Bulls Raking/Thrashing Trees/Brush - Why?

ElkNut1

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Many of us have seen or heard bulls raking or thrashing trees or brush in a variety of places & situations. Knowing when & why they do this can certainly help us all to become better & smarter elk hunters. It can apply to both rifle & bowhunters but mainly bow since we need to be much closer to our quarry! Reading a situation will up our odds for those needed close encounters!

What are some of those times you've seen or heard a bull thrashing/raking? Also, for those unsure feel free to ask any question, lots of good hunters here to pick their brains from!

ElkNut1
 

LostArra

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ElkNut: I've always heard that when a bull is raking or thrashing a tree it's a good time to move closer as he is not paying much attention to surroundings. True or false?
The times I've seen it I had a cow tag so I didn't move.
 
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ElkNut1

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Ha Ha, isn't that supposed to happen when all you have is a cow tag! (grin) Good thought, you certainly can move to an extent when a bull is raking, a lot will depend on the distance & cover between you & him. I've had to move nearly a 100 yards in some situations & others just a few feet to provide myself with a shooting lane. It's important to move cautiously so you're not spotted because not all bulls have their eyes closed when raking or thrashing.

ElkNut1
 

chindits

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I see it well after the rut in winter range. Not tearing trees out or anything just working the brush. I still find bulls sparring after the rut well into winter. Same thing with talking, but no real challenge bugles. Of course not to the extent as during the rut, but I have been pretty surprised at the amount of sparring going on all winter. I always thought they would be conserving their energy, but some of them stay pretty sporty.
 

Nomad

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5Miles needs one of my custom designed tshirts.

7z4oFVI.jpg
 
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ElkNut1

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Ha Ha, love the shirt Nomad!

5-Mile, that's the beauty of this discussion! (grin) Bulls will rake/thrash for competition for the ladies but they also rake for many other reasons just as they bugle with a variety of bugle tones each representing a different message to the elk, it's all a part of their communication!

chindits, I agree bulls can spar about anytime as long as they still have racks, the difference in time frame can represent the reasons why. Out of breeding times you will notice it's mostly done by the youth/teenagers, elk can feel frisky anytime, it's not all about dominance.

Raking bulls seem to get tagged as aggressive bulls wanting to fight, yes this occurs but they also rake for other reasons, this in itself is what can help us to better read a situation & know how to handle it by what's going on in the present when this raking is seen or heard.

It's common for bulls to rake as they come to our cow calling as they get inside 50 yards or if we take our cow calling right to them & in their face. I find it very common for bulls to display/rake for the oncoming cow that they've called to them (us) once they start bugling or chuckling our cow calling. Now it's obvious they are not wanting to fight or intimidate these cows that they are inviting over but instead these bulls are showing off or showing this new cow what they have to offer as the cow comes in to check him out. I've as well as others have experienced this countless of times, not all raking is for fighting! There's more! (grin) Knowing when & why they do this will help us evaluate that situation with the best odds of a close encounter.

ElkNut1
 

Coveyleader

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I''m familiar with 2 scenarios.

1, bull all alone, in some flat area just sitting there rubbing trees. This is a bull that can be moved in on quickly per-say. It happens in the bedding area, but also just in normal places elk hang out. This to me is simply them working over trees as the hormones are overwhelming them.

2, Bull with group of cows in timber. Rubbing on trees, pretty much occupied on showing the ladies he can bend a tree over. This bull too is one that can be moved in on.......... BUTTTTTTTTTT, the cows are the anchor, and save him more than he knows it.

I'll take version 1 all day. I love it when it happens........ walking through the woods oh, look, bull rubbing tree with his rear end facing me!
 

Brendan

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I've challenged one with a challenge bugle when he was with his herd. Watched him walk up to a tree and rake the hell out of it before waiting for me to show myself. Basically - "Come get me...." Subsequently took off with his herd.

I've also cow called to a bull in heavy cover and heard him raking. In this case - trying to entice the "cow" over to him. Unfortunately - he swung downwind and got my scent and took off...
 

5MilesBack

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LOL! At 6'6" can you even stoop that low! (grin)

ElkNut1

My two oldest daughters are 5'10" and 5'9", so not an issue.:D

My favorite scenario is a solo bull earlier in the season. He either bugles first and I bugle back, or I bugle first and he responds. In every single case at some point in this scenario, either he is or both of us are raking. Those are kill-able bulls.
 
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ElkNut1

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Yes, bulls will rub for so many reasons in the rut & out of the rut. From rubbing velvet off to displaying for one another late summer in bachelor groups getting their pecking orders down in prep of the oncoming rut. They can feel their oats as their testosterone levels rise as Coveyleader mentions & can take their excitement & aggression out on trees & brush or whatever is around, they will also do this at wallows wet or dry, all this during & awaiting cows to come into estrus.

Bulls raking & thrashing around at these times are not challenging other bulls. As cows enter estrus in their harems you will see herd bulls become very vocal with more intensity to their bugles as well as being defensive towards other bulls getting too close to his hot cow. A herd bull can bugle, grunt, glunk, pant, rake, etc. at this time as he displays excitement over her & warn other bulls back or else! When no cows are in heat/estrus you will notice herd bulls will not employ these actions, they are more subdued & at times will allow other bulls to walk right among his cows without retaliation.

I've been in Brendans situation countless times & have messed a few up as well. (grin) You never know when a bull may slip in around you silent as a ghost! One thing that has helped me in similar situations is when using a raking method towards another bull give him a good reason to come your way. Yes, raking/thrashing employs curiosity in another bulls minds eye as to "who are you" but feel free to raise the anty here. This can be done by first cow calling with 2-3 mid volume excited mews/whines once in near that 100 yard range of a bull you've heard bugle. If you cannot close the distance by ninja moves to him then bring him to you. Use the same sequence or similar one he uses as he has a hot cow present.

If you cow call your 2-3 times & no answer wait 30-45 seconds & repeat, whether bull bugles you or not wait another 1 minute & start raking tree branches & light stomping, the real bull will hear this & realize this new bull is displaying for this cow. Give 1-2 more cow whines & now give 2-3 bull pants through your bugle tube along with more raking, (don't bugle yet) this shows excitement for the cow. If the real bull bugles this & he should you can now give him a challenge bugle back! This defensive action from you is now telling this real bull you have a hot cow. You may have to repeat this sequence to really trigger some bulls to come your way, they don't always bugle you but most show up so stay alert & listen & watch intently.

I have pulled the most stubborn bulls into bowrange with this simple technique on OTC DIY public land hunts. With a good setup & wind in your favor it's very deadly.

ElkNut1
 

SquidHC

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Ran into several raking bulls last year. One was early in the season. Had 4 bulls in a staging area with no cows in sight. A raggy 5 pt, two spikes and a heavy 6x6. The three younger bulls were bedded about 25 yards above the big bull on a knob. The spikes were still in velvet, but the 5x5 was pretty much rubbed off. The big bull was raking the crap out of the tiny patch of maybe 5 year old (maybe 2" in diameter) pine trees that he was hanging out it. We cow called and the 5 point stood up and looked for us. The spikes were moving all round, but never moved in. After about 15 minutes of cow calls with limited response the big bull walked up the hill, sparred with the 5 point for a second, and walked out of sight. He was not at all interested in us cow calling like crazy.

Saw another 5x5 later that day that was raking and he came in on a string with just a few cow calls.

I still think it's 50% a crap shoot. The bulls I think we're gonna kill we don't, and the bulls I think there is no way were gonna kill end up working out.
 
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