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Hunting the Rut for Late Season Elk

Ralph Ramos | Mossy Oak ProStaff

Another reason to hunt bull elk in the late season is the rut. Our cow elk in New Mexico start coming into estrus about September 1. When the rut starts, one cow in a herd of 20 will come into estrus first. Then the next day another cow may come in, but generally by September 20 each year, most of the cows in a herd of 20 will be in estrus. But more than likely, that entire herd of 20 cows won’t get bred during the first estrous period. So, they’ll come into estrus again, 28 days later in October. If one or two cows don’t get bred in the second estrous period, they’ll come into estrus again a third time in November. So, hearing a bull bugle during the late season isn’t uncommon. He's bugling to try and find that last cow elk that hasn’t been bred. 

An advantage of hunting late-season bulls is that since the peak of the rut usually happens in September, by the late season, very few, if any, elk hunters are still hunting. Because the time change has taken place, dark comes earlier in the late season than it did in the early season. So, many times, you'll hear a bull bugling around 3 p.m. as he's moving to water before he goes to bed. 

Ralph Ramos with bull elkOnce, on the first day of the late season, I heard a bull bugle and I went in to try and take him. But when I got to him, I saw that he was only a 5x5, so I let him walk. Usually, if the bulls are going to bugle in the late season, the first day of the late season is when you’ll hear them. And that’s when the most elk hunters who hunt the late-elk season hunt. After I saw the 5x5, I heard three other bulls bugle. However, since I was hunting over water, I thought those bulls might come to me. So, I didn’t go after them. 

If you can find an area where there is plenty of food and water, I've learned that those bulls often will stay in that same region for 2-3 months. That’s the reason that knowing the place you're hunting can pay off for you. As I’ve said earlier, bull elk usually will return to the same wintering spots during the late season every year. When I discover a trail with a lot of fresh elk droppings on it or find a region where I can smell the bulls, I do a lot of cow calling - either on the trails or the ridge tops. Aggressive cow calling in the late season can be a way to call in a curious bull. 

When you're trying to hunt by spot and stalk, cow calling also can cover or somewhat disguise the sounds of you walking. One of the big advantages about hunting elk, especially in the late season, is the bull’s natural curiosity. When a bull hears a lost cow and calf calling, he wants to know why they're talking and he’ll often come in silent. As a hunter, you have to be prepared to make a quick shot to take a bull before he sees you. 

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I'm a big fan of Mossy Oak Mountain Country camo. In the last couple of years, I've also become a fan of the HECS Stealthscreen suit that I wear under my camo – no matter what animals I'm hunting. The HECS suit is an undergarment much like a microwave film, which keeps the electrical impulses that your body naturally produces from escaping from your body and going out into the environment, so the animal doesn’t detect you. 

Here’s the best way I can describe what the HECS suit does. Sometimes when you're sitting at a desk, you'll have a feeling that someone is behind you. You turn around and confirm that someone has walked up behind you that you haven’t seen, heard or smelled. Animals have the ability to read those electrical waves that the human body puts off. That’s why sometimes when you know that an elk hasn’t seen, heard or smelled you, he’ll back away from you and even turn and run. I'm 48 years old now, and I started hunting elk when I was 14. Until I started wearing the HECS suit, I've seen elk not come in to where I was for no reason. But since I've started wearing the HECS suit, I've noticed that they don’t spook like they once did when I did everything right. 

Ralph Ramos has been a member of the Mossy Oak ProStaff for about 20 years. After years of pursuing elk, Ramos became a guide and has been leading hunters to elk for at least 20 years. Elk hunting is a physical challenge for most, but Ramos continues to face the challenge year after year. Go to Ramos Hunts & Video Productions on Facebook to learn more about these New Mexico hunts. 

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