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Colorado Elk Hunting - When to hunt in Archery Season

February 06, 2015 by

Every new archery hunter looking to hunt with AEI Guide and Outfitter asks this question: What is the best week to hunt elk during archery season? This is definately a valid question related to chasing the monarchs of the Rocky Mountains and I'll try to give you some positives and negatives related to each week. Hopefully this will help you decide which week would be the most appealing to you and your expectations. 

Week 1 (elk hunting first week of September)

Positives: Elk are typically vocal in Taylor Park area this time of year. They definitely aren't bugling at every loud noise or wrong look from another bull, but they are beginning to establish their dominance. The bulls have rubbed off all their velvet and are starting to gather their harem. You will see small bachelor groups still together with younger bulls. I have seen mature bulls this time of year with an already established large harem of cows. I have also seen them chasing single or a couple cows all over the mountain or in many instances they are out solo searching for cows. This time of year can be an easier time to call bulls in once you find them. They have not been pressured yet by other hunters and that is a major advantage. The other major advantage are that they are somewhat predictable; most elk are still operating on their regular summer routines and patterns... their daily activity consists of moving to and from their feeding and bedding habitat. This predictability can create opportunities to find the same elk in the same relative place from one day to the next, assuming you don't blow them out. Another positive is the weather... some may say it is a disadvantage due to the possibility of hot weather, but Taylor Park rarely has "hot" weather. AEI Outfitter base camp sits at 10,000 feet and we are hunting up to and above tree line (11,500 ft). Early September has less possibility for snow storms and/or bad weather but afternoon rain showers can be normal. 

Challenges: Although the elk are vocal, they are not nearly as vocal as they will be and their communication and sounds only amplify and increase throughout the course of September. Consequently, it may be more difficult to locate bulls in the areas you are hunting. Also, the weather, although nice, can be warmer and drier. In this weather scenerio, the elk will have a tendency to spend less time active on on their feet during the day and move more during the cover and coolness of darkness. 


Week 2 (elk hunting the second week of September)

Positives: Elk are becoming more vocal with each passing day now and their rutting activity/testosterone level increases coincides with their vocal increases. This means simply that you may hear more bulls than you would in the first week, and will possibly be able to create more opportunities on set-ups and stalk situations. The weather is also still really nice and if you are lucky enough to avoid the late summer monsoons that grace Colorado, you will likely have great hunting weather. Elk this second week likely have still had a small number of intrusions from other hunters and will still come running to the right calls in the right circumstances. Challenge calling from an elk caller as bulls continue to build their harem, can create great situations for a hunter if they can get in close. 

Challenges: The elk are still not as vocal as they will be and still are working their harems and establishing dominance (can also be an advantage discussed previously). Elk have now had a week of having the possibility of other hunters chasing them and often, overcalling to them. Sometimes if they are messed with early on, they may be call shy for the rest of September. 


Week 3 (elk hunting the 3rd week of September)

Positives: All variables aside, this is a great week to elk hunt in Colorado, much less in Taylor Park and unit 55; even if there are muzzleloader hunters running around the woods, it is hard to overlook this week. Some guys decide that they don't want to deal with a few extra people in orange chasing after elk with the muzzleloader. I can definitely understand this sentiment, however, I think to rule it out for archery hunters is not wise. The elk are fired up and starting to be very, very vocal. They also are more apt to react to challenges from other bulls trying to steal their cows. In some years, this is the apex of the archery season and if you are able to find the bull(s) that have not been too pressured, you could have an epic experience or two! 

Challenges: I've alluded to the fact that there are guys with guns in the woods this week and that can be a negative variable. There's also the reality that this is the 3rd week of the season and a lot of elk may have been pressured on multiple occasions making them call shy. They may run the other way when they hear elk sounds that they don't recognize. I am typically shocked if by this week, there have been no small snow storms or bad weather. Weather becomes cooler and this week has a higher chance of having severe weather to contend with. 


Week 4 (elk hunting the 4th week of September)

Positives: I've known many Colorado elk hunters who prefer this last week of the archery season over any other. Bulls are, for sure, at the peak of their rutting activity and are very very vocal. I am not shocked to hear a handful of bulls bugles echo throughout basins at this time of year and likely, you will hear more bulls this week than any other in September. Again, if you are able to locate a bull and get in his "wheelhouse" i.e. within 100 yards, a challenge bugle and sounds could encourage a fiery rage of slobber and testosterone to come running. 

Challenges: Now the last week or archery season, it is difficult, but not impossible to find a herd or bulls that have not been chased or pressured to some degree. This typically results in both cows and bulls becoming "call shy". Also, weather is very unpredictable late in September and sometimes create extra challenges in your hunting (although a little snow is not a bad thing in my book). 


In reading these short descriptions of the progressive September elk rut, you should recognize that each week has both its own unique advantages and challenges in increasing or decreasing values. Of course, the picture painted above is just an overview and each year has its own set of twists and turns from one week to the next that changes the game. However, no matter what week you chose to hunt, our experienced and capable guides know how to act and react according to the variables and rut stages in Taylor Park, Colorado. Our shot opportunities on our guided hunts are similar across the 4 weeks of September. I personally have great encounters each week throughout each season. They key is being adaptable and recognizing when your game plan must change or be tweaked.