No doubt the best strategy of calling elk involves 2 people. One shooter and a caller positioned strategically behind the shooter attempting to call the elk upwind of the shooter. This method fools the elk to focus beyond the shooter. It is an ambush method used by most hunters today. This double team method is the most successful way to harvest an elk while calling. However, there are still those times when we are solo and don’t have the luxury of the double team. Here is a method of hunting that I have found to be very successful when going at it alone.
If there is one thing that I regret about past methods of elk hunting or calling elk it would be that I was not aggressive enough. I can remember the first few years in the archery woods chasing bugling bulls. I would just hang back and hope the bull would make the first move and come into me. Most of the time, this was not the case. Sooner or later the bull would lose interest and move off and leave me wondering how big he was. Boy he sounded good, bet he was big one. I usually filled my tag, but always with a smaller framed 5 point type bull. I wanted a trophy or at least to see a trophy bull and have the opportunity to take him. This is when I decided to get aggressive. I adopted the mind -set that I just wanted to put a face to the big raspy voice in the brush. So I would literally make it a track meet and put the pressure on the bull. As long as you don’t get caught in the open or up wind from the bull this tactic works well. It works really well in thick timber or brushy areas where openings are few and far between and max shot distances run under 30 yards.
Ten plus years ago the archery seasons ended in mid September. This gave my friends and I the opportunity to chase bulls after the hunting season had ended. We would go out and drive all night and locate multiple bulls in the dark and sleep on them. When daylight came it was time to play. Our goal was to just see the caliber of bulls that were out there and to have a little fun while doing that. There was no pressure of trying to fill the tag in our pocket, we just wanted to see some bulls. We knew it didn’t matter if we chased them off or ran them out of the country, we weren’t hunting them anyway. This is when I started to get aggressive. A bull would answer my calls and I would be on him before he knew it. This worked surprisingly well and not only increased bull sightings; it also increased the number of shot opportunities. That is if we were packing a bow. I refer to this as the track meet method. If there were more than one bull in a given drainage I would attack the closest first, take a look, and then move on to the next one. I am not a patient hunter and maybe a little greedy, because if there is more than one bull bugling I want to see them all. I want to know what is in the area and see if there is a bull big enough to keep chasing.
Here’s how it all goes down. Once I have located a bull and determined the wind direction it’s game on. I will cover ground fast and use any geographic, timber, or brush barriers available. Usually I will head straight at the bull not worrying about being quiet. When I feel like I am within 100 yards of the animal I will let out a challenge bugle or a loud aggressive sounding bugle. If he responds, it will allow me to locate the animal and make my next move. I will listen briefly to see if the animal is on the move. If I can hear him I will stay tight and throw another challenge bugle his way in an attempt to get him worked up. I will also rake a tree and break as much brush as possible. After all I want to sound like an aggressive bull. If he wants to hang back then I will go to him. I do not do this in a stealthy manner either. I want him to hear me coming, this way he has a decision to make. Put pressure on them and they usually stick around if not meet you half way. I have found that even if they catch movement in the brush and have not fully seen your outline they will still stick around believing you are another elk. One catch to this method is you have to be ready at all times and willing to take a risk. Keep an arrow knocked. You also must limit unnatural sounds as you move through the brush. Quiet clothing and control of your gear is absolutely necessary. You can break brush all day long and not be alarming, but the second your arrow makes the unfamiliar sound of bouncing off your riser it may all be over.
One day while packing out an elk with a couple friends we were headed off the mountain throwing out a few cow calls here and there just to see if we could get a response. To our surprise a bull responded no more than 250 yards around the hill. We dropped our packs and hustled toward the bull just to get a look. We rounded a ridge into a small flat and there was the bull. Once we got close I foolishly put my hands in the air like I was supporting a set of antlers while walking in the direction of the bull. All the while I was bugling aggressively. My friends sat tight and I continued toward the bull calling and using some large cedar trees as barriers. It was a decent 5×6 bull and he let me come to within 5 yards of him. I made lots of noise and was aggressive at closing the distance. Had I been hunting, this would have been a gimme. I had this bull confused. I did this while wearing a solid white t-shirt and blue jeans, but I caught him off guard long enough for it to pay off. My friends just sat back laughing, they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. I had done this many times before, and explained sometimes you just have to take a chance and charge in like you know what you are doing. Go at it with the confidence you are going to go right to the bull and put an arrow in him. I know if I had sat back 100 to 150 yards and just kept calling, this bull would have lost interest and walked off. Then again there are those bulls that are just plain ignorant at times and let you get away with anything. This may have been one of them.
I admit this can be a risky approach to chasing a herd bull. 15 sets of eyes and ears to fool is not that easy, but if you can separate the herd it can be to your advantage. It does not work every time, but what method does? In my experience the success rate of getting close and creating shot opportunities using this method has been pretty high. The next time you have to go at it alone try this method of hunting and who knows, you may prefer this method over the double team.