How to Hunt the Elk Rut: Elk Hunting Season Breakdown by Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo

Video Transcription

Ralph: Elk, one of the most magnificent creatures on this planet. For anyone who has heard a bull bugle, you know what I'm talking about.

Vicki: To see him in person and witness the chills that rush up and down your spine as he approaches your location.

Ralph: Telling all in the herd that he's coming looking for you. You who has been calling him with your challenging bugles, grunts and glunking, raking and everything else. Yes, this is elk hunting. And once it captures your soul, you never can let it go. Hi, I'm Ralph Cianciarulo.

Vicki: And I'm Vicki Cianciarulo. And we want to talk to you guys about the different elk phases.

Ralph: Yep, you have pre-rut, you have rut, you have post-rut, you have end of season or late season. So we're going to try to cover it all and hope you enjoy it.

Vicki: So hold on to your hat. Let's go.

Elk Hunting Season Breakdown

Vicki: For many, the drive each and every fall is to witness just that. A screaming bull comes running into your face head on and you're at full draw.

Ralph: There are multiple phases of each elk hunting season. And here is a simple breakdown to help you live out this very special adventure, season after season.

Vicki: We are talking about mountain range elk hunting here where the elk start high up in the Alpine and migrate to the lower lands for winter. This migration really never changes. And as long as you can learn more about the elk themselves, your hunting strategies adapt each part for the season.

Early Season

Ralph: In many states, opening of archery elk is in late August. And this is one of the best opportunities to actually use your white-tail strategies to pattern the elk.

Vicki: It's normally warm or should we say hot. The most critical aspect of this time is water.

Ralph: The bulls are very patternable at this time. They're in their bachelor groups and focused on food and water.

Vicki: Most of the time, they will be in the high Alpine situations preferring to be away from everything. The fresh green grasses are plentiful and higher up in the dark canyons, allowing some cooler air to exist for them. They will normally be where the best food source for the given area is and always know where the water source exists. Taking a high vantage point in glassing these areas, setting trail cameras or just reading signs near and around certain water sources is a big plus to early season encounters.

Ralph: Remember to try and locate where the elk are bedding and try not to disturb or bump them in your way in and out. This time of year, if you locate them and don't pressure them, stand hunting or even blind hunting is the way to go at these water sources.

Vicki: The bull's only concern is food and water, getting their bodies ready for what's to come.


Vicki: Early September, water is still a key, but understand pressure is starting to build and more people are entering the mountains.

Ralph: And slowly the cooler fall air starts to bring changes in the herd.

Vicki: Pre-rut is starting. This is a great time to be hunting. The bulls are still somewhat grouped up, but starting to separate so you don't have to deal with the big herds of elk yet, with the multiple eyes, ears and noses to smell see and hear you with.

Ralph: The move slowly starts from the bachelor groups to break up and start to locate the girls. Your younger bulls are the first to head to the cows. As the older more mature bulls, they're in no hurry. For the cows are not ready yet.

Vicki: This is also a great time to sneak in on one or more of those mature bulls as they are going through the pecking order establishing who's the boss. Calling is starting and most of the time your younger bulls are going to be the ones that can be more responsive to you because their testosterone is increasing faster.

Ralph: Do not give up on the water at this time though. It is still very crucial part of their survival and where there is water, there are elk.

elk grazing in early morning light

The Rut

Vicki: As September moves on, so does the rut and the breeding start and all your bulls are active at this time. Calling and moving in on the bulls at this time are at its peak. Bulls that were buddies all summer long now will fight just to claim that cow that's ready to breed. The competition is on and moving in and calling is the key.

Ralph: We've had ups and downs typical elk hunt. But I'm telling you what we were into elk every single day. And now we are taking home fresh elk meat. In more dry climate weather, water can still be a great opportunity. However, as the elk approached water source, you can be dealing with more and more animals and a higher opportunity to be busted with more eyes, ears and noses. This is the time we all dream of. The fighting, challenging and the aggressive behaviors of the elk are at full swing. And to be able to witness this is truly an honor and a privilege for all of us to experience.

Vicki: As October settles in, the early part of the month in most western locations still see in here rut activity. The bulls have been at it for some time now. They are still responsive to calling and answering the challenges of your bugles.

Ralph: The herds are very well established and he knows there is always an opportunity for some stranger to come in and steal one of his girls.


Vicki: The further we go into this month, the post rut begins and challenging is not the priority, but rather a search for one of those remaining cows that maybe were just not bred yet or cycled through. This is a great time to pull a big old bull away from the herd as he thinks he found the last cow that he wants. Still hunting with the wind in your favor staying right on the outside of their core area can give you the opportunity you have been hoping for.

Late Season

Ralph: Late season elk hunting. Most of the country is chasing white tails somewhere, however, depending on what state your tag is in, late season elk can be a blast and for many, this is their preferred time to hunt.

Vicki: The bulls are back grouped up and the only thought process again is food and survival. Most of the vegetation is off the trees and this makes spotting a bull much easier. Glassing a lot at this time of year and spending all day if you can and the cold weather is the ticket to punching your elk tag.

Ralph: Water is less of a concern in late season. Much of the wildlife gets their needed moisture from the weather conditions holding on vegetation.

Vicki: Your hunting activity is for searching for wherever the food is at where the wind has swept away much of the snow, so look for the south facing slopes where the sunlight and the wind has opened the ground surface.

Ralph: A lot of glassing and searching this time of year and when the opportunity presents itself, you need to be ready to seize it.


Ralph: You know we've been elk hunting for a long time, like many many years and we still learn. So don't think you're doing something wrong, just remember. The animals are the best teachers themselves.