8 Tips On How To Find Bull Elk In The Early Season (Pre-Rut)

By Charles •  10 min read
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Many elk hunters consider the rut to be the easiest time to find bull elk. As a result, these hunters choose to wait until the rut is in full swing to begin elk hunting. However, they could be making a mistake by not trying to find bull elk in the early season. In fact, I would highly encourage you to try an early season elk hunt if you have the chance.

I would not say that being able to find bull elk in the early season is easy, but it is entirely possible. However, you will need to look in some different locations and apply different elk hunting tactics than during the rut

Where To Find Bull Elk In The Early Season

You may be asking yourself where to start looking to find elk in early September or Late August. During this time, the cow elk have not yet come into estrus so most bull elk will be in bachelor herds or living alone. Since they have not yet started focusing on cows, these bull’s priorities are food, water, and many times, staying cool.

  • You will want to look for bull elk as high as possible, even above tree line if possible.  It is much cooler up at these elevations. In addition, these areas are often more secluded, still have lush, green food for the elk, and have water.
  • In lower elevation areas, you will want to look in the opposite direction.  You should start looking for the deepest and steepest canyons. Cool air will settle in these areas and make it more comfortable for the bull elk. Again, these areas are usually more secluded and have streams or springs which means food and water.

Early Season (Pre-Rut) Archery Elk Hunting Tactics

1. Calling For Bull Elk During The Early Season

You should be ready to call for elk on an early season elk hunt. However, you need to know what you are “saying”. During this time most bull elk may not be ready to fight and you do not necessarily want to be challenging them. Most of the bugles you hear will be of a more social nature.

Location Bugles

Location Bugles are one trick you will want in your bag of tricks. Climb to a high ridge to start your location bugling. From this high point, the sound of your bugle will travel further and give you a chance to plan a move if you get a response.

It is important to keep in mind during the early season that a bull is not likely responding out of aggression. Those bulls are just letting you know where they are. Therefore, you probably do not want to be too aggressive. Use your location bugles for just what it says. Locate the bull then try to move in on them.

  • Once you have the bull located, you should move to a location where you can start getting closer with the wind in your favor.
  • Try to move in to about one hundred yards of where the bull was and try another bugle. If the bull answers again, keep moving in.
  • Do not be afraid to move quick and make noise (be an elk) as you move in; however, keep an eye open. A bull very well may be coming to you silently.
  • Once you get to about seventy yards, try to bugle again. Move up another thirty yards and set up. A bull that is moving in will be focused on the area you called from and will hopefully walk right past you.
  • If at anytime the bull stops calling, find an area with good shooting lanes and get set up. Wait for at least thirty minutes because the elk may be coming in silently.

Cold Calling

If you get into an area with a lot of good sign or where an elk answered but later went silent, you can set up for some cold calling.

  • Get set up in an area with good shooting lanes and where you have good wind and do some calling sequences. Light grunts and chuckles mixed with some cow calls can be effective.
  • Do not be afraid to add in some raking and breaking sticks to you calling sequences.
  • Stop, wait, and listen for a few minutes. During this time of year bulls are likely to be very curious and will likely come in. However, there is a very good chance they will be coming in silently.
  • After about fifteen to thirty minutes, repeat your calling sequence and wait again. If you do not have any action after an hour, move on to a new area and try again.

2. Spot and Stalk Elk Hunting During The Early Season

If you spent any time e-scouting for elk, you should already have multiple potential water, food, and bedding locations marked on your map or GPS Device. You should find a good glassing location to start looking over these areas.

  • Make sure you are glassing both early in the day and late.
    • Look above timberline in the high elevations.
    • In the deep canyons, you should be glassing open feeding areas and potential water sources.
  • If you find bull elk during the early season in the morning, you should watch them until they get to their bedding areas.
    • Once the elk have bedded down for the day you can begin your stalk. As you move in closer, you will want to make sure that the wind currents and thermals have settled in for the day. When this happens, you may be able to move in on the bull while he is in his bed.
  • When the elk bed in a location that is not accessible for a stalk you may want to consider trying to move in on them while they are feeding. Elk can be very focused on feeding and if you can move in front of them, you have a good chance of getting a shot at a bull.

3. Locate And Hunt Over Water & Wallows

Water Holes

If you are not having any luck spotting and stalking during the early season, you should locate a water source and set up an ambush. Elk must have water every day and this is especially true during these hot days.

In addition, if you are hunting a location where food is plentiful, but water is scarce, you will want to focus on looking for the water sources since elk must water every day. You can then focus your efforts on hunting trails between water sources and bedding areas or near the water holes.


Wallows will be key during this time of the season. If the temperature is hot, bulls will likely travel to the wallows to cool off.  Hunting over these wallows or on trails between them and a bedding area is a great mid-day strategy.

4. Hunt In Transition Areas To Find Bull Elk During The Early Season

If you are hunting an area that is not good for glassing, you can always hunt transition areas.  These are areas you can set up and watch between feeding, bedding, and watering areas. It is critically important that you pay attention to the wind in these set ups.

Elk will always try to move with the wind blowing into their faces. If the thermals are blowing down the mountain, set up at a lower elevation than their travel route. On the other hand, if the thermals are blowing up, set up at a higher elevation. Once you spot the elk, you can begin stalking the elk by moving parallel to them and slowly closing the gap. Elk make a lot of noise while they walk/feed so just make sure they do not see you and especially do not smell you.

5. Close In On Bedding Areas To Find Bull Elk During The Early Season

How to find bull elk in the early season - bedded elk
Photo by Ted Kendall on Unsplash

If you have located an area where elk are bedding but you cannot set up on them in a transition zone or stalk them while feeding, you can always try to sneak into their bedding areas. Once again, you must always pay attention to the wind if you decide to try to stalk into an elk’s bedroom. Always keep the wind in your face while you are sneaking into the bedding area. If the wind changes, back out immediately.

When you decide to move into an elk’s bedroom, you must keep in mind that it is likely a one-time chance. If you do not kill the elk and they spook, they will leave the country. That bedding area is going to be abandoned for several days at least if not the rest of the season.

6. Locate Groups Of Cows & Calves

While the big bulls won’t likely be with the cows yet, a new hunter or someone that just wants to find success may be able to harvest a spike or rag horn that is trying to get a jump start on the rut.

7. Ask For Help To Be Able To Find Bull Elk In The Early Season

  • Local sporting goods stores are a fantastic place to ask about the location of elk.  Because they know if new hunters in the area find game they are likely to return.
  • Taxidermists are often a fountain of information. After all, they are talking to everyone that is dropping their trophies off and while they may not tell you an exact rock to sit on, they will usually point you in the right direction.
  • Meat processors like taxidermists talk to many successful hunters and may be willing to point you in the right direction.
  • If nothing else, you can also hire a local guide.  Make sure you get some good recommendations because you want this guide to be working as hard as you.

8. Pay Attention To Bull Behavior As the Season Progresses

It is worth noting how bull behavior will change as you get deeper into September before the peak rut period.

Bulls will shed the velvet from their antlers and will become more curious about the movement and location of cows in their area. You should still be sticking close to food and water, but you will be focusing more on locations where these are present, and the cow groups can be found.

Final Thoughts On How to Find Bull Elk In The Early Season

Finding elk in a new area is not always easy. For those who do not know what tactics to use in the early season, this can be discouraging. Because of this many hunters will wait for the elk to start “talking”. They may want to reconsider this because there are some major advantages hunting the early season.

Bulls are still grouped up in bachelor herds. Therefore, you will be able to look over more bulls and pick the one you want to harvest.

  • There are fewer eyes watching you. Since bachelor groups are often smaller than groups of cows, you will have fewer elk watching you as you make your stalk.
  • There is less hunting pressure, and the elk should be less spooky.
  • Later in the season, under pressure, elk are likely to retreat further away from ATV trails and human presence.  Therefore, you may have to hike in further to find the elk.  In the early season, you will not likely need to hike quite as far.  So, maybe you CAN get that last hour of sleep.

Do some research, ask questions, find a guide if necessary and get out there; the elk will be sleepy and unaware.

Featured Photo by Dave Willhite on Unsplash


Charles is a man who loves the outdoors. He moved to Wyoming specifically to spend more time in the mountains and wilderness. A hunter and fisherman, Charles knows how to enjoy nature and all that it has to offer. He is an outdoorsman through and through, and he wouldn't have it any other way. Charles is the President of Absaroka Enterprises, an company focuse on outdoor entertainment and endeavours. He's also an Editor for Alpha and Omega Outdoors, an online hunting, fishing, camping, trapping, and all around outdoors blog.

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