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How to Get the Most Out of the Elk Rut

Joe Riekers

Increase your odds of success during the elk rut.

The elk rut is a magical time when bulls are bugling with one thing on their mind – breeding.

These few tips will give you the edge so you get the most out of the rut.

Capitalize on the occasion

The elk rut is typically in September. Not every state allows rifle hunting during this early season, so be willing to use a bow or muzzleloader to capitalize on the open early seasons.

Look for out-of-the way places where draw opportunities may be limited but success rates are high. Also, look for over-the-counter opportunities where access is available.

One way to access private land during the elk rut is to contact local realtors and ask if they know a land owner that would be willing to lease a week of hunting rights for a fee. One area that has proven worthy of the pre-season legwork required to secure a hunt is the Eastern Plains zone of Colorado. This area has ample over-the-counter tags available for both bulls and cows.

RELATED: How To Purchase Colorado Hunting Licenses Online [VIDEO]

Smelling is believing

Human scent control is paramount when hunting the rut. Cow elk are wary and intolerant after being pushed around by bulls.  Dominant bulls are at wits end with satellite bulls, who are losing patience from trying to get close to the herd cows.

All this activity creates a heightened sense of awareness for the elk. Since the elk’s nerves are ready to snap at the slightest provocation, they will react quickly and definitively to any foreign odor that they deem threatening or invasive.

RELATED: 10 Scent Control Products You Need to Have This Deer Hunting Season

As the hunter, you may need to be very close to the elk due to equipment limitations (like those associated with bowhunting or muzzleloader hunting). Even with a rifle, the rut is the time to use a call to get bull elk to come to you, so encounters are likely to be close.

Scent control clothing and scent limiting sprays are your best preventative from spooking elk with offensive smells. Working the wind properly is also essential.

Colorado bull elk taken during early season in the rut
Colorado bull elk taken during early season in the rut.  Photo by Joe Riekers

Elk scent disbursement works well during the rut. Cow-in-heat scent, elk herd scents and bull elk urine can all be used to calm nearby elk. The scents can also lure elk in close or stall elk in a particular location. Don’t over-do it, a curious or calm elk is easier to get close to than an elk that feels intruded upon.

Fake it to make it

Decoys can make the difference between seeing the elk and actually getting a shot. A decoy will draw the elks attention away from the hunter. Used in conjunction with a call and elk scent, a decoy will bring a curious or love-seeking elk right into your lap.

The elk rut is the part of the season that elk are most vocal. A bull bugle should be used to elicit a response from bulls within earshot and can be used to entice a bull to come in closer to investigate the source of the bugle.

Cow and calf calls are excellent tools to get a cautious bull to break away from other disinterested elk or elk that may be playing hard to get.

In conjunction with a decoy and scent, a cow call will usually be enough to get a bull to focus on the sound and seek it out.

And don’t forget one of the most obvious parts of elk hunting: camo.

Camouflage can help you avoid the elks keen eyesight. Particular attention should be paid to face covering and hands. Face-paint can be effective as long as it blocks any reflection or hard outlines. Face-masks and full head covers are also great but can be burdensome depending on the weather.

Find the pattern

Pattern the herd whenever possible. Scouting and reading signs can provide a good indication of where elk are coming from and going to. During the elk rut, herds often follow the same travel patterns to and from food sources and water and back to bedding grounds.

RELATED: The Biggest Elk Kills in the Record Books [PICS]

Weather, hunting pressure and natural features of the environment will all influence the consistency of the elk herd’s travel patterns. If you can locate elk that are on a pattern you must put a plan of action together quickly and try your skill and luck before the pattern changes.

If the elk are on a pattern or are frequenting focal points, you need to find a pinch-point or ambush area. Ideally, you want to get to a location that the elk are headed way before they arrive, and set up in a strategic location where they will pass by, gather or end up.

Often a source of water will be one of the elk’s focal points. Dry creek beds or creeks with low water levels are great pinch-points to focus on if active signs are present.

The rut is the best time to come face-to-face with and elk. If you’re ready and follow these basic guidelines, you’ll be setting yourself up for success during this exciting and productive time of year.

Do you want to get up close and personal with elk?  What are your elk rut strategies?

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How to Get the Most Out of the Elk Rut