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Elk101.com – Elk Hunting Tip #4

Tip #4 covers a broad spectrum of advice when it comes to elk hunting. With a degree in Mechanical Engineering, I often find myself looking for ways to increase efficiency…getting maximum output with the minimum amount of input. Typically, this is best achieved by simply keeping it simple. This is especially true when it comes to calling elk. In my opinion, many hunters try too hard, trying to define every breath, bark, bugle, and burp an elk makes. To complicate matters even more, they then try to figure out what grunt, growl, gurgle, or glunk to respond with. Elk are simple-minded animals. A simple-minded approach as a hunter is actually more effective than you might think.

I’ve said it many times before…you don’t need to be a great caller to call in elk. In fact, I’d say you don’t even need to be a good caller to call in elk. The important thing to possess is the mentality of an elk. The ability to place yourself in the elk’s shoes and know what it will take to get within shooting distance of your target. Let’s break it down.

It is September, which means it is the rut. Bulls are exerting massive amounts of energy searching for cows, trying to keep the cows they find, fighting for cows – basically, they have one thing on their mind. Cows. They are pumped full of testosterone, which makes them irritable and often times willing to fight at the drop of a hat. I have a few friends who are very similar. So I think to myself, what would it take to start a fight with these guys? Two things come to mind immediately. Steal their girls, or insult them (especially in front of their girls).

One other idea that we’ll cover a little later is the location where the insult takes place. But the bottom line is this – you need to do whatever it takes to make the elk want to fight you. If you can make that bull mad enough to fight, you can usually get him close enough for a shot. This takes an effort to go from being a hunter chasing an elk, to becoming an elk wanting to get in a fight with another elk. Once you cross that mental barrier you will find elk hunting gets a whole lot easier. Just be sure you cross back over before you go home…your family will be much more excited to see you.

Now that we are mentally in the game, the rest is simple. My calling sequence involves 3 calls. That’s it. If you can master these 3, simple elk sounds and apply them with the mentality of an elk, you’re well on your way. The first is a Location Bugle. A simple, 2 or 3-note bugle from a ridgetop to locate a bull. We’ll cover what we do between this location bugle and our final set-up tomorrow, but a simple, clear bugle is the start of the process. It sounds something like this.


The second call you will need to practice is a cow call. A simple cow mew. Nothing fancy – no hyper-hot estrus whine with a cat-call at the end. Just a cow call. Something that sounds like this.

The last call you need to work on is the most important. It is what I call the Challenge Bugle. It is an aggressive, high-pitched bugle that leaves you dizzy from a lack of oxygen and your eyes rolled back into the back of your head in aggression. This is your insult to the bull. When you give him this bugle you are calling him every name you can think of in elk language, insulting him and every cow in his harem. And in his daddy’s harem. Let your aggression come out in this bugle. It will sound something like this (the first bugle is me, the second one is the bull).

Notice the high-pitch that we try to hit with this call. The high-pitch is the most important part of this call. It is also important to be able to recognize this “attitude” in a bull’s bugle when he responds to you. If he gives you this high-pitched, aggressive bugle, draw your bow! He’s likely on his way in.

In case you haven’t figured out what tomorrow’s topic is, I’ll tell you. We’ll be discussing how we locate and approach a bull. Once you’ve located, approached, and set-up on a bull, the action is about to heat up. Here is what I do. I give one or two cow calls. That simple, clear, plain cow mew we talked about earlier. Any bull in his right mind (or, more appropriately, out of his mind) in September is going to answer this cow call. There are a lot of important steps to take between the place you located the bull and the place you set-up, which we’ll cover tomorrow. Just trust me that 99% of the time, if you have followed our tactic of locate, approach, and set-up, the bull is going to respond to your cow call. And when he does you have to be ready!

Before he gets half-way through his bugle, you are going to stomp on his toes with call #3 – the aggressive Challenge Bugle. Put everything you have into it. Don’t let there be any doubt what your intentions are. You are a bull elk and this bruiser on the hill has just hit on your cows. Let him know you won’t stand for that. Challenge him. Insult him. Remember back to the part about being in the right place when you insult him? You are there. You are inside the Red Zone, within 100-120 yards of the bull in an area we refer to as the Bull’s Bedroom. You have just embaressed, insulted, and challenged a bull filled with testosterone in his territory. You’d better be ready for the consequences.

This calling sequence, added to the tactics we’ll be discussing in the next couple of days, can be incredibly effective at bringing bulls in close during the rut. It is simple. You don’t need to memorize every sound an elk makes. In fact, when it comes to calling elk, I’d say the more simple you keep it, the more efficient you’ll be.

David Burdette's 2006 Idaho Bull

David Burdette's 2006 Idaho Bull


  1. Charles Root says:

    I have been chasing a large bull for the past two years, I know it’s him becuase of his distinct bugle. I have used all three of the bugles that you mention, so good in fact this last weekend my father couldn’t tell the difference between me and the bull. This last weekend we located him and stalked to within 100 yards of him. Some cows spooked and all I could think of to do was run right through the brush in front of me for about 40 yards stop and then blow the challenge bugle. He bugled back from about 60 yards away and I cut him off with another challenge bugle. I scattered his cows all over the mountain. The bull and I proceeded to have a cat and mouse chase with him moving back out to 100 yards and me sprinting towards him again to about 60 yds. We did this for over an hour and i ended up getting about 600 yards away from my dad but some how I got him wrangled up and headed towards my dad. He came to within fifty yards of my dad but since my dad thought it was me bugling the whole time he didn’t have an arrow nocked as he thought the hunt was over and it was me coming back and trying to locate where he was. I never saw the rack but dad said he was a toad, and probably the biggest bull he has had in front of him. Is there any advice or tips you could give me to help get this bull in so I can give the blade. Like I said we have been chasing him for two years prior to this. Any help or tips would great as I would love to gets this bruiser on my wall. I love your guy’s site. thanks and keep up the good work.

  2. Tom Douthit says:

    Corey, when do you chuckle? Could you add a chuckle onto your audio? On the challenge bugle, was the second bugle a real bull? I would not be surprised if it was you!

  3. Definitely. Elk will use wallows as a source of water throughout the summer. Once the rut kicks in and the bulls are needing to cool themselves from the heat of the rut they will begin wallowing. I’ve noticed bulls will start wallowing around the last week of August in central Idaho.

  4. Michael Casadaban says:

    Question about wallows. I have located a huge wallow and have bulls on film but no wallowing. Should that pick up towards the rut.

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