Arizona - Unit 7 West Elk
Updated: Mar 31
2023 Update - We had a fabulous winter in Arizona with a lot of moisture and snow pack. Antler growth should be very good. Food and water is abundant over the entire state, especially in the elk units. Assuming we get a decent monsoon that brings summer rain, the rut and bugling should be as excellent as it was last year when we had similar winter and summer moisture.
Update 2022- We had a great monsoon season in the Flagstaff area in 2022. All of the tanks were overflowing and even the normally dry washes were running with water for much of the summer. Since then however, the rain and snow has stopped falling and it has been very dry for the second winter in a row. The elk and deer went into the winte season fat and healthy and have not had to deal with any deer snow or long lasting cold weather, so they will be ok going into the spring, but rain/snow is still needed to grow the spring and summer grass they feed on.
Tag number have held pretty much steady for all of the elk hunts this year. A few changes here and there but nothing dramatic.
7 West will once again be a good elk hunt in 2022. Its not unit 1 or 23 and its not managed to be like those units but it will not take you 20+ years to get a tag here either like those other two units can take.
Unit 7 West is located in northern Arizona. It is a fairly large unit that lies west of highway 180, to the north of interstate 10 and west of Flagstaff.
The southern parts of unit 7W are mostly pine with several larger mountains, Sitgreaves mountain, Kendrick Peak and Squaw Peak being the dominate features. Large grassland prairies lie in between the mountains with lots of smaller volcanic cones also prevalent.
The middle sections of unit 7 West (7W) are a mix of juniper, open prairie and volcanic cones. Red Mountain, Butcherknife Hill, Eberts Mountain and Spring Valley are all features located in this transition zone type terrain of unit 7W.
To the north, will look more like antelope country with large open grasslands and thick patches of juniper and pinion. Even though it is very open there are a surprising number of elk that live out here all year long and if there is heavy snow during the late season, even more will move into this area. White Hill, Cedar Mountain, Buck Mountain and the main topographical features in this part of the unit.
Unit 7W is considered one of the "middle tier" units by a lot people. There are a lot of elk here, but they also give out a lot of tags. Also, the archery bull and cow hunts are held simultaneously which a lot of hunters don't care for. There is also a fair amount of private property which you need to be aware of. Most of it is well marked though and there are many thousands of acres of public land to hunt.
The boundaries of unit 7 West are very easy to remember. To the south, interstate 40 is the boundary. To the west it is highway 64 from Williams to Vail and to the east it is highway 180 from I-40 to Vail.
Archery Elk in Unit 7W
One of the more popular elk hunts in northern Arizona. It is a tag that is somewhat easier to draw than than the ultra popular units 9 and 10 but offers good experience comparative to the number of years are likely to wait in order to draw one of those tags. Both unit 9 and unit 10 border unit 7 West and elk often pass back and forth between all three units.
A couple of things that keep unit 7W from being one of the top elk units in Arizona is the number of tags given out and the archery cow hunt runs at the same time as the archery bull hunt, so there are a lot of hunters out and about in the unit during the hunt, especially the first Friday through about Tuesday. It seems to quiet down a lot from say Wednesday to Friday evening, then people start coming back for the final weekend. If you can get time off to hunt mid-week, it is worth it.
There are usually two late bull hunts in unit 7 West. The first one will be early to mid November and be archery only. These hunts are easy to draw most years and can be very fun, even if the bulls have stopped rutting and it is cold. Sitting water can be effective on dryer years and spot and stalk is the way to go when hunting during wetter years and even dry years during the morning when bulls are feeding or you glass them in their beds. This is very much the same technique you might use while hunting mule deer, only you are hunting elk. Glass for the bulls, determine their direction of travel, bedding area etc, check the wind and plan your stalk accordingly. They usually give out way less tags for this hunt so the hunting pressure is lower than the early hunt.
The second late hunt is the general (any weapon) season which usually starts up right around Thanksgiving and last one week. Same techniques and strategy as the late archery hunt. Glass the south and east facing slopes at very first light for feeding elk, then switch over the north facing bedding areas after the sun is well up. They give quite a few tags for this hunt but it is a fun one and you should see a lot of bigger herds of elk. Look for the more secluded, out of the way, harder to get to and thicker timbered areas for the loner, more bulls.
Unit 7W has virtually no natural water. A few seeps on Kendrick Peak and if it has been raining, there will be water pooled up in some of the washes but almost all water for wildlife in this unit is from dirt tanks constructed for cattle and a few game and fish department installed "trick tanks"
Elk water at least once per day, often more in the summer and when they are are up all night rutting and running around, fighting and chasing cows. Sitting a water tank in a ground blind or a tree stand can be very effective in this unit when conditions are right. If the monsoons rains stop before the hunt, water will be a key. Even if you are not planning on sitting the water, locating tanks that hold water will be magnets for evening elk activity.
If the monsoons are still dropping rain in the afternoon and evenings water will be less effective but they still drink every evening and many mornings. They will just have more options to choose from as far as which tanks to drink from.
During wet years, they often prefer the tanks on private property. When its dry, they will go to any tank that has water and there are some deep ones that often hold water all year even in years where rain is scarce.
During the late hunts water is less significant, but still important. Elk will still water daily, but most bulls will be watering at night. Still, there should be a reliable water source nearby when you start narrowing down you hunting and scouting areas within the unit.
I am going to spend a little more time talking about bedding areas because I do not think they get enough attention when elk hunting. Elk head for beds EARLY during most circumstances. Especially in heavily hunted areas. A bull elk is going to spend the vast majority of daylight hour in its bedding area, so it makes sense that you will need to spend that time looking where the elk are at.
Unit 7 West has an abundance of volcano cones, mountains and a few ridge lines where elk love to bed. They like the volcano cone's north west sides especially. They can get up on the cone, find a bed and spend the day looking out over the open, flat country that surrounds most cones. Most of the time, the wind currents will be from the flat, open areas around the base of the cone, going up into their bedding areas. This gives them a lot of security by being able to hear, see and smell any potential threats.
When doing your "E - Scouting" for unit 7 West, look for the cones in the middle and northern sections of the units for the best mid-glassing opportunities. Below is a screen grab from Google Earth with arrows pointing to likely elk bedding areas. Note that view is looking south, so the darker colored, more timbered spots are facing north.
The ridge lines running off Kendrick Peak and Sitgreaves Mountain are also favorite bedding areas. The ridges that run east to west will be the best ones to glass. Look for the darkest timber on the ridge, near the top and slightly below and sit back a distance away to glass into these pockets. The elk will often get up mid-day to switch beds when the sun moves across the sky and the shade moves with it. The elk do not like to bed in the sun during the early hunt. They will move once the sun lights up their morning bed. This is a great time to be glassing instead of back at camp like most of the other hunters.
A great technique for hunting and scouting these areas is to locate these bedding spots on Google Earth or your preferred software and mark a way point of each likely area in your GPS or phone based GPS app. Once you have these loaded you can navigate the MANY roads in the unit to get a good view of the spot from a distance and start glassing it. A mistake many people make is to just stand by the road, hand hold your binoculars and spend 5 minutes scanning the slope then give up and move on.
What you need to do is park out of sight. Find a comfortable spot to SIT and set up your tri-pod and start picking apart every tree, shadow, rock etc on the hill. Even a big elk, when bedded and not moving, can be hard to see if you are not using the right methods and committing enough time to the task.
Below is a typical feeding and bedding location you will see in unit 7 West. large, flat, grassy meadows in between the low, timbered, north facing ridges. Being on top of the ridge well before daylight will greatly increase your chances of seeing the elk at first light before they head to the timber and shade for the day. This is true of all seasons, early and late.
Elk like to feed at night, especially when it is warm and there is a moon. Look for meadows near bedding areas and preferably a water source close by. The elk in these units that have a lot of tags will head for cover at very first light. The exception would be during the late season when there is no moon and its cold at night. Then they will tend to spend more time in the open feeding but they will probably look for more secluded areas not visible from a road. They might also prefer smaller meadows surrounded by think timber or junipers in the lower elevations in the northern part of unit 7 West.
Being at an elevated glassing point BEFORE light is almost mandatory to find a more mature bull feeding in the morning. Even if you find a nice bull out feeding at first light, he will often make into the the thick stuff before you can get into position. The best tactic to hunt if you cannot make it to a shooting spot before he gets to the cover is to just stay back and watch where he goes into the trees. You can then comeback in the afternoon and watch the same area he went in. They will very often come back out to feed in the same spot or nearby. Under almost all circumstances it is much better to come back and wait for him to appear than to follow him into his bedding area. If you spook him in his bedding area, he might leave all together or become very nocturnal and not come out to feed or water until its dark.
If the bull heads to a volcano cone or ridge line to bed, you can usually watch him move into the darkest part of the timber on the hill or ridge and even though you might not be able to see exactly where he is bedded, you glass the shadows and look for him to move when the sun shifts and he needs a new shady bed.
There is only one wilderness area in Unit 7 West. It is the Kendrick Peak Wilderness Area. It's not big relative to other wilderness areas you might have hunted in the past, but it gives you an opportunity to get away from the roads, but probably not away from all of the hunters as it is a popular spot for those willing to do some uphill hiking.
It located in about the center of the unit, toward the eastern side. Kendrick Peak is the dominate terrain feature in the unit and can been seen from almost anywhere within unit 7 West.
Much of the mountain has burned, more than once, in the last 10-15 years. This makes great elk habitat but also can be brutal hiking due to all of the dead fall.
The other main terrain feature in unit 7 West is Sitgreaves Mountain. This mountain is located in the southwest corner of the unit, near Williams, AZ.
Although this is not a wilderness area, it often has less hunters than Kendrick Peak because of the lack of trails going to the top.
Making the effort to hike this mountain can pay off if you are seeing too many hunters and not enough elk. Look for benches and small clearings and old burns in the upper third of the mountain during the early seasons and north facing slopes with dark timber about half way up the mountain during the late hunts.
Also the ridge lines running off the eastern side of the mountain can hold a lot of elk at anytime of the year.
Unit 7 West Scouting Packages and Downloads
We offer one and two day scouting packages in unit 7 West (and all other units too) for Mule Deer and Elk.
Go here for more info on these affordable options for DIY hunters.
you can find more information on our scouting trip here - More Info
Each scouting package will include the following:
1 or 2 days of scouting (appx 10-12 days before opening day)
Link to the same video on Youtube (set to private so only you can see it)
Maps marked with each location
Google earth KML File with markers for each location
GPX file for uploading the GPS coordinates to your GPS or GPS APP
Written description with pictures of each location
Learn more about our scouting packages
Unit Data - downloadable
We also have data that can be instantly downloaded. It an accumulation of data we have complied over the years on unit 7 West.
It includes GPS waypoints, Photos, Google Earth Links and a written description of each location.
Learn more about our Downloadable Unit data
Links related to unit 7 West Elk hunting
Arizona Game and Fish Department