate my scouting/hunting efforts for a late-season mule deer hunt.

Another very powerful feature that I love to go a step further on is stacking other layers on top of elevation bands. This has so many benefits for not only mule deer, but other species too. Overlaying the public/private land layer and even the species distribution layer will further allow you to fine-tune your hunting, scouting and research efforts to hone in on big buck country. All of these tools together are key to how I hunt and locate mule deer.

In summary

Elevation bands were a feature that back in the day I created for myself... and while it worked for my needs, I'm excited to see it out there for more people to use in a super simple format. This was easily my number one feature request when we built goHUNT Maps. Elevation bands are way more than just lines on a map. When you take a deep dive into mule deer biology, you will see that while mule deer can be very, very unpredictable, but you can slowly add a few pieces to the puzzle and tip the scales in your direction. 

Explore elevation bands on goHUNT Maps

If you’re an INSIDER, goHUNT Maps is included in your membership at no additional cost. If you aren’t a member, you can try it FREE for seven days. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below and I'll l be happy to explain in further detail.

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