Cause for silent bulls/minimal bugling

by Idaho Steve
(Hailey, ID)

I'm hearing from a lot of bowhunters out there in both Idaho and Montana that the bulls are bugling less and less, and cow talk is even becoming increasingly quieter.

I'm wondering what all your thoughts are.

The most common theory I've heard is that the elk are keeping silent to prevent wolves from pinpointing their location. Maybe that is a contributing factor.

But I've also heard that it's actually the human calls--both their sophistication and frequency of use, that has had the most impact on silencing the herds over the past couple years. As human calls have become more and more frequent and perfected over the years, bull elk are wising up and no longer responding to bugles, or even cow talk.

Some scientists suggest that the bulls that are surviving the hunting seasons, and the rut, are the ones who are remaining silent. The bulls that are bugling and responding to the calls are dying. Therefore, the surviving bulls are passing on the "silent" gene to their offspring. In effect, we're seeing evolution occur in front of our eyes.

I'm also wondering if this year, with a bright moon dominating the month up until later this week, the herds have been silent more during the day because their overnight activity is so feverish. Basically they're bedded from sunrise to sunset because their up all night partying.

Any feedback would be great!


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Sep 25, 2011
Vocal Bulls Today
by: Dave, Elk Hunting Tips (MT)

Same here. Lots of bull talk going on. My bulls are well-trained at this point (by me) to be wary of cow calls. I'm going to try some bull talk along with estrus whines. Maybe some tree raking. i wonder how they would react to rattling? I've never tried it with elk. Mainly because I haven't bought a rattle bag and horns are too big to carry!

I hope they're still talking tomorrow. Seems like about 10:30 they are still going, but by 11:00 I am taking a nap on the ground, in silence. I am even watching the time and working hard to make it happen before 11:00 comes.

Sep 25, 2011
So much for silent bulls
by: Anonymous

They were screaming their heads off this a.m. Heard at least five different bulls bugling through the morning. Called a 5x5 bull in to about 30 yards. He busted me as I peaked out behind a tree. Then worked a spike, who appeared to get bumped by a larger bull. Both played with me for about 15 minutes before they moved on. Never got either closer than about 40 yards. No harvest but a great day!

I have video of the first bull--you never see him in the vid but he's screaming his head off. I'll post it when I figure out how. ;)

Sep 24, 2011
Silent Bulls
by: Dave, Elk Hunting Tips (MT)

So do I. Steve! Which one of you guys posted about "pinching" the trigger between thumb and forefinger? (Equal pressure between the two.) It helped my bow shooting a great deal! It's actually an easier thing to picture with a release than a rifle, because the thumb and forefinger are so close together. It really improved my consistency. I'm glad to have learned it.

By the way, bulls learning to shut up when humans call is "adaptation", not evolution. They'll still be elk, just smarter!

Sep 24, 2011
Too funny
by: Anonymous

"I remember going along on an elk hunt in Utah 40 years ago. Those guys actually took brass heater hoses and made little whistly sounds that called in elk." -- Classic! Good stuff....

Thanks for the response/input Dave. I learn more every time I'm on here.

Best site ever!!

Sep 22, 2011
Educating Bulls to Calls
by: Dave, Elk Hunting Tips (MT)

You're absolutely right, Steve. I didn't mean to minimize the fact that bulls have learned to be careful when they bugle and what they do in response to calls. I remember going along on an elk hunt in Utah 40 years ago. Those guys actually took brass heater hoses and made little whistly sounds that called in elk.

I do, however, think that it is not "passed on" to the next generations. I easily called up three bulls last year. One for me and two for someone else. They came walking right up!

As I whined about on the hunt blog:, I did it again earlier this season, then blew it!

I hunted the same herd, and suspect called in the same satellite bull today. He was much more wary today. He sneaked in, rather than stomping in. I hope he forgets by next year. (I doubt it!) It is indeed my experience, in my area anyway, that bulls where I hunt learn each season, but start out a little gullible until they age.

I am not saying that bulls forget. The herd bull is staying on the OTHER side of the fence where I can't go. He is very smart and that's why he is the herd bull! He remembers! Does he tell the other bulls? I don't think so. I think maybe cows lead other elk in the herd, though. Bulls just are like teenagers and go after the girls with a little more reckless abandon. They have to, in order to reproduce.

Sep 21, 2011
Trends ...
by: Anonymous

Hi Dave,

I don't mean to suggest all of a sudden this year the bulls have picked up on calls and are staying quiet. I just keep hearing this year after year that bugling is getting quieter and quieter. I was more curious about the overall trend, say over the last 10 years.

Lots of folks around here are quick to blame wolves, which I'm sure contributes to the silencing. But I also hear a lot about the effect of calls. I was just curious what others thought. As for this year, like you said it seems like the moon has played a big role. Hope to spend the weekend camping near them as that may be my last chance. Season closes the 30th and work is busier than expected for this time of year. Bummer on one hand (not as much time out there as I'd like) but good on the other end ($).

By the way, cool stories in that thread you directed me too. I sure would love to get out with someone who has as much experience as you.

Sep 19, 2011
Calling Elk
by: Dave, Elk Hunting Tips (MT)

Hi, Steve. I am hearing less noise this year, but it did pick up Saturday. The moon had a good bit to do with it, I think. They were pretty noisy today.

The bulls didn't just figure it out in one year. I heard lots of talk last year. The rut seems somewhat quieter this year, but again, possibly the moon. I do know that when I hear coyotes, I hear more elk. Coyotes know when wolves are there. So do elk.

The rut goes on, but sometimes they do it a little quieter. I have heard plenty of rut talk until about 10:00. Called two noisy bulls in one right after the other yesterday about 10:30. Learn from my mistake here:

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