Hunting elk after the rut can go one of two ways: it’s either a slammer of a hunt or it’s quite possibly the most boring hunt you’ve ever been on in your life. For elk, the rut can be a treacherous time. It’s full of everything we as hunters dream of – the bugling, the chasing, the fights and the breeding…but man can it be hard on bulls. So for the old wiley warhorses of September, there’s a perfectly good reason to go into hiding, recuperation. Water, food and rest and are the main things an old bull purposefully seeks out after the long rut winds down.
Reliable sources of water are critical to where a post rut bull decides to call his home. After all the stress of the rut, he needs security and as much of a “sure thing” as he can get. And in his mind, he’s not wanting to travel far to reach it. Out of the way reliable pockets of water can be magnets for late season bulls – even more so than food.
Elk can go an extremely long time surviving on the fat stores they’ve built up through the summer, some say upwards of 70 days. Those fat stores are exactly what helps them rest for long periods of time after the rut – but eventually that will run out as winter bares down and they need to continue to pack on the pounds. If there’s high quality food close to water all you need is one more ingredient and you could find yourself in bulls backyard.
After a month of intense rutting, bulls prefer to move away from the cows. The same cows that he spent a month chasing and breeding are now the pregnant cows that are going to compete for high quality forage – and until next September any sort of competition is the last thing on a bulls mind. Instead, old bulls still want the safety and security that comes with some running-mates, but in the late season he finds it a few younger satellite type bulls. These guys all prefer the darkest of dark, so if you’ve got an area of dark timber you could find your bull – just know he might be incredibly difficult to see.
Don’t fool yourself into hunting late season elk the same way you’d chase them in September. Instead, if you’ve got an area you know of that has some dark timber that holds quick and easy access to a reliable source of water and some high quality forage, it’s a good solid bet to think that there’s at least a bull or two nearby. There’s a limited window for these old boys to recuperate before the winds howl and the snow flies – so sit tight and don’t expect them to move much – but when they do, you’ll be there waiting.