Tips for Hunting Early-Season Bulls
Don’t Discredit Early-Season Hunting
BaseMap Ambassador Zach Bowhay, the author of this article, behind one of his early-season archery bulls.
However, in many states out West seasons start much earlier. For example, Idaho starts August 30th, Wyoming begins September first and most states start in that same general time frame. Then there are states like Nevada and Utah that start in mid-August, well before the rut. For the most part each state has their prospective bow hunts start before the heat of the action. As hunters we have two choices, wait for the middle of September to hunt, or figure out how to hunt pre-rut elk and extend our seasons.
For me, if the season is open, I want to be hunting. Due to this I had no choice other than figure it out, so I have spent the last 20 years chasing elk in all time frames of the rut and have found all to be productive with the right tactics.
In this article we are going over early season tactics and how to improve your game. Over the years I have found quite a bit of early season success, and although it’s not my favorite phase of the rut, I look forward to it each year. The following are some tactics you could use to improve your early season hunting skill set.
Ditch the Calls
Hunt Deep-Timber Bulls
Usually it’s a half-hearted response and they don’t come charging in. If you move toward them and call just enough to keep them paying attention you can eventually get them to come and investigate. I never get aggressive on my calls in this scenario, instead just quiet cow calls and low volume bugles with no chuckles.
Patience is the key in this type of calling. Once a bull answers, be patient. Let out a few calls, then wait for 15 or 20 minutes. If he comes closer, stay put. If he doesn’t seem to be moving, move a short distance closer and repeat. Patience, patience, and more patience. I promise, it pays off.
I will often spend my mornings glassing and trying to find a bull to stalk and if that doesn’t pan out, I will head to the dark timber and work the thick stuff trying to turn up a lazy bull.
I am not a huge fan of heights, so I take a portable ground blind with me on every hunt, instead of a tree stand, just in case I find a good place to set it up. Sometimes I don’t use it, but it never hurts to have it in the truck, just in case. You can also build a blind from natural foliage in the area, but I have found that portable ground blinds do a good job of containing scent, which is paramount in mountainous terrain with ever changing thermals.
– LAYERS –
As I mentioned, elk can travel great lengths to water. Often this happens in the last few minutes of daylight. In areas without a lot of water, this can even be out in the wide-open sage brush a good distance from the nearest timber. Investigating these areas for tracks can give you a good idea if elk are visiting the area.