Elk, in my opinion, are the most special and unique animal in all of the creation. There is nothing more majestic and primal than a big bull worked up, bugling and posturing. That is, without a doubt, why I love elk hunting and more importantly, calling elk.
Learning to call elk opens up a whole new avenue for hunting them. It is incredibly rewarding and can be very addicting! If you are an archery hunter, calling will give you a huge advantage when you take to the woods trying to get within bow range of a bull. You have the upper hand when a bull is coming to you and you have wisely picked your setup rather than just trying to stalk in on everything. Add to that the incredible feeling of accomplishment when you call in and arrow a bull and you will understand why it is so addicting!
The first thing you will need to be an effective elk caller are great elk calls. There are many choices on the market. My only criteria for judging an elk call is “does it sound like an elk?” If not, it may work only occasionally on really hot bulls but most of the time the results will be disappointing. Great calls work every year and don’t require that a bull be crazed to come in to them.
With so many calls available it can be confusing as to what you really need. Over the past 2 decades I have narrowed it down to 3 calls.
1. You need a mouth diaphragm that fits “your” mouth and has excellent tonal quality.
2. You need a quality “elky” sounding “Open Reed” call that is easy to blow.
3. You need a good grunt tube that will provide accurate resonance.
The key to calling in a lot of elk is listening to and understanding how THEY sound vs. how most people sound. The most important aspects of sounding like an elk are proper tone and emotion. The best way to achieve this is to really listen to elk on DVD’s, CD’s and in the wild to get their sounds engraved in your mind. When you practice, try to emulate what elk sound like and you will be better off than copying a person’s sound and cadence.
Elk do have different voices but once you listen to a lot of them, you understand that they all have a certain elk quality about their tone. When you practice, do your best to listen to elk as you blow your calls to get this elk quality in your calls.
A good Open Reed call will have a natural, 3-dimensional, nasally sound quality rather than sounding “thin” and 1- dimensional. I’ve found over the past decade that you can call in loads of bulls by cow calling with a good sounding open reed call. The key is learning to control the volume of the call. It’s OK to call loudly when a bull is 200 yards away, but as he approaches your setup a bull responds much better to sweet, controlled cow calls. You can get these “sweet” sounds by using your stomach (diaphragm) to control the amount of air you place on the reed. The most common mistake that I see with open reeds is guys using their hands or fingers to “choke” the call. These calls sound much more realistic when blown “open” without choking down on them. These calls may seem easy to use, but practicing and learning to really control the tone, emotion, and volume is the key to calling in more elk than you can imagine. If you are a bow hunter and need your hands free to shoot, you can still call bulls in with an open reed. When the bull is where you need to shoot him, draw your bow and “deer grunt” with your voice to stop the bull for a standing shot. It works every time!
With mouth reeds the same rules apply. Choose a call that sounds “elky” and fits your mouth. The call should be easy to blow and not require a lot of air to make sounds. If you are having trouble with air escaping around the call, it probably does not fit your palate properly. Once you find a call that fits you well, practice the same as you would with your open reed call. The more you can control volume and tone, the more elk you will call in.
There is absolutely no reason to over complicate calling. If you can do a “standard” cow call, a location bugle, and an aggressive “challenge” bugle that’s really all you will need. I have learned to make “Estrus” calls on a mouth call and it’s very effective, but you can call most bulls in with good, sweet standard cow calls. That is what I will use in at least 90% of the call ins that I get.
While I don’t use bugling a lot when I hunt in Arizona, I believe that when used in the proper situations and done with the right “attitude” that it is very effective as well. Elk really pick up on emotion and attitude and as with cow calling, the tone, emotion, and volume that you blow a bugle with are the elements to consistent success. Big bulls respond way better to bugling with aggressive emotion and an ear-piercing high pitch vs. flat, wimpy bugles.
To call the bigger bulls in with bugling you will experience more success by calling with an angry, threatening, insulting attitude in your call. You want to trigger the bull’s emotion to kick in to where he wants to come over and kick your tail! Think of it as you getting in his grill and picking a fight with him by throwing a mean first punch!
I won’t go into detail about these other factors but they are crucial to calling success. 1. Always hunt with a Wind Checker 2. The closer you can get to a bull before calling to him, the better. I will take every yard that I can get! Calls mean much more from 100-150 yards than from a half mile.
Practice with purpose to get the right tone, volume, and emotion in your calls whether it’s cow calling or bugling and you will be amazed at how your success improves. Good Hunting and successful calling to you this Fall!