Zach has taken multiple big game species across the Rocky Mountain states. He is highly regarded in the Western hunting community as an exceptional elk caller and as an expert in DIY elk hunting on public lands. Additionally, Zach has successfully taken many deer across the West. He is also a well-published writer, writing for several print and web titles.
You would be hard-pressed to find a more passionate hunter group than those who prefer archery elk hunting. Collectively, they continually scour maps, evaluate gear, and practice calling techniques to others’ dismay. The list goes continues … To most, archery elk hunting is defined by the echoes of bugling bulls and frenzied harems of cows during the magic month, September. Still, even the most hardcore of hunters is limited by time. It’s plain to read the lot’s desires: experience the most action-packed hunt as possible; an adventure with all of the fragrances, sounds, and emotions of elk country. While archery elk hunting might be the pinnacle for this group, don’t discount that to their enjoyment, other hunts are planned for the latter part of the season, not just September. To go on record, I love the heat of the elk rut as much as any other. The following provides strategies to prepare to take a bull early in the game, before things really crank up, on opening weekend.
Archery Elk Hunting Scouting Methods
As you likely know, during the summer months, mature bulls will be paired up with other mostly mature bulls in bachelor groups. Cows, calves, and juvenile bulls will be in their own herds. When you are scouting for elk during the summer, you have to decide if you are scouting for elk in general or a place to hunt elk early. It’s possible to do both at the same time. Still, you must understand that finding the big herds of cows out feeding in the wide open for the world to see is not likely where you will find that big, nasty bull on the opening day of archery season. These bachelor herds of bulls are often in some hidden pocket up high where they can escape people, bugs, and all the other disturbances to their daily routine. They look for places where they have water, cover, and great feed all nearby. Once you have found elk in these areas, you will notice that they usually don’t wander far. If left alone, bulls will usually stay in the same general area for most of the late summer into September until either hunters or the rut gets them moving. If you keep this in mind and glass them from afar instead of going in and disturbing their comfort zone, you will have a good chance of finding an unsuspecting bull or two to keep tabs on. Doing so will give you a good idea of where to start on opening morning. Instead of tromping through their core living area, keep tabs on found bachelor groups from afar. Take your time to watch the bulls, noting their travel patterns, feeding habits, and timing of each event’s occurrence. Unbothered elk can become extremely predictable. The more time you spend learning the daily routines of bull groups, the more pieces of the puzzle you will have put together by opening day, a definite boon for archery elk hunting.
When opening day arrives, you need to be prepared for the approach you will take, each option as deadly as the others. If I know where bulls are likely to be, and the country lends itself to stalking, that is my first choice. Early in the season, when elk have not yet been bothered, a stealthy spot-and-stalk hunter stands a good chance at moving in close for a shot. Another viable option for patterned bulls is to move into position and then create an ambush. This can be implemented in a couple of different ways. You can simply move in and set up and wait in a pre-determined location and hope for the best. Or an alternative option is more of a spot-and-ambush technique where you watch and wait until you see a bull heading to a place you can move to quickly. Then, move stealthily, intercepting the unsuspecting bull. Last but not least is the familiar option of elk calling. It can change from year to year, but it often seems that elk can be quite vocal near the beginning of the season. However, often this only occurs for the first few days of archery elk hunting, followed by a short lull caused by eager bowhunters. Overzealous hunters tend to stir things up, and elk tend to quiet down for a week or two until the rut really kicks in. Still, I have called in a lot of bulls in the first few days of the season. If calling is your method of choice, I highly recommend moving in as close to the elk as possible and calling sparingly. Using this tactic, you can often get their curiosity piqued enough that they come in to inspect what’s going on. Make sure you have an arrow nocked, and stay on high alert as many times bulls will come in silent, leaving the same way if they don’t find what they are looking for.
There is one element that I must mention regarding archery elk hunting bulls early on. Keeping tabs on elk, bulls specifically, during the summer months is relatively easy. However, once you decide to go into their comfort zone in an attempt to kill one of them, drastic changes come quickly. Often, you only have one shot at relaxed elk before they turn into pressured elk. If you show up and there aren’t other hunters in the area, it benefits you incredibly if you are methodical in your approach. Go to great lengths to keep the wind in your favor, keep out of sight, and be quiet. Most importantly, even if that means looping into the next drainage, get into shooting position unnoticed. During the early stages of archery elk hunting, the element of surprise is crucial.
Final Thoughts on Archery Elk Hunting
The methods mentioned above all work. Each hunter needs to evaluate the situation, coupled with their hunting style and capabilities, before deciding on an approach to take. Hunting during the heat of the rut is no doubt one of hunting’s greatest thrills. Still, any time you can outsmart an animal on their home turf is the ultimate reward. The truth be known, every day in the elk woods is a good day; a kill is just icing on the cake. Archery elk hunting in the early stages of the rut is worthwhile. Who knows, you might take home a bull before all the hoards of hunters even show up. Or perhaps, you may choose to stay, taking in all of the elements the elk rut has to offer.
Must-Have Archery Elk Hunting Gear
KUIU Pro LT 4000 Backpack
Light and tough, the 3.8-pound PRO LT 4000 goes where other packs can’t. Featuring new fabric technology and construction, the LT line-up is full-featured and ultralight weight.
Crispi Thor II GTX Boots
The Thor II GTX was designed exclusively for the North American Market and was tested in the rugged mountains of the West. This boot has a minimalistic feel but is capable of conquering any mountain.
Heads Up Cow Elk Decoy
Don’t call in that bull only to let him hang up 100 yards out. Our Cow Elk Decoy is made specifically for the mobile elk hunter and to be taken every day of the hunt.
Phelps Game Calls Hulk Elk Call Package
Are you ready to take on the elk woods like HULK? Well, Jason might not be quite as tough as the real Hulk, but he certainly played it off in the elk woods.
Vortex Optics Razor UHD 12×50 Bino
When you want to take the best-of-the-best to the next level… Enter the Razor UHD. The Ultra High Definition optical design features an improved optical prescription and unparalleled image resolution.
Hunt DIY is a comprehensive resource for DIY hunting adventures. Zach Bowhay and other HuntDIY contributors share their knowledge and experiences from years of successful — and not-so-successful — hunts through articles with high-quality imagery and videos. Hunt DIY strives to show the average hunter — one with a busy lifestyle and on a modest budget — how to produce above-average results. Follow Zach Bowhay and his hunting friends and family into the backcountry.