Most of the online information and magazine articles you will find on the subject of calling elk focus on bugling for big bulls. But if you set aside that focus and learn some other techniques, you’ll be far more likely to call your elk in this fall.
There are several elk calling tips you can use that will ratchet up your chances of elk in the freezer. Using cow and calf calls, imitating a young spike instead of a major herd bull, and crashing branches are just three of these elk calling techniques.
Don’t Imitate Big Herd Bulls
When it comes to elk hunting tips, this technique can work if you really know what you’re doing but it can be just as likely to result in your bull leaving the vicinity. A major herd bull with a harem of cows already has a pretty good idea about who his competition is in the area. Big bulls have individually recognizable voices – just like you can recognize your brother’s yell in the woods – a big elk recognizes the voices of his competition.
A herd bull with a large harem – say 40 cows and 15 calves – will also have other younger bulls on the periphery of the herd. These satellite spike bulls are always looking for a chance to get lucky, and much of the alpha bull’s time is spent running the spikes off and keeping them away from his cows.
The cows, meanwhile, are constantly assessing the bulls in the area – elk research has demonstrated that cows choose the biggest, baddest, most impressive bull, and much of their decision is based on impressive antlers.
If you set up in a stand – whether you’re in a tree or just sitting on the ground – and you bugle like the biggest bull in the woods, your trophy quarry is likely to round up his cows and take them away.
If you have a cow tag, you can lure a cow or several cows away from a herd if you can convince them you’re more worthy than their current herd leader. But there are easier ways to call in your game.
Call Like a Spike
If you sound like a whippersnapper young spike bull with attitude, you might just call in a bigger bull looking to beat up on the youngster. Whether you’re calling a big bull with eight cows, or a major herd bull with 40 plus cows, the big bulls are intent on keeping younger bulls away from the cows. Young bull elk that are not dominant herd bulls will often come in to the sound of another spike’s bugle.
Call Like a Cow
Cow calls can be incredibly effective at luring bulls to your spot. Bull elk are keen on fighting during the rut, but they’re even more interested in the ladies. Of course you can buy DVDs and listen to recorded calls of elk cows (or humans imitating cows), but if you really want to sound like a cow, you need to spend a lot of time in the woods.
A group of elk talking to each other sometimes sound like a flock of birds, and they have a vocabulary including chirps, whistles, and mews – cows will also whuff or bark – a warning signal or alarm that you don’t want to hear.
Call Like a Calf
Elk are gregarious. If you can sound like a little baby calf that’s lost his mommy, it’s not at all unusual for adult elk – even big bulls – to show up checking you out. If something startles a group of elk, they’ll often bust loose in several directions in flight – a young calf that gets separated from his bunch will mew and cry pitifully and that’s a sound that draws adult elk like a magnet.
Listen More Than You Call
There is no better way to get elk to move away from you than to overdo it with the elk calling. Face it, you’re in their living room and they know an elk call when they hear one. No matter how good you are, you’re not as good as they are, and too much elk talk out of you will run them off. It’s best to listen more than you call. Figure out where the elk are, how many bulls are in the vicinity, how many cows are with which bull. Get a good sense of the elk in the area before you try any elk calling.
Thrash the Brush
This elk calling method works best if you have a hunting buddy, but you can do it on your own. An angry or frustrated bull elk tears stuff up. They break branches, thrash brush with their antlers, and crash about making a lot of noise. Two bulls facing off for a fight will often beat up on the surrounding brush in a show of intimidation until one of them gives up and walks off (or gets chased off).
Sitting quiet is not the way to call in a bull – you need to make at least some noise, and preferably a lot of noise. Make sure you’re in a protected spot when you do this – like up a tree or next to a big root wad or downed tree – because a bull who comes in to this brush-thrashing noise is likely to be mad and looking to whip some ass.
Put It All Together
Bugling like a big bull works when you want to call in a big bull. The younger bulls, though – even a big fine 3-point elk – isn’t going to come over and try to mess with a dominate bull elk. Practice your spike calls, cow calls, and calf calls, and if you’ve got a bull within earshot, break some big branches and thrash the brush. Having a full range of elk calling tips and sounds in your bag of tricks will increase your chances of elk steak in the freezer.