Elk Season Day by Day

by Bob Robb

Bob Robb’s “controlled aggression” strategy
to bag that bull elk.  


When you need to get closer to elk, it’s time to get dirt on the front of your clothing.

Elk hunting is a chess game requiring strategically deft moves and what I call “controlled aggression” – that is, an aggressive attitude that knows when to move hard and fast – but also, when to lay back and wait for the right opportunity.

I’ve developed this attitude over decades of elk hunting under a wide variety of conditions, from wilderness public land hunts to fair chase hunts on private land where a locked gate keeps other hunters out. The one thing these wildly varying conditions have in common is the fact that if you bump the elk too hard, they will run for miles. If that happens, you have to start all over again beginning with finding another bunch to hunt. And that can take forever.

My Daily Routine When I Know Where Bulls Are

Let’s assume you have done your pre-hunt scouting and know, in general terms, where a herd is located. During the early elk seasons I like to be in position hours before first light, listening for bugling bulls. Sometimes that means I leave camp as early as midnight, other times 3:00 a.m. – whatever it takes (this is why that midday nap is so important!).

When I hear a bull, I assess the wind, get into position, and work my way as close as I can in the dark. I try to get on the same level with the herd, knowing that when it breaks light the morning thermals will typically carry my scent up the slope as the sun warms the air. The goal is to try and intercept the elk as they feed toward their bedding area.


A fresh rub means elk should be somewhere
in the neighborhood.

If I do not get a shot – and early in the hunt, I will not push it too hard – I shadow the elk until they bed for the day. The plan is now to wiggle within 200-400 yards, depending on the wind and terrain, and wait. Sure, I will glass and sniff about, hoping an opening presents itself for a stalk on a bedded bull, but usually there are too many other elk to make that feasible.

So, I nap when they do, and maybe even go over the hill and glass and call down into adjacent drainages. But 3 to 4 hours before sundown I am back in position, waiting. When the elk get up and start to feed again – and often bulls will bugle right from their beds just prior to getting up – I make my move, again using controlled aggression. I figure if I do not get them today and do not spook them, I can give it another go tomorrow with some added knowledge of their exact habits.

My Daily Routine When I Don’t Know Where The Bulls Are

If I do not have a bull to hunt, the plan is simple – cover as much ground as possible searching for elk. Elk herds follow what I call the “pocket principle,” meaning that in any given drainage all the elk will be bunched up into small pockets of country. That means it is my job to hike until I find them. If I have gone three days covering maximum ground without any action and without locating any red-hot sign, I move camp and start over. No reason spending all my time hunting elkless pockets when my pre-hunt research and scouting has told me they are somewhere in the neighborhood.


If the elk have disappeared and you have to change plans,
a topo map will be invaluable.

There are times when the bulls simply are not bugling much, if at all, not a rare occurrence on heavily-hunted public land tracts. In that case I spend a lot of time glassing meadows, parks, and semi-open forested areas at first and last light while listening. I also will consider employing blinds and/or tree stands over freshly-used wallows or water tanks, depending on circumstances, especially during midday hours in hot weather.

Two things will up your odds at getting a shot on these do-it-yourself hunts. First, commit to as many days as possible for the hunt. Elk hunting is very hard work and success rates are low in the best of circumstances, but never give up. The more time you spend in the woods, the better your odds.

And second, hunt hard, but hunt smart. That means do all the right things. Always respect the wind, and bide your time – but when an opening presents itself, controlled aggression means be ready to attack, hard and fast.


About Bob Robb

bob-robb-head-shotFor over two decades, Bob’s articles and photographs have appear in most major outdoor magazines. Currently he is editor of Whitetail Journal and Predator Xtreme magazines. Bob was founding editor of Petersen’s Bowhunting magazines, and the author of many books, including The Field & Stream Bowhunting Handbook, and The Ultimate Guide to Elk Hunting.  Bob sees the value of super-sharp, lightweight Havalon knives.

For more articles by Bob Robb, click here.
And don’t forget your Havalon Piranta, before you head out into elk season. 


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