We’ll start with #5 and work up through #1. These are tips and tactics we’ve found to be effective at getting close to big bulls on public land, do-it-yourself hunts here in the West. These aren’t guaranteed tactics. They aren’t going to work every time. They are simply another option for elk hunters to add to their repertoire of tactics to help them become more successful!
Tip #5 was going to be raking. Raking is an incredibly effective tactic to use during the rut. Elk101.com Pro Staffer Tony Mudd is working on an article on raking that will be posted soon, so I won’t spend much time on that subject. But I fully endorse what Tony says and definitely use raking often when setting up on a big bull. Raking a tree is a display of dominance and is often enough to send a bull over the top and commit him to coming into your set-up. Oftentimes it will also trigger a response from the bull and he will start raking a tree, which is a great time to close the distance between yourself and the bull. I’ve literally walked up to within18 yards of a raking bull without being detected. An 18 yard, quartering-away shot on a bull that has no idea you are there is something we dream about.
Another option we’ve found effective when calling elk, especially a bull who is less-interested, is what we call “the Triangle”, and is Elk101.com’s Tip #5. My good friend, David Burdette, and I have used this tactic many times and it seems to be very effective, particularly in the early-season when the bulls haven’t really fired up. I’m sure we’ve all been in a similar situation when a bull will answer your calls every 10-15 minutes, but won’t budge from his location and won’t give a very enthusiastic bugle? It can be frustrating, and even the best of bugles and cow calls don’t often seem to do much to change his demeanor.
When this happens, we invoke “the Triangle”. It definitely takes two people, which is something we’ll discuss on Thursday (that’s your hint for Tip #2). With a bull bugling from 120-150 yards away, both hunters become the shooter/caller and split up 120-150 yards apart, forming a “Triangle” with the bull. With the bull 120-150 yards away, throw out a bugle and a few cow calls to keep the bulls attention focused on your location, giving your partner a minute or two to get into his position. I will take this opportunity to once again stress the importance of keeping the wind in your favor. Once in position, your objective is to make the bull feel like you are totally ignoring him.
You will give a fairly aggressive bugle, at which time your partner will enter the scene as a new bull, cutting you off with an aggressive bugle of his own. Be sure that you don’t answer the target bull if/when he responds. You are ignoring him and trying to make him feel completely left out. Begin working your way towards your partner, and at the same time, towards the bull, basically following the “legs” of the Triangle up towards the bull. Get a bugling frenzy going between you and your partner, paying close attention to the bulls reactions and attitude, without responding to him or including him in any way.
A rutting bull is not likely to be too comfortable with two aggressive bulls screaming at each other in his “bedroom”, and will many times come in to investigate – sometimes fired up and charging in, sometimes silent and timid. It’s important to keep tabs on his location and his responses and be ready for him to appear at any time. This is also a GREAT time to throw in some tree-raking as it will many times get the bull to begin raking a tree, which is a perfect opportunity for you or your partner to slip in close for the shot. Keep in mind you are working as a team and trying to compete with your hunting partner to be the first one to get to the bull will only frustrate your efforts. If this is an issue, stay tuned for Tip #2 on Thursday… 🙂
If, at any time during the set-up you determine the bull is committed and working his way towards you, one of you can fall back and assume the role of caller, while the shooter goes quiet and prepares for the shot. Nine times out of ten it seems that the bull comes in to the “new elk” on the scene, and not to the original location of your bugles. I won’t even pretend to know why, but it is something we’ve picked up on and it definitely helps us establish an unspoken plan of attack when the bull starts moving our way. The hunter who took on the roll of the “new elk” will continue calling and raking and the hunter in the original position will go silent and become the shooter.
On an evening hunt a few years back, David and I had a bull giving us a timid bugle from a high point on the ridge above us. We had located him and moved in to around 150 yards for a set-up, but our bugles were only answered every 2-3 times and the bull hadn’t budged for 20 minutes. We only had 20-30 minutes of daylight left, so we initiated “the Triangle”. David slipped around the hillside 150-200 yards and hit the next ridge over, which conveniently ran up and intersected the ridge I was on, right where our bull was calling from.
I let out a bugle and David immediately cut me off. I gave some excited cow calls, letting the target bull know that my cows were interested in an aggressive bull, to which he immediately responded. We ignored him. We moved in 20-30 yards and I once again bugled. David once again cut me off. The bull once again bugled. This was 2 bugles from him in less than a minute. The previous time span for two bugles from the bull was around 15 minutes. It was working.
We got to within 90-100 yards of each other and the bull, and I began my silent approach as the designated shooter. I immediately found myself in the middle of a very dry, noisy patch of huckleberry brush, however, and couldn’t go any farther. I could see the top of the bulls back and his 7X7 rack as he walked by on the ridge-top at 30 yards, but the dry bushes prevented me from moving any closer for a shot. The bull continued down the ridge another 30 yards and turned broadside in front of David. I heard the bow string go off, then the sweet sound of impact as the bull whirled and crashed down the hill away from us. By the time I made it the 30 yards to the ridge to collect a high-five from David, the bull was laying dead 60 yards away.
We’ve used this tactic with similar results many times since. Although it isn’t our ideal, #1 tactic for getting in close to bulls, it is effective in the right situation and has proven itself as a viable option on timid or uninterested bulls, especially early in the rut.