The year was 1989, I was fifteen and wanted to hunt elk with a bow. My Dad had long since lost his drive to “beat the brush” as he called it. So I was on my own. Being an avid hunter I wanted to take advantage of the early season that archery hunting offered. I knew nothing about calling elk. My best friend Randy Wise (now my brother in-law) also wanted to get involved. We made a pact. We would learn to call elk no matter what the obstacles…we would learn.
Back in those days a guy had very little to chose from. None of the calls were what you could refer to as “easy to use“. Very few sounded authentic. We talked to some old guys that had been doing it for years, sorted through all the B.S. and started blowing on elk calls. Diaphragm reeds seemed the logical choice, as they were almost always going to be in your mouth. You could bugle and cow call with them. Randy bought a bite and blow type call made by Elk inc. called an “elk talk”. It sounded weird, but he and the elk liked it.
We sounded awful. Neither one of us had even heard a real live elk before, so we went off of what the old timers would describe. Then a gift from heaven was sent to us. Our wood shop teacher gave us an elk hunting VHS tape containing seven hours of elk hunting. Now we had something to base our calls upon. We still sucked, but we didn’t know it.
Then opening day came. We didn’t sleep a wink the night before. We had done our scouting, triple checked our gear ,and our “High Country” bows were dialed in. Our plan was fool proof, we would get to our spot, start calling, and let the elk run in to us. We showed up at first light.
Wow, elk were everywhere in this farmer’s uncut wheat field. We grabbed our gear and made the big sneak up through the brush to the fields edge. Then, and only then, did we discover that I had left my grunt tube at home, and Randy had left his reed at home. I said “give me your grunt tube and I’ll call the bull in for you”. He said “give me your reeds and I’ll do the calling”. Neither one of us would budge. I started to cow call, and bugle without a tube, and he started blowing on that danged elk talk. The bull returned our calls, but wouldn’t come. All of a sudden Randy jammed his elk talk into his grunt tube, bent over, put his bow above his head like antlers and sort of did a strange hunched over jog across the uncut field blowing that stupid sounding call. That bull took one look at Randy and charged. Randy disappeared into the wheat and got ready for the shot. I saw the bull jump, run around in a circle and stop. Then the bull ran back across the field round up his cows and got the heck out of Dodge. Needless to say, Randy missed the bull, twice, at point blank range! These must have been the dumbest elk ever! I ended up shooting a nice 5×6 the third day of season, Randy missed six or seven bulls that year. He even missed four in one morning! (Sorry Randy…)
We both learned some valuable lessons that first year. The first thing we learned was not to give up after the first call we tried. If you cant make it work try another one. Once you find one that agrees with you, practice until everyone around you hates your guts. Watch as many elk hunting movies as possible. It will show you possible scenarios of elk coming in to the shooter. Learn from your mistakes, don’t repeat them. Work together as a team, not against each other. And most of all be persistent.
After becoming a fluent elk caller, I was satisfied with the way my call sounded. That is, until I made friends with a new kid (Corey Jacobsen) I had just met. He said he loved to elk hunt also, in fact his dad had been making his own elk calls. I found this quite interesting, so I followed him home after school. He had his dad bugle for me and my jaw hit the floor. “I have got to learn to bugle like that“! He had a weird shaped tube, and it really sounded “real”. Over the years Rockie gave me new elk calls to try out. At first I was a little skeptical, but I liked the price (free) and also the way he could make them sound. The calls seemed very foreign the first time I put them in my mouth, but I was persistent. After no time at all the calls became more comfortable.
“Practice makes perfect”, the old saying goes, so practice I did. I would practice the calls that I was not good at, not the ones I could already do. It is said that “You are your own worst critic”. I would go into a room by myself, set up a video camera and begin calling. It really changes your perspective on how you sound. You can see what is not right about your calling. Then you have a base for improvement. To this day I still use this technique. Donnie Drake made a good point in an earlier article about when driving by yourself in your vehicle, taking the time to practice then. I feel that’s a great time to hone your skills. I have a CD that Corey made for me a few years back that has nothing but monster bulls bugling their brains out. I listen, then practice.
I have found over the years my favorite technique for improving my ability, is listening to what noises the bull makes, then mimicking him. Every year I come home with something new that the “real thing” has taught me about calling elk.
I prefer Bugling Bull Game calls. I feel they have the best sound and the best quality. My favorite reed is the brown “Raging Bull” single latex reed. You can make the most delicate cow calls the loudest screams with this call. I love the “Bully Bull” grunt tube. It does not sound “fluty” like most of the competitors tubes. I like the “Mello Yellow Mama” reed for cow calls. It can give a deeper, more mature cow sound and will ad more realism to your calling set up. I also like the red “Hot Coaxer” reed. It has a different tone to bugle with, and makes excellent cow calls.
I feel these calls will set you apart in the elk woods. They sound authentic, not like some dude blowing a Terminator tube. The elk will believe what you’re saying and come the final distance.
If it had not been for calling elk , I would have never been so successful. There is no reason for any elk hunters to limit themselves in the matters of calling. We live in a time where choices abound in elk calls. Every shape and size of call is available. So go pick one up, search till you find the one that suits you best , and then master it. You wont be sorry.