How to Find Bull Elk During The Rut

By Charles •  5 min read

It is amazing how sudden the rut comes on in September. The same area goes from the quiet domain of vigilant elk to a hotbed of loud bugling attention-seekers in a matter of days. Therefore, being able to find bull elk during the rut should be one of the easiest times of the year.

It is not hard to understand why a lot of hunters only choose to hunt during this time. Bulls are riled up and they are not as cautious as they normally are. They are frequently bugling, so they are easier to track and, above all, they will start responding to your calls. However, it is still possible to miss the good spots where these elk are even with those advantages.

Find Bull Elk During The Rut Where The Cows Roam

If you find the cows and calves, the bulls are close. During the rut, every bull will be looking for a cow to breed. You should capitalize on this by looking for the bulls in these areas.

During your previous scouting or e-scouting efforts, you should have pinpointed areas that would hold elk. These areas will include rich feeding areas. Take some time now to glass these areas or creep through them looking for cows or any sign. If you are finding fresh sign, it is time to get set up and start hunting.

Water is Still King To Find Bull Elk During The Rut

Even though bulls will skip meal time for a mate, they cannot escape their need for water. Very often a bull will go to water after he has finished rutting for the morning and put his cows to bed. Since a bull will not want to wander too far from his harem of cows, he will lead them to a bedding area near water. For this reason, you should be looking for watering areas that are near bedding areas large enough to hold many elk to find bull elk during the rut.

Calling To Find Bull Elk During The Rut

During this time of year listening to the woods around you will play an enormous role in your effort to find bull elk during the rut.

Get into the woods early, well before dark, and listen for bugling. This can be your greatest asset when trying to find bull elk during the rut. If you are not hearing anything, let out a few bugles or cow calls and see if anything answers. Keep moving until you start to hear the elk then stay near until the sun rises.

You can also stay out late, after the sun goes down, and try to hear the elk. If you are not hearing anything it likely means the elk are not in the area. Move on. Go to the next ridge or mountaintop and start listening again. Once you find an area with bugling it will give you an idea of where to start the next morning.

Where NOT To Find Bull Elk During The Rut

If you had an area pegged that held a bunch of bull elk over the summer or during the early season, most likely you will not find bull elk during the rut in that location. In the pre-rut, the bachelor groups of bulls could be relied upon to make circuits between food and water at around the same time in the morning and afternoon.  This all gets thrown out the window during the rut.

Bulls will have moved out of their summer hidey holes and moved, as we said before, to where the cows are. The bull’s normal routines will be disrupted and they will go long periods during the day trying to find cows, defending their harems, and are generally busy with the business of mating and often skip eating. They tend to make up for this by eating after the cows have bedded down or getting up before the cows to eat.

Do Not Give Up, And Put In The Effort To Find Bull Elk During The Rut

While the rut can be the easiest time to find bull elk, it may also be the hardest because of the unpredictability. You will should be prepared to change up your strategy and/or move to a new spot if it isn’t working.

If you are trying in the morning and evening with no success, try looking during mid-day. Still no results? Try getting up early in the morning or late at night and listen in a few areas for bugling.

Be aware of the caliber of bulls in your area. If you are hunting an area where the bulls average 290 to 300, you are not likely to find a 375 bull there. Maybe you have to change your standards or be willing to go home empty-handed.

Feature Photo by Claud Richmond 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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