Hunting > Big Game

When to Hunt: Bull Elk Before and After the Rut (Page 2)

Bowhunters who concentrate only on the peak of the rut pass up some of the best elk hunting of the season.

The Right Time and Place
As my hunt with Jim illustrated, the trick to the second rut is mapping out a herd’s established travel route between feeding and bedding sites, then setting up before the elk get there. That means heading out well before first light with a specific spot in mind. Because you’re dealing with a large number of elk, hunting their bedding area is imprudent—there are far too many eyes and noses to evade. More important, you run the likely risk of spooking all those elk out of the country, thereby ruining your biggest advantage—being in the animals’ predictable travel route. For that reason hunting their feeding area is also a mistake.

Early-season bowhunting is far more forgiving, since the elk aren’t congregated and you’re often working single bulls.

■ Given a consistent wind, hunting bedding grounds is an absolutely killer tactic, as good bedding sites are easy to locate (think cool, shaded timber) and the bulls aren’t preoccupied with keeping their harems intact. Also, if you do bump a bull, he won’t take most of the area’s elk with him. Granted, that’s probably one less bull you’ll have a chance to kill, but it won’t signal the end of your hunt.

■ If there’s anything predictable about elk in early September, it’s that they’ll invariably gravitate to the coolest locations they can find. That’s where you need to be. Getting out at 0-dark-thirty isn’t as critical as it is in October, but you’ll be better off if you have ample time to locate and work a bull into range before the thermals start shifting from a steady downward direction to going uphill. Cool mornings and hot days are a recipe for switching winds, and that’s the biggest Achilles’ heel for early-season bowhunters. The earlier you can get on a bull, the less likely switching winds will betray you.

Regardless of whether you live in elk country or have to travel to it, don’t limit yourself to hunting just the peak of the rut. If working responsive, unpressured elk is your idea of a good time, consider the pre- and post-rut. 

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