5 Tips For Successfully Hunting Late-Season Elk

Dec 8, 2020 | Elk Hunting | 3 comments

There are few experiences more exhilarating than hunting rutted up, screaming bulls in September. The sad reality – opportunities to hunt these love sick bulls are few and far between, especially for a rifle hunter. The vast majority of elk hunts that take place during the peak of the rut are either limited draw tags or archery hunts. This leaves post-rut hunts for the majority of us to pursue the elusive wapiti each fall.

The tactics used to find success during late post-rut hunts vary greatly from the run-n-gun tactics used to find success in September. Here are five tips and tactics that will give you the upper hand next time you find yourself pursuing secluded late season bulls.

Understand Elk Behavior

Come late October, mature bulls leave the cows in search of isolation. This seclusion allows them to recover from the grueling grind of the rut, and attempt to put some fat back on before the frigid cold of winter sets in.

This snippet of elk biology tells us two things. First, begin your search in remote and rugged areas that bulls are least likely to encounter any sort of human interaction. Focus on canyons and pockets that have a bare south facing slope or windswept ridge top, and a nearby north facing slope with some sort of cover.

Second, because of the bulls necessity to put as much body fat back on as possible, food is king. When there is snow on the ground, focus on bare south facing slopes morning and evening, and tree covered north facing slopes in the middle of the day. Also, bulls will typically feed longer in the mornings and evenings, as well as a mid-day feed, in an attempt to make up for the fat loss induced by the physical strains of the rut.

BaseMap Tip: Turn on BaseMap’s 3D Earth Topo Map to easily locate deep canyons with thick cover where big bulls like to stay concealed.

Pre-Season Scouting

Pre-season scouting during your post-rut hunt can be extremely beneficial. However, it will not do any good to scout in August, for a November or December hunt. The elk will simply not be in the same areas in August that they will be once the rut has ended. Take two or three days before your late hunt opens to go and scout your unit. This will give you a lay of the land as well as help you locate a bull to pursue. Once a shooter bull is located, learn everything you can about his habits. Remember, in an effort to conserve as much energy as possible, most bulls this time of year will hold to a very small core area.

Going into opening morning with the knowledge of where a bull is located increases your chance of success tenfold over 90% of your competition who showed up the night before the opener.

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Bachelor Groups

Although bitter enemies just a month prior, it is very common for bulls to configure into bachelor groups post-rut. Generally speaking, where there is one, there will be others. When hunting, do not discredit the small raghorn bull you glass up across the canyon. Meticulously pick apart every piece of that hillside looking for bits and pieces of other bulls. Even give it an hour or more before you pack up and move on. It’s amazing how these giant 800+ pound animals can disappear and reappear on a seemingly open hillside.

Hunt All Day

Hunting all day, especially when hunting late season bulls, could mean the difference between a punched tag, and tag soup. One advantage of late season hunts is that the leaves have fallen off the trees. Glassing up bulls mid-day through dense pockets of aspens and oak brush is no easy task. It will require time and patience behind the glass but can be extremely beneficial. Pick apart every inch of the grove of trees you are glassing looking for bits and pieces of an elk. Often an antler tip glowing in the sun, or the unmistakable tan rump protruding out from behind a tree will give their location away. Once you locate a bull, hustle into position so that you will be ready to strike when the bull gets up from his bed.

If you are battling extreme cold temps, it is common for bulls to bed out on an open face or windswept ridge. They do this in an effort to soak up as much sun as possible during the bitter cold temps and consequently are generally easy to glass up.

The days are short during these late hunts. Maximize the limited daylight you have and force yourself to grind it out all day. You will be surprised by the amount of elk you see when most are back at camp enjoying a mid-day siesta.

Be Patient & Glass

Hunting bulls post-rut is very similar to hunting mule deer. Lots of time behind the glass and an immense amount of patience is typically required to find success. Due to the reclusive nature of post-rut bulls, find a good vantage point and glass at extreme distances into remote, difficult to access areas. This will save both time and precious energy that you will need once bulls are located.

No Pain No Gain

Late season elk hunting is not for the faint of heart and is sure to test the resolve of even the most veteran of hunters. It will be cold, you will push your legs and lungs to exhaustion, and your mental resolve will be tested. However, the reward of notching your tag on a regal late season bull is sure to fuel the fire with lifelong memories and a freezer full of some of the best meat known to man.

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  1. Excellent article & tips. My son and I have late season elk tags so we are soaking up as much info as possible. Thanks!

  2. Good luck, Dawn! Let us know how you do!

  3. Much respect and I will be happy to try this out and bring home some meals

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