By Mike Willis
A few weeks ago, we covered the best strategies for finding early bow season elk. Now that the rut is on and temperatures are cool, hunting pressure and the search for companionship control everything. The elk are no longer tethered to those north-facing slopes and watering holes. Therefore, don’t expect the elk to stay where they have been in September’s early days.
Right about now, the elk are in the peak of the rut. What does this mean for you? The best opportunities for the season! Normally older bulls are pretty smart and manage to keep themselves out of danger. During this small window of opportunity, you can capitalize on their clouded judgment. Below are three deadly tactics to use over the next several weeks.
#1 Get Between the Bull and His Cows
Hunters often make futile attempts towards calling a bull by bugling while his harem surrounds him. It should be no surprise that this rarely results in a bull running into bow range. If cows already surround the bull, why would he leave them? The bull will often bugle for you, but he won’t move.
When that bull just won’t leave his cows, use soft mews (cow calls) to help you “slip” into the herd. Calls should be calm so as not to draw too much attention to your movements. The goal is to get in between that bull and some cows to bugle. When properly executed, you will pose a threat to the bull by “mingling” with his cows.
No guy likes some ragtag dude creeping up on his lady friends. After all, he probably worked pretty hard to earn his way to being a lead bull. When you sound off with that bugle, he will surely respond to his instincts to round up his cows and ward off any competition.
Keep in mind that the more eyes there are around you, the greater the chances are of being busted. If the elk are on the move, try positioning yourself ahead of them so the herd will wander by you. By waiting until you are in the middle of the passing herd, you can pick the perfect moment to fire that bull up by bugling.
#2 Entice the Cows to Join the Party
By using a series of light calling, you can effectively create an elk gathering. Instead of doing the “cow-in-heat” call, focus on light calling that suggests calm grazing and gathering of the herd. If you don’t get too carried away with your calls, you can actually steer the herd (and that bull) in the direction that you want them to go. The trick is making the elk think that you are one of their own.
Make sure that you keep calls relaxed and subtle. Aggressive calling could put the elk on alert. You may even make the bull suspicious that there is more to the story that you are trying to tell. If that happens, he will round up his cows and lead them far beyond your reach.
#3 Just Be Silent!
Elk are surprisingly tolerant of noise, but it has to be the right kind. Elk are herd animals, so they hear each other crunching and crashing around all day. The hunter gets in trouble when they make unnatural movements or wear gear that sounds the alarm. The other way that hunters get into trouble is by calling too much!
Whitetail hunters have the quiet thing figured out. They have no issue understanding the need to “dig in” and be quiet. However, elk hunters get addicted to the running and gunning aspect of their sport. In an area where there is hunting pressure, being quiet and still are often the best things that you can do. As the pressure turns up, the elk will go silent when hearing elk calls. Overly eager hunters regularly educate elk that people can make elk noises too!
Another consideration is that if there have been wolves in your area, the elk will not want to congregate near the loudmouth. Predators tighten things up, and the fear is real. Whether a human or a wolf causes the pressure, sometimes elk want silence the most.