“Trolling for Bulls” – Archery Elk Hunting

Something is wrong. The elk wont bugle. It’s too hot, the moon is full, too many people, too many wolves……….

I think I am as guilty as the next guy for using one of those lame excuses about why I haven’t tagged out yet. But let’s get real, real quick. You are ultimately in charge of your own success. Instead of packing up camp and heading home to your cozy wife and list of honey-do’s, lets try a different approach . Just think back to all those days in the off-season when you couldn’t wait until next season. This next season was going to be different. Its hard to justify all the money spent on gear and fuel to your wife if you come home empty-handed. You hunt because of the chase, and……the kill! If it was just the allure of the outdoors you would just be a hiker, not a hunter.   

So wipe the tears from your eyes, rub some dirt on that new Sitka Gear, pack a lunch and find a bull! Wow, that sounds like the pep talk I sometimes give myself after a “pity party”.

I’ve used a tactic successfully over the years when text book elk hunting doesn’t seem to work. I call it “Trolling for Bulls”. Here’s how it works. First you have to pack a lunch, water, maps, compass, and a gps (if you’ve have one) along with all the other necessary items in your day pack. If you’ve done your home work in the off season, then you will have a spot that has held your interest. A place you just know all the big bulls live in,  but you are just too scared of going in after them.  You are going to be gone from dawn until dark…      

When hunting these places you will find that there are not elk every where…(If there are, call me).  Because of this, you don’t want to spend a lot of time in these areas. Keep hiking. When you start seeing elk sign slow down and start looking for a good set-up spot. You don’t want to be standing right on the bull when you blow your call. Take into consideration the wind and the possible direction elk may come from. Begin calling. Very sparingly at first, a few cow calls. Then slowly escalating to the sounds of a bull that has came across a couple of cows. Finally, this “make-believe” bull finds the hot cow  and begins to torment her by bugling his head off. To make this realistic, you must span this sequence over 30-45 minutes. After the frenzy go silent and wait 15-30 minutes, waiting on that silent bull that won’t just charge in. Remember, less is more during the first 2/3 of the calling sequence.

Dirk Durham employing his method of "Trolling for Elk"

Dirk Durham employing his method of "Trolling for Elk"

If you have no response after quiet time, head out looking for the next “elky” looking spot.  Don’t feel bad, as it may take half the day to find a bull that wants to play.

“Midday Madness”.  My friends always laugh at my “radio announcer voice” when I say midday madness. Its basically round #2 of day time rut activity. After the herd bull has put his ladies to bed and rested himself, he will want to stretch his legs, sniff cows, wallow, and get a drink. This can be a prime time to call the herd master away from his cows. Magic time in North Idaho seems to be 1pm.

If you’ve heard a bugle at daylight and then the bull clams up soon after, try to figure out where he is headed to bed and work your way towards him. Once you think you’re close, start trolling. It may take a couple set ups to get a response , but don’t give up. I had a bull let me do three calling scenarios within a quarter mile stretch while hiking up a ridge one day. The third set up finally brought him out of his bed.  I had actually passed by his bedding area, and almost out of ear shot before he fired up. He didn’t want me to get too far away and finally sounded off. Long story short – I mis-judged my yardage and shot under the chest of a 330 p&y class bull (I bought a range finder for the next season). Other times, however, I have been successful.

One of Dirk's many bulls that have fallen to his method of hunting

One of Dirk's many bulls that have fallen to his method of hunting

If the first “hell-hole” you go into gives you no results, go to the next one – stay mobile. It’s a lot like fishing, you have more chances for more bulls to hear your calls if you push on, casting and dragging your calls in front of them. My Dad always told me “elk are where you find them”, which always got under my skin. I would usually walk off muttering under my breath. But as I got a little older I finally figured out what he was getting at. “Elk are where you find them”, not always are they where you want them to be!

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