Finding elk rutting areas?

UTJL

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Apr 10, 2021
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I’m starting my summer scouting in a couple weeks. I’ve heard/read various people, articles, podcasts state elk will often use the same rutting areas year after year. The suggestions were to look for large benches, flat meadows or mesas. This is a start but doesn’t help identify which specific feature on the mountain the elk use.

How have you identified rutting areas before season? Are you keying in on area with lots of rubs or some other type of sign?
 

prm

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Mar 31, 2017
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No. VA
You will know it when you see it. Rubs everywhere and it will small like a barn. What surprises me is that within a couple square mile area along a ridgeline there can be areas with zero elk sign and then an area that gets hammered. That area will be, in my experience, smaller than .25mi on a side. Presence of water will make it a bit thicker and thus a bit cooler. Generalities of course, but that’s what I’ve found.
 

Sinkinglizard

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Jan 4, 2020
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You will know it when you see it. Rubs everywhere and it will small like a barn. What surprises me is that within a couple square mile area along a ridgeline there can be areas with zero elk sign and then an area that gets hammered. That area will be, in my experience, smaller than .25mi on a side. Presence of water will make it a bit thicker and thus a bit cooler. Generalities of course, but that’s what I’ve found.
couldn't agree more with these comments. You'll walk into an area and know it when you've found it. Generally if you found a rut hot spot you won't be questioning - "I wonder if they've been using this area"... it'll be very obvious if you are in their bedroom during the rut with smell, visual confirmation, trees ripped up everywhere, etc. Like PRM said, there will usually be dark cool area somewhere very close nearby.
 

Dos Perros

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Others here have hunted elk much longer than me, but I'll share my experiences:

I've found 'rut zones' or whatever you want to call them before. Areas with lots of rubs, like last year's rubs, and then gone in there in September and not found animals. Also been in places with lots of this season's rubs that didn't have animals, we were thinking they were velvet rubbing areas, or maybe they just weren't in there that day. Also found areas with lots of rubs late September that had one lonely and spooky bull in it. So this strategy hasn't really worked out for me, but at least you know you're in the right county. I'll take fresh elk sign (green squishy poop, fresh tracks, piss) and no rubs all day every day.
 

Elk97

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A lot of the rubs you'll see early are from rubbing velvet off so they might be in a completely different area for rut. Find the cows during the season, bulls won't be far.
 

nevadabugle

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Mar 8, 2013
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Wallows. Well used wallows can often be noted even when they are not active. And cows. Follow the cows.

An area that in the summer has cows, old rubs, and wallows from previous years will likely hold bulls come September.
 

nevadabugle

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One more clue...broken antler pieces. Can be a bit harder to find, but if while scouting you find an area with some broken tines it's a pretty safe bet that bulls were rutting there in past year.
 

Gerbdog

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CO Springs
Where the rutting areas can / will be are... as you mentioned... benches usually/flat spots. However, ive found them on benches on all sides of the mountain : N,E,S,W.

If your headed out scouting my favorite tactic is find a game trail with elk prints / shit in it and spend a day following it around the mountain. It's gonna stop at wallows, watering holes, bedding areas, feeding areas...... helps give you a map of how that particular mountain is used. It could also be that the game trail just goes across the whole mountain and turns out your just in an area they pass through. Still good knowledge to obtain on the area.

Cut a path in a line up the mountain and (assuming there are any elk in the area at all) eventually your' gonna hit one of their game trails running along the mountain.
 
OP
UTJL

UTJL

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Apr 10, 2021
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Thanks all! I was able to find what I believe is a rut zone today. It was a bench next to a creek, with a wallow. There were several dozen rubs and about ten cows bedded on the bench.
 

cnelk

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Mar 1, 2012
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For rutting areas, I’ve coined the acronym ‘ELF’

Elk. Like. Flat.

It will be fairly small but you’ll know it when you come across it

I think the cows like flatter ground for being mounted by the bulls
 

Jimss

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Mar 6, 2015
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Lots of factors….weather conditions and water are top of my list. A lot also depends on hunting pressure.
 

Slugz

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Dec 31, 2020
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I got a theory that work for us in the GMUs we hunt in Colorado.

-We find the calving areas first. As soon as the calves are mobile as early as possible we identify those spots.
-We have found the majority of the cows do not go far from there
-I've seen the bulls then slowly migrate down and into those areas. Small immature first with the older bulls shadowing the herds until cows start to come into heat then they stay with them.

This is in an area with lots of water ( even during drought years), plenty of dark cold timber to hide in and many flat spots as others said. Fair amount of bedding areas also. If I can identify all those in a drainage its usually a good one year to year.

Of Note the valley has minimal hunting pressure during September, animals are not getting pushed around daily and no motorized activity for miles.
 

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