Editor's Note: Wayne Carlton of Montrose, Colorado, and a member of Hunter's Specialties' Pro Team, hunts elk all over the West. He's also a TV host and a camouflage manufacturer. From the beginning to the end of elk season, he's either hunting with a cameraman or guiding elk hunters. One of the real keys to Carlton's success is his ability to get close to big bulls.
To get close to big elk, you have to be hunting an area that has big elk in it. You must also know how to get close to big elk at different times of the season.
What's the Early Rut (The First Week of Archery Season):
Many hunters think that if they hunt the first week of archery season (usually the last week of August or the first week of September) they are hunting at the beginning of the rut. But this is not true. The rut in most areas usually starts a week or two before then. As soon as the velvet comes off the bulls' antlers, the elk start fighting. Even though the rut is already well begun, and most of the bulls have gathered their cows, you may be able to find a big satellite bull that hasn't collected a harem yet. There also may be a big bull that is still be gathering cows because the cows aren't in heat yet. So, he doesn't have to remain with the herd the whole time.
Once the cows come in heat, then the bull becomes really tied to that herd. To get close to big bulls in the early part of the season, you must know where the elk will be, have confidence in your calls and have the patience to wait for a big bull to come to you, even if he comes in silent. In the early part of the season, you can often call bulls in as close as 10 to 15 yards.
When the Rut's in Full Swing:
By the middle part of September, the rut's in full swing. Most of the big bulls are locked-down with the herd, and very rarely, if ever, can you call a big bull far from his herd. My first strategy is to find the bull I want to take when he's out feeding and then determine if I have enough cover to sneak in close to that bull to get a shot with my bow. I want to get close enough to that bull so that when I call to him, he'll come to the edge of cover where he can still see his cows but hopefully pick up this stray cow (me) without losing contact with his herd.
I want to sneak up close enough to that bull to startle or surprise him when I call to him. Often you'll spook the bull, and the whole herd will take off. But sometimes, he'll react to your calling and move over to the edge of heavy cover where you can get a shot. This tactic is best during the early morning or late afternoon when the elk are out feeding.
The second way to get close to a big bull is to make sure you're using Hunter's Specialties Scent-A-Way products. Then the elk can't smell you. Hunter's Specialties is partnered with Medalist Silvermax clothing. When you use that clothing and the Scent-A-Way products - soap, detergent, bags, sprays - you're as scent-free as you can possibly be. You'll remain that way for a some time. Hunter's Specialties have reformulated their Scent-A-Way products, and now they're better than ever.
This season, I had a 6-point bull directly down wind of me for a minute and a half, and he never smelled me. I knew exactly where my scent line was because I was using a yarn wind detector that told me exactly where the wind was going. The wind coming from me was going right up that bull's nose for at least a minute and a half and he never moved. In the middle of the day if I've got the wind in my favor and I've eliminated as much human odor as I possibly can, I'll usually try to slip into the elk's bedding area - if that bedding area is open enough so that I can get a shot off with my bow. If the bedding area isn't open enough for me to get off a shot, stay out of it. But I really like to hunt the bedding area in the middle of the day if I can.
When the Rut's Over:
When most people think the rut's ended, really it's not. When you say you're getting close to elk, the weapon you use determines what close is. With a bow, close is 30 yards or less. With a gun, close is 200 yards. After the rut is over, most bowhunters have gone home. By that time, gun season for elk has arrived, usually September to November. So I define close during gun season as 100 yards.
Getting close to a bull late in the season is almost impossible, but that's when gun season has arrived. I believe your best option to get within gun range of a big bull late in the season is to use the Hunter's Specialties Estrus Whine or the Fight'n Cow calls. You try and spot the bull first and use that cow call to get that bull to stop when he's walking so you can take a shot. Oftentimes, when those bulls are walking, and you call to them with a cow call, they'll stop and look at you as if to say, "You said what?" That's when you pull the trigger.