Elk calling in competition is an art, but you don’t have to be a hunting call artist to be successful at using elk hunting calls. Elk call to each other all the time to communicate many things which we can identify! Most elk talk can be easily reproduced using elk hunting calls on the market today.
Calling elk in close requires controlling the bull with a call to put him in front of the shooter for a broadside shot. There are several steps to the process of setting up a scenario for shooting elk
In my early years of elk hunting I have heard bugle's and thought, “That’s awful. Must be a hunter.” Then, I found out it really was a bull elk. Some elk just sound "terrible", like they aren't "doing it right". They are defintely communicating something specific. Although, bull elk can become hoarse during the rut.
Below is a video by Elk Network of several classic bull elk vocalizations. You can learn what these sounds mean. You can practice making these sounds and use them to get closer to elk. Or, perhaps you can use them to get bulls to come to you, to see who is "saying that" to his cows, for instance! ElkNut Outdoor Productions will teach you what these and more vocalizations mean.
At 41 seconds to about 3 minutes into the video you will hear advertising bugles. Bulls advertising themselves as worthy breeders. So, they are speaking to cows. Learn how to recognize and make advertising bugles in ElkNut's DVD called, Elk Hunting Techniques: The Advertising and Breeding Sequence.
At 2:00 minutes you'll hear some lip bawl bugles. At 3:22 you will hear a bull warning another bull who is calling to the bull's harem. This is a clear warning or challenge bugle series!
At 4:00 there is a great opportunity to see the difference between a nervous grunt and a warning bark. They sound much the same, but this one is clearly a nervous grunt, because the elk hang around looking for what has their attention. It is a command to what they think is an elk to "show yourself". If it was a warning bark, they would leave immediately.
You can use a nervous grunt to command a hung up bull to show himself. You should be close enough and ready to shoot when you do it. It can also be used to stop a bull for a shot. He will stop and look right at you. You will have a chance to shoot at that point. They will stop on a dime, right inside your shooting window!
Hear, see and read more with ElkNut's Playbook, Sounds by the Ek CD and the many other ElkNut resources available. The knowledge gained will add huge dimentions to your elk calling ability.
Have you ever heard an elk glunking? If you have, you were very close! Once when I heard it, it was in very thick brush. I couldn't see a thing, but hey were only feet away! Glunking is not loud and it always means there is a cow in estrus. You will hear glunking at 6:00 in the video.
Glunking is a show of dominance of a breeder bull. The bugles are from bulls advertising their dominance and worthiness of breeding the cows. Even glunking can be used in your elk calling arsenal.
Here is a short audio clip of a bull is doing a lip bawl bugle. This call is used primarily to commiunicate to cows. It can indicate to you that there are cow elk near him. Or, he could be talking to you, when you make cow sounds. You could use this call to get another bull with cows to come check you out. They don't like other bulls talking to their cows!
Many years ago I took a friend to one of my favorite spots in Montana. We were on national forest land far behind locked gates on a logging road. We heard a clear, “moooo”. My friend said it was cattle. I whispered, “There aren’t any cattle in here.”
We heard the moo sound several times and I kept insisting, “There are no cattle in here!” Randy said, “Well, there are now.” As we moved in that direction the mooing got louder. At one point we heard another moo, without pause it progressed right into a full out bull bugle. It was a herd bull growling, finally throwing in a challenge bugle to another bull.
Even if you aren't that good yet at replicating bull elk sounds, elk calls on the market today make it easy to fool elk sometimes into letting you find them and get close to them. Success takes listening and practice. Consider the many varied types of calls available on the market by clicking here for our discussion and review.
If you make sounds with your call that are nowhere close to elk sounds, you can push elk away from you. So, some practice is in order, as well as understanding elk vocalization.
The best place to start is spending time listening to elk sounds, live or recorded. Hearing them first hand is certainly a thrill and the best option, but sometimes we just can’t be where they are to listen. ElkNut's Sounds by the Elk CD categorizes the elk sounds and enables you to practice them while you listen and learn. (More audio links below.)
We have a separate page with links to lots of actual recorded elk talk that you can listen to. We also have a step by step description of how to make basic elk sounds on the external reeds, or diaphragm calls that go in your mouth on the How to Make Elk Sounds page.
There are outside the mouth reed calls that are much easier to use. Simply follow the directions that come with them, after listening to the real thing to know what the end result should be. In the mouth, hands free, diaphragm calls are more difficult to use, but give you more control of the various “attitudes” that you want to convey.
If you really want to learn how to understand what elk are saying, how to react to it and how to influence elk with calls, the best resource is Paul Medel's instructional ElkNut's Playbook and Sounds by the Elk CD. Those elk talk tutorials are available with free shipping at the link above. Learn what the elk are saying, then practice talking to them along with the CD.
Calves, cows and bulls all have ways of calling to other elk that can be categorized. Elk talk year round and bulls often make the same sounds cows do. The bull bugle (audio) and pleading cow call (audio) , as well as the calf mew (audio) are easily identified. However, recognizing the nuances of the vocal tones and elements of the elk sounds takes practice and knowledge that ElkNut has mastered and teaches.
Elk calling has the greatest potential for success during archery season, because the rut coincides with the bow hunting period. During the rut, bulls are completely focused on cows and do a lot of talking to the cows and to each other. They want to know where cows are for mating potential. They keep tabs on the movement and attitude of rival bulls, as well.
During the rifle season elk talk will subside some because the rut is ending. They also shut up because of the stress of human presence and our loud activities, including rifle fire, machines, etc. Bulls might still bugle during rifle season, especially in remote areas that hunters have not been detected. Cows and calves talk to each other year round. Even the so-called "estrus scream" can be heard in the middle of winter or spring. This estrus scream or buzz, is really a contact sound.
The tools used most often in your elk calling arsenal should be mews and chirps. Start with these two. Many times a bull will give away his location when he hears a cow chirp or mew (audio). A quiet mew of a hunter might provide an opportunity to walk around close to the elk, even though a cow or two in the herd suspects his presence.
A bugle will often get a bull to sound off, but it might cause him to move in the opposite direction, especially if he’s young or has a harem of cows under his own influence. Saying the wrong thing with a bull sound might get you the wrong result. Spend some time learning what elk are saying and how to talk "intelligently" to them with ElkNut's elk communication instructional resources. As ElkNut teaches, all elk sounds are timing sounds; the right time and the right communication.
During bull elk calling attempts, if you throw a challenge bugle into the mix, he might avoid a situation that he perceives might not be worth the effort. He might decide not to risk facing another bull or losing some cows while he's away. In some situations an aggressive challenge bugle can call a big bull in, if it's done at the right time and circumstances, like when you get in real close to a herd bull. Being close with a challenge makes him react in a way that might just get him killed!
A "calling cows" bugle with chuckles might just bring a herd bull storming in, because you're demanding his cows to come to you! Most of the time, you need to be right in with the herd bull's cows to make this work, and you better be ready!
If you get a response from your locator bugle from a distance, stop calling and start walking. Knock off about a third of the perceived distance and listen for the bull. Do some soft cow chirps and mews and see if you can get him to speak up again. If he does, be patient. He might be coming to you. (See the Stalking Elk page here.)
Sometimes a juvenile bull sound (audio), with a higher pitch and no growl, will get elk to give up their location and tell you "who's" around.
If you and a partner(s) can sound like a contented herd of cows and calves (audio) , a nearby bull might just be convinced to join the party. Don’t be afraid to make some ground sounds with your “hooves”. When elk are unstressed, they aren’t in quiet mode. A bull likes the idea of joining a stress-free herd of cows and calves.
When elk calling, no matter what sound you are duplicating, don’t over do it. When you make any noise, you are giving away your exact location at that moment. Use your hands to deflect your elk calling sounds away from you. Have a caller separated from the shooter.
Elk are good at pinpointing sounds. One trick to use when hunting and calling elk by yourself is to do some cow talk, then quietly move a little. If you know which direction a bull is, make a cow elk sound and, if he responds, quietly cut off some of the distance and stop.
Often a bull coming into an elk calling hunter will “hang up” when he doesn’t see the cow (or bull) talking to him. If you have already relocated near the point where he will hang up, you can be ready for a shot.
They often will sneak in quietly from your downwind side, so keep a lookout for that. Use a wind indicator powder to keep aware of the wind direction. Sometimes I will smell elk and then check wind direction. Then I get an idea which way it came from. A decoy can make him think he sees the cow he thought he heard, directing his eyes away from the shooter.
If you are elk calling with a partner, the shooter should usually be silent and set up fifty to seventy yards ahead of the caller, toward the located bull. The caller’s job is to pull the bull past the shooter. The caller should be over a rise or very still behind some brush, because the bull will be eyeballing his exact location. The caller can call while walking away (in cover) to make the bull follow past the shooter.
If the shooter shoots a bull (bow or rifle), he should immediately bugle or cow talk to stop the bull from a panicked run. You'd be surprised how often that works, despite being hit.
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Audio provided by JR Lear.