I am very fortunate to live in elk country for the whole month of September every fall, but I know most hunters have only a week to 10 days each fall to get a bull on the ground. Given this time limitation, many hunters – friends, acquaintances and people on the Internet – frequently ask me how to plan an elk hunt during the month of September.
This can be very difficult to answer as it involves a number of variables such as moon phases, hunting pressure and the rut itself. However, after 20-plus years of hunting elk on public land during the month of September with great success, I feel I can give an accurate breakdown of what the elk and other hunters do from week to week. Here’s a peek at my week-by-week breakdown to help you find the time that works best for you.
Week 1 (September 1-7)
The first week of September can be difficult. Typically, the first couple days of the month seem like they are going to be really good. You’ll hear a couple bugles and elk will be visible. In reality, the bugles you are hearing are just the bulls – and usually the small bulls at that – bugling to bugle. They are tuning up for the rut and seeing who is around. The elk are out in the open because they have been left alone all summer to eat and lounge at their leisure. The first week almost tricks you into thinking that you are going to be covered up in elk from the get-go.
Week 1 Hunting Pressure
Usually, hunting pressure isn’t too bad the first week, but there are always a few die-hard hunters out there tromping around. It doesn’t take long for the elk to start going into the timber earlier in the morning and coming out later in the evening, and those bulls tuning up their voices quickly discover their bugles bring hunters determined to shoot at them. Because of this, after the first couple days, it always seems that there is virtually nothing going on in the elk woods for a while. First-week hunters, after those first few glorious days, often face little to no bugling, hot temperatures and little elk activity.
The bottom line is this can be a very difficult time to kill an elk. Unless you are dead set on hunting the first week, this wouldn’t be my first choice. The one exception: if you are backpacking in or hiking many miles from the road to a hidden basin. If that is the case it can be a decent time to hunt elk. They should be visible, and if you can spot them you might be able to move in on a bull and stalk him or call him in.
Week 2 (September 8-14)
Much like the first week, the second week of September can be a very quiet time in the elk woods. The bulls aren’t fully cranking, but you will more than likely start hearing more bugles as the days go by. This can be a great time to harvest a good bull and may be your best chance to call in a mature bull as most of the big boys are just starting to gather their harems. With the scent of estrus starting to trickle in the air and big bulls not yet herded up, this can be just the right time to call a mature bull into range.
Week 2 Hunting Pressure
Not too many years ago it was rare to see other bowhunters in the woods during this time. Most hunters saved their “big hunt” for the third week of the month. Lately, more bowhunters have figured out that the second week is a good time to be out chasing elk and that historically there has been less hunting pressure. Due to this, over the past five or so years it seems that camps of both resident and traveling non-resident hunters are showing up during the second week to jump on the bulls before everyone else does.
Personally, the second week might be my favorite time to hunt elk. I love calling elk, and this can be a great time to entice a bull with your instruments. Like the first week, this time can be frustrating if you aren’t seeing many elk, especially if you are hunting thick timber where you can’t effectively glass for tan bodies. I wouldn’t plan my trip to a new destination during the second week, but if you know the area, it’s a great time to take your elk vacation.
Stay tuned for Part II of this September week-by-week elk breakdown.