Deciphering the Elk Calendar with Randy Newberg

Bugle Staff

Deciphering the Elk Calendar with Randy Newberg
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We sat down with Randy Newberg, an authority on public land elk hunting and an instructor of OutdoorClass. He knows that if a bull elk kept a calendar, it might hold entries like "dinner in the old burn at 6" or "drinks at the creek, half past one." Newberg has learned to decode the unwritten schedules of elk and aims to share this knowledge to make us more successful elk hunters.


You’ve said finding elk is the hardest part of elk hunting. What’s the secret?

I find elk by understanding what they need. Elk are in a certain place because that place satisfies their primary biological need at the time. It’s that simple. They’re not there by accident, or because it’s a cool place to hang out. If you know their deepest desire on the day you’re hunting, you’re going to be able to eliminate where elk aren’t and have a much better idea of where they are.


So what do bull elk need?

Bulls have four main needs: food, water, sanctuary and the seasonal desire to breed.They shift their priorities throughout the year and move to different areas to fulfill different needs.


We hear you’ve created an Elk Calendar. What is it, and how do you use it?

I’ve broken down a year based on which needs are foremost in a bull elk’s mind. It has five seasons—early season, pre-rut, peak-rut, post-rut and late season. I overlay these five elk seasons on the human calendar, so I know where to focus my efforts when I’m out in the field.

EarlySeason is in August, and food is the highest priority for bull elk. This is the easiest time to find bulls. If you have an early season tag, look for high-quality food sources.

Pre-rut takes place in the first ten or so days of September. This is after bulls have shed their velvet and have started looking for cows as breeding begins to overtake food as their number one need. Find cows during this season, and you will find bulls. Cows will be near prime food sources, so look for burns, timber cuts and other places with open canopy.

Peak rut stretches from about September 12 until the end of the first week of October. This is when older bulls push out the 2- to 3-year-old bulls from the herds of cows, and scream challenge bugles at their rivals. Bulls are so focused on the need to breed that they won’t eat much during this period. However, they still need water multiple times every day. If you stake out a water source, you might catch a herd bull taking his midday drink from around 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Post-rut covers the last couple weeks of October when most western states hold their rifle hunting seasons. This happens to be the hardest time to find bulls because their primary focus shifts to sanctuaries—areas of low hunting pressure. These hidey holes are often in the steep, dark nasty stuff far away from roads, where bulls go to rest up from the demands of the rut, lick their wounds and refuel. This is the time to be willing to climb some tough terrain and go where most hunters won’t.


LateSeason. Do you see more than one bull together? That means you’ve entered the late season of the Elk Calendar, which I’ve defined as November 1 or later. This is when bulls group together in bachelor bands for safety in numbers. Their needs are almost identical to those in the post-rut period—sanctuary from hunting pressure but with ample food to add on a few pounds of fat to last the winter. They come out to feed earlier and stay out longer than they do in post-rut to fulfill caloric needs, so if you make it into one of their sanctuaries, you should have more time to get a glimpse.


What’s the bottom line?

The biggest takeaway is to make sure you know what part of the Elk Calendar year you’re hunting and focus on the primary need of that period. Elk will move to satisfy that need, and if you follow suit, you’ll be in the right place at the right time.

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