Too Hot to Rut? – Elk Hunting “Outside the Box”
by Chad Baart

Dreams of elk hunting often include high mountain meadows with heart stopping bugles piercing through the frosty air. These are the times that we often think of
when it comes to elk hunting. A time when the majestic elk break from their bachelor groups in search of their own harems. A time when they become vulnerable. This time is known as the rut.

Elk spend the greater part of summer feeding on nutrient rich vegetation. Their antler growth continues throughout the summer. As the days grow shorter hormones race
through the elks body which begins the antler calcification process. The velvet then sheds and the bulls begin the rut process. Bulls begin the mockery of battle as they rub their velvet and polish their antlers.

Though I am a big fan of hunting the typical rut, I also like to take advantage of the
entire elk season. It has been discovered that older generations of cows will start cycling at the end of August. With estrous in the air and preparation for the rut already under way by the bulls, things are happening earlier that most would expect. You may just need to make a few changes to your typical elk hunting habits to be successful in early season.

Hunting travel routes is key!

The start to the 2011 elk season was hotter than normal. With daytime temperatures reaching into the 80′s and nighttime temperatures dipping to around 50 we found the elk to be very lethargic. Mid day bugles were non existent as were most mornings and evenings. Our normal habits of posturing ourselves between bugling bulls as the herd moves would have to change!

We were very familiar with the area that we were hunting and knew where the elk would be feeding, but more importantly we knew where they would be bedding. Prior to
the season opener we placed tree stands in the bedding areas so we could wait for the elks arrival. The first location proved to be a direct hit with cows bedding directly under the tree stand on opening day. A friend from out of state was patient enough to wait for a bull to show up and he was able to fill his tag.

Knowing that by disrupting the primary bedding areas would further yield negative
results, we embarked upon our new plan since our first harvest was out of the way. The primary and all secondary bedding areas form a funnel which leads to the high meadows in which the elk feed. Most of our days were spent napping on a hillside under a pine tree, but when the 3 o’clock hour hit each day it was time to put our plan into action.

Even with the unseasonably high temperatures topped off by am almost full moon, it was evident by the amount of rubs and urine soaked beds that the rut was happening
under our noses. We hunt several miles in from the trailhead. This provides us with an older than normal cow population. Some of the older, matriarchal cows will rival many of the bulls in body mass. This scenario helps add to our early season success as the older cows are starting to cycle early.

One particular evening as the elk worked their way up through the funnels we were able to gain the interest of a 300 class bull. Cow calling works well with emphasis going towards a hint of estrous whine. Though this is what an early season bull who is ready for the rut wants to hear, this is only half the key to success. After introducing the cow calling I like to follow it up with some huffs and grunts. This will mimic a cow being held from the herd. It imitates a situation that a tending bull does not want to hear. Often times this is all it takes.

Be ready when they start to move!

We had started cow calling just up the hill from a popular bedding area that is
located in the funnel. After several attempts of calling and waiting we slowly worked our way up the hill and were greeted by a nice bull coming in to investigate. Our positioning in the funnel put us in the right location and the imitation of a cow in estrous being tended by a smaller bull was all that bull could handle. He was headed in to investigate.

Before we were offered a shot opportunity on the bull we experienced a toned down version of what one would expect to hear from a full rutting bull. The bull gave out a
bunch of huffs in order to get the cow to leave the bull that she was with and come to him. Before proceeding forward the bulls stomach began to rise and fall as he let out an almost
inaudible bugle which sounded more like he was gasping for air. This evening was void of all bugles and had we not been on top of this bull we would have never known that he was present.

As always I hear stories of heat playing a key factor in elk hunting success. I know of many hunters who have chosen to stay home instead of hunt. Hot weather does indeed change the elks habits, but you too could be missing out on prime opportunities by not altering yours. Even when the mercury rises the elk are rutting. By elk hunting “outside the box” you too could be hanging your next bull on the wall.