I would venture to guess that the majority of elk hunters head into the woods each fall with dreams of coaxing a big rut crazed bull in to archery range. There is nothing in the world of elk hunting that compares to a ticked-off bull charging his way in. With thunderous bugles, a fire in his eyes, and slobber dripping off his lips, he’s on a mission to destroy the challenger. I have found the best way to get a bull to react in this manner is to be aggressive.
I would be rich if I had a dime for every time I heard a fellow elk hunter say, “You need to call sparingly”, or, “Don’t sound like too big of a bull.” While these suggestions may be true or work in certain situations, what is the fun in that? Here is how I aggressively approach nearly every elk encounter.
I mean get tight and do so as quietly as possible (try not to call your way in). I recommend getting inside 100 yards before setting up to do any calling and I actually prefer within 60-70 yards if the terrain allows it. By getting this close, I have now become a threat to the herd bull. He has no choice but to defend his harem of cows. If you do not get close enough, the bull has nothing to lose and the majority of the time will take his cows and exit stage left.
I also think this applies to 2 person calling setups. If the caller is too far behind the shooter, the caller never poses a threat to the bull. This gives him an opportunity to round up his cows and leave.
Using cow sounds alone to lure in a herd bull is a difficult task. During the rut, bulls are calling the cows to them, not the other way around. Plus, if the bull has already established a herd of cows, he most likely has multiple pesky satellite bulls he is warding off. It is unlikely that he will be willing to risk losing multiple cows for this one new cow.
I start almost every calling sequence the same. I get in as tight as I possibly can, then start with an estrus whine or pleading cow sound. I immediately follow up with an aggressive challenge bugle. I’m trying to paint the picture that one of the cows needs tending to, and this new bull is here to challenge for her. This will bring on the fight-or-flight instinct of the bull. His only option at this point is to leave without any cows or stand his ground.
Once I make my initial cow call, the bull will almost always answer right back. I am ready, and bugle right over top of his bugle and cut him off. There is something about not giving him a chance to speak that seems to fire them up even more. I also like to use mimicry from here on out. If the bull is chuckling, then I’m going to chuckle. If the bull is going to lip bawl bugle, then I’m going to lip bawl bugle, and so on.
My goal is to sound as big and as loud as possible. In my opinion, we will never be able to match the volume and depth that a real bull produces, so I never worry about being too loud. If you’ve ever had a mature bull fire off at you from close range, you will know what I’m talking about. Their bugles are ear-piercing and can literally be felt.
When I am setting up to call in a herd bull, I never cut back my calling or purposely sound like an immature raghorn. I always use mature bull sounds and don’t hold back on the volume. I also use growls, raspy grunts, etc. – I want the bull to think I’m the king of the mountain.
When a bull gets fired up, I try to match his intensity and frequency. Even when they aren’t bugling frequently or aggressively, I am able to turn the temperature up on some of these bulls and force the issue. I don’t know how many times I have seemed to work the bull up just by persistent calling.
I also add in an abundance of “natural noise” to assist in making the situation as real as possible. Sticks breaking, raking trees, and stomping on the ground only adds to proving to that bull that there truly are elk close to him and his harem.
If I feel that a bull and his herd are moving off and my current setup is no longer effective, I will move closer and re-setup. It is a high-risk/high-reward move, but in my opinion, getting close and having a chance is worth the risk of bumping the elk. Looking back at the past 6 or 7 years, every bull we have killed we have used multiple calling setups before calling him into bow range.
Don’t be afraid to try some of these aggressive tactics this fall. I’m not saying it is the only way to kill elk, but I can guarantee it is one of the most fun ways to hunt them!