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4 Must Have Items for Elk Hunting the Rut

We are in it! Elk season is officially here. Having a tag in your pocket right about now is an exciting feeling. There is nothing quite like waking up before the sunrise and listening to bulls bugle out in the distance. For an archery hunter, elk hunting in September is a dream, and one that frequents their thoughts. Many new elk hunters are popping up that are thirsty for the elk life. We thought we’d throw out what we believe are some must have items for bowhunting elk during the rut. They are all simple, but effective tools to have in your toolkit.


A good backpack is an absolute must have for elk hunting. There are a few reasons for that. The first is elk hunting usually involves covering a lot of country and hunting all day. So, having the gear, food, and water with you to stay out will go a long way towards killing a bull. Elk are also extremely heavy and taking one out of the hills piece by piece is no easy task. Having a backpack that doesn’t carry weight could ruin your day and even lead to injury. We owe it to ourselves and the animal to make sure we have the means to get them out of the field and back to our cooler.

A customer at Ross Outdoors getting properly fitted for a hunting backpack

Something else we want to point out here about backpacks is proper fit. A person can have the most high end backpack out there, but if it isn’t fit to them, it isn’t going to perform properly. This means adjusting torso length, but also knowing how to properly put the backpack on. It is a chain of features that all work together. There’s more than meets the eye of just shouldering a pack and hiking on your merry way. If you’re in Arizona, be sure to stop in and we can get you fitted properly for a pack.


Phelps game calls open reed cow elk call

We are talking about early archery elk hunting here, which means the elk are talking too. Elk are very vocal animals, which opens up a vulnerability. And where there is vulnerability, there is opportunity for a hunter. Utilizing elk calls to your advantage is not just effective, but it’s also incredibly exciting. Calling in a bull elk that is oozing testosterone with every step is a great way to get the blood pumping. There are all sorts of calls on the market, and a ton of preferences along with them. We suggest either learning how to use diaphragm calls or open reed calls. Diaphragm calls are a big plus because they’re hands free. These are also very versatile calls. Bugles, cow, and calf calls can all be made by way of a diaphragm call. If you do plan on bugling, a tube is a must have for that. Open reed calls also hold their own weight though. That nasaly type of cow call is what you’ll produce with these. A sound that has filled freezers many times over again. So, whatever it is, consider carrying some calls with you. Like anything, they don’t work all the time, but when they do, get ready!


When a bull does fall to your arrow, you’ll have a whole different task on your hand past that of hunting. Processing a bull elk in the field is a labor of love, but a labor indeed. Having a good knife that can aid in the process will make life much easier. It is a frustrating thing when a knife is fighting against you instead of working with you. Whether it’s a fixed blade or a replaceable blade, do not overlook a good knife. This is not the time for the swiss army knife you carried when you were 12. Pay attention to things like quality of steel, structural integrity, blade shape, and grip.

Benchmade Altitude Knife

Higher quality steel will hold an edge much longer than lower end will. And a well built knife will be much more up to the task of handling an elk than something sub par. In regards to blade shape, deeper bellied blades are going to excel in skinning and shallow bellied blades will be better with fine work. Also, some knives sport a skeleton grip and some have a full grip, both varying in materials used. Find one that fits and feels right in your hand.

Game Bags

Argali Game Bags in the field

As you’re cutting up your elk, you’ll need a safe spot to store the meat as you continue to work. On the ground is not the smartest of ideas, as we want to keep the meat as clean as possible. Hanging it in a tree is better, but still opens up the possibility of flies landing on it resulting in fly blow on the meat. To avoid things like this, we’d highly encourage you to bring a good set of lightweight reusable game bags on your elk hunt. These are going to be much more durable than a $12 set bought at Wally World. On top of that, they’re reusable, so they pay for themselves after a few critters. Most of them have a draw cord to cinch down the opening of the bag, which also comes in handy when it comes time to hang the bags in a tree. And there is no way a fly is going to get through the the bag, unless you let it in through the top or cut a hole in the synthetic material it’s made out of. That very material is also breathable, aiding in the ultimate goal of keeping the meat cool and dry. Brands aside, there are usually several different sizing options. Boned out meat, meat on bone, extra large game, etc. Take that into consideration when picking out a set.

Not to Mention…

Russ Richardson with his 2021 AZ Archery Bull

The evolution of an elk hunter is something that takes time. Lessons are learned, failures happen, and success is found. Gear for elk hunting is no different. Through time, you’ll figure out items that are crucial to your system. What we’ve listed above are items that have helped us out on our hunts more times than not. Well, there is one more thing we didn’t mention here that has also helped immensely during elk hunts. A few buddies to help pack out a bull. That is an appreciation that will never run dry.

Written by: Ross Outdoors

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