Strategies for Post-Rut Elk Hunting

Oct 21, 2021 | Elk Hunting | 0 comments

Hunting season has finally rounded the corner to October with days shortening and nights lengthening. The red, yellow, and orange leaves are dulling and piling up on the ground to be next year’s soil organic matter.

The peak of the elk rut is over after a long month of bugling, clashing of antlers, and establishing breeding dominance. Hunters have also had a long month of chasing rutty bulls. Now it is time for post-rut hunting and although September running and gunning tactics can be effective for post-rut bulls, we suggest some other productive approaches to hunting elk this time of year.

Switching up tactics and putting the calls deeper into your pockets can be challenging but it also provides you ways to improve your overall hunting skill set. The calls can still be used, you just need to be more strategic in how you use them in conjunction with other tactics. Note: the tips and tactics in this article can be utilized for archery, muzzleloader, and rifle hunting but are specific to mid-season October hunts.

Mid Season Post-Rut Strategies

Whitetail Food Plot Step 1
BaseMap Ambassador Trevor Schneider with a beautiful mid-October bull he shot on public land in 2021.

Drive, Listen & Glass

Don’t think we are suggesting bulls have completely shut up by now. They haven’t. This part of the season the bulls will still bugle, at least in early morning, late evening and of course, during the night. Here are two strategies for locating post-rut bulls.
1. Driving roads after dark, bugling and listening for bulls to hunt the next day can be a productive method. The main point is you need to be in a position at first light and right at dark where you can hear a long way. This point leads us to our next locating strategy
2. Trails up canyon bottoms are the most common place hunters travel in and out of the woods. Don’t do this, rather get high and travel ridges. Getting up high for glassing is a well known strategy for locating bulls. Getting up high for listening is a great strategy too, doing this makes it an auditory advantage instead of visual. Get up and travel during the dark hours in the morning on these high ridges when looking for post-rut bulls. Same with evening hunts, be on the mountain in a good place to listen after the sun goes down, even if that means walking out well after dark.
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Turn on the layers inside your “Roads & Trails” section to help you find roads and trails that you can travel at dawn or dusk where you may likely hear bulls bugling. Specifically, look for roads at the heads of canyons where you are more likely to hear longer distances.

Keep Calls in Your Pocket

Much of the romanticism of elk hunting is the interaction between man and beast through calling. Set the romanticism aside and keep those calls in your pocket. Use stealthiness to approach elk without the calling. We know it’s hard but some of these mid-season bulls are call-shy and behaviorally the elk are in a different mindset from just a couple weeks prior.

Best-case scenario is to hear a bull bugling while it’s still dark in the morning. At this point try to pinpoint its location and start moving in. No calling back, just get the wind right and go. In a perfect situation he will keep bugling and you can keep tabs on him while you approach. If you haven’t heard from him in a while and don’t know exactly where he is, throw out a soft cow call for a response, then keep moving in. Don’t try and call him in, just keep moving. This time of the season the goal is to be less than 100 yards before calling is attempted.

Situational Calling

Once within striking distance of a bull (less than 100 yards) stop for a situational assessment. If you can make a quiet approach, keep going without calling and risk giving your position away. If a bull has cows he will circle the herd perimeter to keep them grouped up. If you can get into position for a shot on a post-rut bull this should be option number one. If you have a cow between him and you, just sit tight and eventually he will make his way around. Sitting tight on the edge (or even the middle) of a herd of elk is like no other. You will see herd dynamics and behavior as well as hear vocalizations only few people experience.

Fight the urge to continuously call; they will usually take their time moving in this time of year, especially when they are near cows. Sometimes a bull will stare in your cow calling direction for several minutes, seemingly pondering how did she get over there without me seeing her move. If you call and then wait a while, then softly call again, curiosity and remnants of testosterone pulsing through their blood will usually get the better of them.

Whitetail Food Plot Step 4

Enjoy the Transition

Post-rut elk hunting is a fun time of year to hunt and has its own opportunities and challenges. The weather, climate, and landscape are all transitioning. Elk are transitioning as well. The prime rut is over, most of the cows are bred, and winter’s grasp is threatening to sweep in. The challenge is that you can’t really hunt bulls the same way as you did during the rut. Conversely, they haven’t yet bachelored up for the winter, either. As a hunter you are in this weird in-between space. Elk can still be called in and definitely are killable, but you need to play the situation right. Using some of these strategies you can, and will kill, elk this time of year. Get out and enjoy the crisp October air, see the leaves falling, and watch as all wildlife around you prepares for winter.

Written by: Zach Bowhay

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