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The 5 Phases of Elk Hunting

Find More Elk on Public Land

Let's face it, elk hunting is hard. But sometimes we make it harder than it has to be because we're not doing enough homework before the season starts. To be successful at elk hunting, the first thing you need to do is find the elk. To do that, you need to understand their needs during each phase of the hunting season and where they go to satisfy those needs.

In this series, Randy Newberg breaks down The 5 Phases of Elk Hunting, so you'll know when and where to look for elk in your unit.

Phase 1: Early Season

Welcome to early season elk hunting. The main need for elk during this period is food, so you will find them where the best food is. Once the need for food is satisfied, their next priority is water. Historically, early season hunting comes with hot temperatures, so this means they are going to need water.

So to find elk, you need to find food near water. Generally speaking, these are often found up high in alpine terrain. Depending on the region you are hunting, deep canyons can be a location that holds elk during this season as well.

Phase 2: Pre Rut

Welcome to the Pre-Rut phase. The main needs during this time of year are water, food, and then breeding. Of course, the balance of the needs shifts from the beginning of the phase to the end of the phase, where breeding becomes the highest priority.

Generally speaking, this phase takes place during the first 10 days of September. Look for bulls near water and within a mile or so of where the cows are located. The cows are still going to be where the best food is in your particular unit or area. To dig into the details surrounding this phase, check out Randy’s video below.

Phase 3: Peak Rut

The peak rut is upon us. The bull's main priority this time of year is breeding, breeding, and more breeding. But in order to breed, a bull needs cows, and the cows are still going to be found where the best food is located. So really to find bulls, you need to look for cows, which will be found near food and water.

This phase usually takes place during mid September through early October, depending on the region you are hunting. Unique to this phase of elk hunting is how vocal the bulls are. You can use this to your advantage by utilizing location bugles or cow calling to locate and bring a bull within range.

Phase 4: Post Rut

So your season just so happens to fall in the post rut period for elk; now what? This phase usually starts around mid October, which is often when rifle season opens in many states. The bulls are solo now, so their primary need during this time of year is sanctuary, sanctuary, sanctuary. Their sanctuary will be located somewhere that they can still access food and water without having to move too far.

As soon as the shooting starts, you can expect to find them in these isolated spots. To learn more of the details surrounding this phase, check out Randy’s video below.

Phase 5: Late Season

The late season starts around November 1st and goes through the rest of the open hunting season. The late season is very similar to the post rut, but there are a few differences. One difference is the bulls often go from being solo to starting to regroup into bachelor groups again. The other difference is that their sanctuary is going to be lower on the transition range compared to the post rut.

The highest priority in this season is still sanctuary, sanctuary, sanctuary. To find a bull elk, you need to go to an area far away from hunters due to either distance or topography. To learn more about this phase of elk hunting, check out Randy's video below.

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