As the summer days draw shorter in length and the anticipation of the fall, it seems that rutting bulls fill our minds daily as the month of September fast approaches’. Many of us from the novice to the seasoned elk hunter seek something new every year for the utmost advantage in filling our tag and look for a refresher or new information when hunting the “RUT”.
Late August & First of September
During the first stages of the rut commonly known as “PreRut” most bulls will be raking and spreading their scent and marking their territory. At this time it may be effective to lure a bull in by cow calling to him during this stage due to the fact of his instinct of gathering cows while actively roaming the area, but it can be just as effective to bugle during this time if they aren’t responding to cow calls. This often happens when they haven’t established their pecking order. Try cow calling first on your approaches then change it up to more subtle bugling and mixing in the cow sounds if there is no response. This will sometimes trigger their curiosity, they might bugle once in response and then come in silent to check out their competition. This phase of the rut is usually the between time of non-vocal to very vocal periods. I usually proceed with a calling sequence for a few minutes and then wait, then again follow up around seven to ten minutes later before moving on. If you are encountered with a weak response, try moving in the direction of the bugle hopefully getting inside the “zone”; meaning within 100 yards of the bull. At this point raking a tree with some soft cow calls followed up again with non-threatening bugles might bring him in to size up the other bull.
Mid September to October
This period from Mid September to the first part of October is usually the most vocal period and is known as “Peak Rut” in most cases. At this point most herd bulls have gathered all to most of their cows, but still are receptive to new cows they encounter and will welcome them into the herd as well. Herd bulls become way more aggressive and vocal at this phase of the rut and can be vulnerable to different approaches when hunting them. I like to hunt these bulls in many different fashions depending on their aggressiveness, area, time of day and herd size. If you encounter a bull that is in a more dense covered area and is sounding off regularly, I choose to move in as close as possible within 100 yards retrospectively before responding with any calls. I first may throw out a few cow mews hoping for a response, if he replies with a bugle, I instantly will try and cut him off with a bugle that mimics his first response. This can and usually will fire him up more and he may just turn and come in for a fight. If you’re not within his “zone”, the other reaction is eminent as he will gather his harem and turn tail and run. Getting inside these magic circles sort of speak, is the utmost valuable tactic before producing any challenging sounds.
Other options are trailing the herd until they bed up. I usually use this towards a last resort or end of the season tactic. Busting a herd out of there bedding area usually proves to be a failed result and possibly not seeing the herd in the area for quite some time following. If you do proceed to encounter them in their bedding area, I like to let them get settled in watching my wind (remember: thermals down in the morning/ evening and thermals up in the day) most likely the bull is usually bedded just off to the side of the cows as well, and possibly moaning or sounding off with subtle calling. Try moving into the area slowly and getting as close as possible, while selecting some good shooting lanes and looking for a possible direction that would allow you to move if needed. Now is a good time to proceed with some soft cow sounds hopefully enticing the bull from his bed to go check out this new cow entering the bedded herd. He may just decide to get up and venture over to your location giving you the opportunity for a shot. If the bull seems to be responding but not moving in your direction, I often will give a few excited cow mews then follow up with a bugle behind me, this often tells the bull that a cow of interest is in between him and the intruder and he may come running in to take her into the herd or challenge the other bull (you)… When trying to position your-self and setting up (pre-setup), I will try and always position myself on the same level as the bull. Bulls or elk in general will try and always circle you to get the wind advantage or height advantage on your location. Keeping horizontal or on the same plane will increase your odds in encountering the bull for a shot. If your hunting with your partner set the shooter up in a forward position and the caller should be 75 to 100 yards behind and off to one side with the wind direction into the side of his face. This will make the bull in most cases adventure towards the caller and placing the bull in a shooting lane in front of the shooter.
If you are hunting alone different strategies are to be considered. I hunt alone 90% of the time and calling in bulls can be a challenge to say the least but definitely rewarding when it all comes together. I have learned over the years to be more patient in my encounters, until the time is right, then I take a pretty aggressive action when hunting alone. This might include high risk moves but can lead to some close encounters and ridiculously close shots. I like to set up and produce my calling sequence while always looking at a lane to move forward dramatically after my last calls, this can be up to fifty yards if the terrain and cover will allow. This can put you right into a shooting situation at under twenty yards quickly so be ready this bull is looking beyond your position at this point, because he heard and pinpointed that last call behind your present position. If you encounter a bull that is not real vocal and non-responsive to your aggressive calls and just continues to glunk and herd his harem around, you might set up and try giving some lost calf calls… the reason for this is that the bull that is glunking is following close behind a hot cow, and if you call the curious cow over towards your position with the lost calf call, guess who is right behind her.
Many other options or tactics that have proven to be successful is sitting a wallow, or a main trail into a bedding area, or a feeding area with ambushing them in mind. I personally don’t do much tree stand hunting, but over wallows and thoroughfare’s this can be very effective and many bulls have fallen to this hunt tactic over the years. Run and gun or spot and stalk with ambush type hunting is more in my book and the style’s I prefer. Remember to locate bugle from higher advantage points or ridges if possible to cover multiple drainages, this works well at the fringes of huge basins with stair step type meadows as well. Try and close the distance to under 100 yards to your target bull or herd prior to making any aggressive moves or calls. Remember to setup in front of cover letting your camo break up your image, if you are behind the foliage you have now reduced your shooting possibilities immensely. Another thing to consider as well if you continue to just cow call with a bull responding, you must act as if you are a real cow, meaning moving towards him if at all possible, if not the bull will get alarmed and warning signals may sound off in his head that something isn’t right if you stay stationary. This bull is responding, and expecting that cow to move in his direction at some point. All the articles, how to’s, tips and tactics are great starters, but real life encounters and events in the field with the knowledge of elk behavior, the habitat they live in, with extension preseason scouting will produce a greater potential for more successful harvests.
I want to wish all the success to each and every one of you this fall and make sure to send in your respectful “Grip and Grin” photos this year so we can enter them into our home page!!!
“SEE YA ON THE MOUNTAIN”