Are you one of the Elk die hards still finding yourself thinking and dreaming of hunting that big bull? Well, the rut may be over but there are still good opportunities to chase bulls you just have to change your tactics. The late season offers the chance to extend your season and get away from the hunting pressure. Hunting late season bulls is a special hunt too that all hunters should experience. It’s snowy, cold and the big bulls Migrate out of the mountains. There is no better feeling than focusing the scope on a big bull that’s pawing through deep snow. Then watching and waiting for an opportunity with your bow and a tag in your pocket. I love the late season and it has taught me so much about elk tendencies and habits. It continues the learning process which improves your elk hunting skillset. If your still sick for Elk hunting there are still opportunities to get out and chase these late season bulls.
There are some great premium unit tags available for the late season archery hunter. Everyone hunts elk during the rut, me included. Its where elk are most vulnerable, the are vocal and the bulls are with the cows. The late season is a different story. You can catch a bull with some cows but for the most part they are going to be looking for a solo bull or in bachelor groups. They are worn out from the rut and are trying to put weight back on to make it through winter. They like to find isolated basins and features where they can feed on meadow grass and put back away in deep timber.
To find these late season bulls you have to live and die behind your glass. I like to look for these bulls up in these isolated pockets first and last light. I look for the absolute best vantage points and then do a lot of night hiking to make it there before the sun comes up and to stay late to very last light. The first step to hunting these elk is to find the elk. They are nomadic by nature and elk country is giant. Its rare you just go for a walk and bump into these bulls. You have to find out where they are living and then hunt them.
It’s key to figure out what elevation they are living at. If its dry and warm they will still be living up high. A lot of times I find them living where they were rutting. After the snow starts to fly they will be moving closer to their winter range. The more snow you get the lower the elk will move and the easier it will be to find them. Snow is your equalizer on these late hunts and the more the better. It also forces these bulls to stay out and feed longer and come out earlier. Another one of my favorite late season tactics is to glass for tracks after a fresh snow. The tracks and round feed marks luminate in the sunlight and you can see them from miles away. This gives away their hidey-hole and now you know where they are living.
So, with calling out of the question this time of year you will be committed to spot and stalk but there are multiple approaches you can take. It will depend a lot on what opportunity the elk give you but I will describe each of the tactics I use. The first is if I locate a good bull on the morning hunt. I will watch this bull go to bed. Usually, you are not able to see him bed as he will disappear in the thick cover. If you do see his exact position its game on, time to make a play. If you don’t know his exact position but know the timber he disappeared in you have some options. Still hunting through the timber can be conducive. I prefer to hunt down hill on a bull. I will get the wind right and try and come down on top of him. I move ultra slow and glass every few steps down below me in the timber. Its important to really take your time here or you will just see the rump of an elk bumped running away from you.
I will use the snow this time of year to track bulls. It’s highly effective and it’s nice because you can hunt the middle of the day. You need to look for the right tracks meaning a lone bull or group of bulls. The size of the track will be bigger and it will be a solo elk or small group. Also if you can see where the bull pees. A cow will make a wider splash and a bull will make a direct hole into the snow, this is a good giveaway. I will track down these elk moving slow and taking my time. Key here is to spot them before they spot you. You also need a good wind here as an uphill wind to the elk just wont work. You need a good directional blowing it to the side. It will also amaze you how far an elk will walk to bed. They can walk for miles and thousands of feet of elevation. The good thing is you know there is a bull at the end of those tracks, you just have to walk him down.
Another one of my proven tactics is to take tabs on where the bull went into the timber and predict where he will come out in the evening. Usually, I feel like where they went into the cover is where they will return. I will set up on that meadow or on the edge of the timber and wait for the bull to return. This is going all in on the bull but is really effective as you don’t have to move in on him, you wait for him to come to you.
I will also hunt elk in their feeding feature. I love to spot and stalk elk and am most effective when I can see the bull out feeding and move on him. The key here is being able to spot the bull in the morning or the evening when you still have time to get to him. You can also create this scenario by spotting a bull and then putting yourself in striking distance for the next evening or morning. This is a great play and a good chance to kill that bull. The key is to keep eyes on him and his mannerisms. Pay attention to when his head is down feeding and move then. If he picks up his head you freeze and wait. Keep closing in and looking for your opportunity.
Hunting late season bulls is not for the faint of heart but it can be a great opportunity to harvest a good bull. You want to make sure you are dialed on all the right gear. I run multiple layers and then I always have puffball pants and a jacket for insulation. Man does it get cold trying to sit on a vantage point in this late season with a bit of wind. Finding a good spot with a good windbreak pays dividends this time of year. Also, when you are hiking hard make sure you are layering down. The worst thing you can do is sweat and get your clothing wet. A big part of these hunts is the experience and then just surviving in these tough hunts. Its an adventure and you need to make sure you keep it safe as trouble in this cold can happen quick.
Also, make sure your fire building skills are on point and you carry a fire starter with you. This can be a lifesaver in this late season. I use these fires on vantage points as well to keep warm and keep behind the glass. It always amazes me this time of year how cold it is when you are sitting still. A small fire tucked back in the trees on a master vantage is money in the bank in the late season!
I find hunting elk in this late season I learn a ton about behavior and ultimately it makes me a better elk hunter. There are some great opportunities in some great units if you are willing to get out in the late season. It can be challenging without the rut and without bulls bugling but it can still be thrilling elk action. The hunting pressure is lax and the bulls are still there for the taking. You just have to push through the snow and cold, live behind your glass and you just may end up with a big old late season bull of your dreams!
PUT ALL OF THESE TACTICS TOGETHER AND THIS IS WHAT YOU GET!