There are a lot of elk calls on the market today including bugles and cow calls. Personally, I like the Abe & Sons Dominator Bugle. I get the most realistic sound from this bugle. As far as cow calls go, I like to use a diaphragm call, they are a little harder to learn, but once learned they are the most dependable. Secondly, I hunt elk with a bow and by using the diaphragm it allows me to keep both hands free allowing me to call and draw my bow at the same time which comes in handy when you need to stop the bull in a shooting lane.
The most critical factor in calling is the know-how. I know lots of hunters that can imitate a bull or cow to a tee, but really don’t have the experience in the field to be successful. Knowing when to call, how loud to call and how often is a big part of the puzzle. Elk are just like people, some of them are aggressive, some shy, some smart, some aren’t so smart, and then if the timing is right a big old smart bull can lose his head over a piece of tail. Some of us probably have some friends this has happened to.
You will learn to work a particular bull by the way he responds to your call. The only way you can learn is by trial and error, so spending time in the field is of utmost importance! You can go to seminars, watch videos, read books etc. and these are all good but to really get the feel for successful calling, spend as much time in the field as possible. Years ago it used to be easy to call bulls in but the bulls of today are much more educated due to the popularity of calling. (NOTE: If not hunting, don’t be calling elk in areas that a hunt is going on and when you do call a bull in, let him come in. Once he is within shooting range don’t call to him anymore he will look around for a short time and then leave not ever detecting your presence. If he does see you he will get an education and be harder to call in the next time.) The following is a typical scenario that I go through on a calling sequence.
Locating: I like to be in my hunting area before daylight. Here I will use the bugle in hopes to get an answer back from the bull I am trying to harvest. (By the time the season starts I have done my scouting and I will be familiar with the bugle of the bull I am trying to harvest.) If you haven’t determined the bull you are going after, then you will have to call bulls in hoping for the right one. I have found out over the years that a big bull can sound like a raghorn but the reverse is seldom true a big sounding bull is seldom a small raghorn. I use the bugle for locating, once I get an answer I will plan my “angle of attack”. Elk have extremely sensitive noses, so you must be very careful to keep the wind in your face. If the wind is blowing from me to the bull, I will go the extra distance to get the wind right even if it means making a big loop around. If the elk get wind of you the game is over. Once I get an answer I will make my approach keeping the wind right. I like to cut the distance in half each time I call. For instance if the bull is 600 yards away when he first answers, then I will go approximately 300 yards and bugle again, hopefully he will answer and then I will move to about 150 yards and try again. During this movement always keep in mind the angle of attack. Once I get within 75 to 100 yards, I usually will set up and cow call to the bull at that point. I have had better luck getting that bull to come to the cow call and not the bugle. I start with some very basic cow and calf calls hoping I have a hot bull and that’s all I will need to do. If this doesn’t do the trick then I will add some whines to my cow call which indicates to the bull the cow is demanding attention and may be ready to breed. If after trying the cow calls he doesn’t come in and just keeps his distance and bugles I refer to this as a “hang up”. The following is a list of possible remedies for a hung up bull. I do this in the order listed:
Cow call then bugle making the bull think another bull has moved in with the cows.
Bulge, then take a stick and rub a tree imitating a bull tearing up a tree.
Glunk – if you have been really close to a hot rutting bull you can hear him glunking. This typically happens when things get hot and heavy, you can imitate this sound by opening your hand and tapping the end of your grunt tube.
If your buddy hunting, one of the most productive ways to get a hung up bull to come in is to do what I call the fade away. Set the shooter up with good shooting lanes and then the caller starts walking away from the hung up bull, as you walk, cow & calf call and throw in a bugle or two. You want the bull to believe that this other bull (you) is moving away and taking the girls with him. This may be more than the big old bull can stand and may draw him right by the shooter. This has worked many times for me and sometimes is the only way to bring a bull into bow range for the shooter.
Many times when a big bull gets his harem together he can be next to impossible to call in. Typically he will answer a call but move his cows away from the intruder. (The scenario here is early morning when the harem is moving from their feeding area to their bedding area.) If you get close to the bull and bugle to him, quite often he won’t answer but oddly enough, if you keep your distance and continue to bugle to him he will usually answer.
In this case again if you have a buddy (caller) he can bugle to the bull and hopefully keep the bull talking while the shooter tries to move in on the bull for a shot. The shooter will have to be aggressive and move quickly trying to catch up and get within shooting range. An ambush in this situation is possible. The trick here is to get between the cows and the bull and keeping the wind right at all times. If the harem makes it to the bedding area before a shot is possible. Then back off and try again in the afternoon or next morning. As long as you don’t bump the elk and blow them out of the country they should pattern between bedding and feeding area. Be patient and you will get your chance.
Well, I hope you have picked up a tip or two here and can put it to use this fall. GOOD LUCK.