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5 Tips for Locating More Elk During the Rut

It’s upon us, by the time this issue comes out elk season will be going hot and heavy.   Big bulls will be getting fired up, and start making noise.  These days and trips to come for us elk hunters are going to be heaven on earth.  Hopefully they will be filled with encounters, and the opportunity to try to arrow one of the big bulls we all dream about.  I know you die hards have been practicing religiously, and can close the deal If given the chance.  The key to that phrase is getting a chance, and to earn one you have to be good at locating elk.   The more bulls you can locate during your hunt the better you odds of killing one. 

Do your homework

Spend as much time as you can studying the country you will be hunting.  I swear I should be getting royalties from how much I mention Google earth.  It’s just such great program for us hunters to utilize.  It’s truly second to being there.  Along with this you should be looking at maps of roads, and topo maps.    Make yourself plan for where you will access country and where you will hunt.  Give yourself multiple options of places you want to check out.  Learn and memorize the country you want to hunt, and it will give you a leg up when you get there. 

When I am looking for new elk country I like to find big drainages or ridge lines that separate two different drainages.  I like to look for big country that connects to other pieces of big country.  I like to look for possible feeding meadows both on south sides and north sides of the mountain.  I look for water, as that is a huge reason why elk live where they do.  Elk need water daily, and it plays a big part in the rutting activities.  

I will also look for the flow of the country I am hunting.  What I mean by this is how the elk will move through country.  How the elk access water and feeding, and how they move to different drainages.  Look for saddles or dominate ridge lines, and try to paint a picture of what the elk are doing.  Plan to move along your flow of country if you are not seeing elk, chances are they are within a couple drainages.    

Hunt away from Pressure

No matter where I hunt seems the elk are always where humans aren’t.  Elk have a knack for finding country where they are not being bothered.  If they get bumped they will move through country relocating miles away in a new spot where they are not getting pressured.  So key in on this and look for pieces of country that are road less.  Look for drainages away from trails and easy walking.  Find country that is tough to access, and you have a good chance of finding some elk there.  If you do happen to spook some elk out pay attention to which direction the leave.  They will calm down again, you just have to figure out where they are headed. 

Cover country

I have been training and preparing for this elk season all year, and I am determined to kill a good bull.  For the type of bull I am after I am going to have to look over a lot of elk.  This means I will have to locate a lot of elk.  Now I must warn you, I use high risk tactics to cover country.  I cover a lot of country at a good pace when I am trying to find elk.  Once I start seeing good sign, or seeing elk I will really slow my pace.  It’s essential to slow down once in the elk or you will end up blowing them out of country.    

There is a lot of country that won’t have elk, and small pieces of country that are holding.  You have to be covering country at the right times to find these pockets of elk.  Start your hunt in the dark an hour or more before light, hiking to where you think the elk are.  Stop and listen for bulls, if they are there, they will be sounding off.  If the lights come on and you can’t see or hear a bull, time to start covering country.  I don’t sit on vantage points too long this time day.   I figure if there is elk there, I will see them right away or hear them.  That does not mean I am not glassing, I just move with purpose glassing every spot I can see.   If you locate elk slow down, but if not, burn some boot leather. 

 I will hunt hard till I think every elk is bedded 10:00-12:00 usually.  Then I will find a shady spot to hang out and regroup, and make my plan for the evening.  Unless I have elk bedded, I hardly ever hunt the middle of the day.  I have just found the elk are bedded and no too active.  I find when I move through county I end up jumping elk out of their beds I did not know were there.  

 I wait till late afternoon and will position myself on a good vantage looking and listening.  Once the evening arrives and I believe elk are on their feet, the same M.O. applies.  Cover country glassing every good feature.  Push hard till last light, then use the night to walk out or back to camp.   Use this long dark walk to listen for bulls for the morning hunt.  

Look for the party

An elk party is finding a drainage or basin where good numbers of elk are hanging out, and rutting.  Where you find one elk you almost always find more, and where you find one herd of elk you almost always find more.   It can vary from a few different bulls to 15 different bulls along with good cow numbers.  That doesn’t mean they are all grouped up together, just in the same general area in multiple herds.  In these rut fests there is almost always competition for cows, and great rutting action.  Finding the party is your highest odds of punching your tag.  

To locate a party, cover country the same, just pay attention when you start seeing elk.  A lot of times elk will lead you to other elk.   One tactic I use is locating once it’s dark.  Now I am not hunting in the dark, I am just listening.  You can drive and get out at different points, hike a small distance, or even bike closed roads.  The party will have multiple bulls sounding off, and if you are in a good position you will hear it.  This will key me in on where I need to be in the morning, and has put me in the mix many times.   

Positive attitude 

A huge part of any sport is mental, same applies for archery hunting elk.   You have to believe in yourself, and the spots you are hunting.  When you are hunting at the right times believe you are going to see an elk every time you pull up your binos.   If you don’t believe, you hunt carelessly missing out on opportunities.  You don’t push as hard as you should, and in turn locate less elk.  If your spot is not panning out, move on to your back up plan, and keep trying.  It’s a long off season and you have to give it all you have while in elk country.  Remember it only takes one opportunity to close on a big bull.  Elk can be spread out throughout big country, give yourself enough time to locate one.  

Be flexible once in country to changing your plan.  If a big 6 runs across the trail as you are hiking in, you may want to change your plan.  Sometimes the signs are not quite that obvious so look out for tracks, and elk trails.  Look out for fresh scrapes and used wallows.  If you start running in elk, investigate further.  Let the elk dictate where you will hunt, and where you will walk.  

Elk season has arrived, and these are the days we have waited for all year.  Make sure you hunt hard and leave it all on the field.  It takes a burning desire and drive to kill big bulls consistently.  So make sure you are climbing that next hill or next mountain searching for that next opportunity.  I hope these tips help you locate more elk, and in turn help you knock down that big bull this season.   Hunt hard, have fun, and shoot straight. 


About Brian Barney

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