Don’t wander elk country. Be strategic.
Do you randomly wander the woods hoping to stumble into a vocal bull? Well, quit. Some bowhunters make wide, circular sweeps of their country before returning to camp. That’s fine. But you can give those spherical strolls more meaning by connecting the dots, namely wallows.
Elk muck up soggy areas before and throughout the rut. The most intense activity is two weeks prior to the majority of cows coming into estrus. By thrashing mud and splashing urine on themselves bulls create an unmistakable odor that wafts on the breeze and sticks with them. Combined with bugling, this beastly cologne works to convince cows to join their harem and saves bulls precious calories in hunting willing females. You may catch a bull at a wallow anytime from dawn to dusk.
Some hunters scoff at wallow watching, but when you compare hundreds of square miles of forest to the pinpoint accuracy of wallows, these small gems increase the odds for an elk encounter. There’s no debate that elk will wallow anywhere wet on a whim, but even in moist environments elk have favorite wallows. Your mission is to find wallows that receive use year after year. Clues of repeated use include major trails leading to and from a wallow, old rubs littering an area and major erosion in the bathtub.
To find wallows, begin by locating all water sources in your hunting area. Note springs, creeks, seeps, pools, reservoirs and any topography that may hold water. Then, create a track on a map or your GPS that gives you a circular route to follow during the day. Start and end at camp or a trailhead for efficient travel. For those who hunt a particular area season after season, consider using trail cameras where legal.
Bow season can be hot. Both hunters and elk need water. Since elk require gallons of water per day they’ll be hopscotching to water sources and, in the process, bulls will be wallowing on the side. In addition to tracks around water and cloudy pools, the sight of fresh droppings and even the scent of a herd in the air will mean elk are nearby. Stumbling onto fresh sign may signal that your best bet is to quit roaming, set up and wait for the slop master’s return.
Along the route of one of my roundtrip hikes I even set up a ground blind at the best historic wallow. It’s situated nearly midway through a day’s hunt and provides a great place to dodge a downpour, retire for a shaded lunch, or just sit for a spell within bow range of a wallow that’s seen more than its share of bulls.
Even if a wallow itself doesn’t produce, by checking a chain of them, you may find the evidence that lets you close in on a nearby bull.