Outdoor Articles

In Range: Getting All the Elk Calling Secrets

by Wil Askew on September 27th, 2007 in Elk Hunting

Many years ago I watched an elk hunting video with Larry D. Jones and Dwight Schuh as they manipulated bulls with soft cow talk and harsh bugles.

I was captivated by all the elk bugling and excitement that these two generated, when in the woods.

At that time I was hunting elk in southern Oregon and had chased a few around but had never experienced the type of action that I was witnessing on the television.

I soon realized I didn’t know what I was doing when I entered the elk woods.


In fact, the more I learned about elk calling and herd talk, the more I realized how little I knew.

I immersed myself in every video and book I could lay my eyes on and studied and practiced calling techniques and tactics.

Now it’s a different story and I can honestly tell you that every year in the woods is comparable to living “Elk Fever.”

Knowing what to say and when to say it can easily bring a bull directly into bow range.

Granted, there are those lucky few who buy a cow call and seem to call in a decent 300-inch bull on their first try, but this is more a matter of being in the right place at the right time than skill and effort.

Unfortunately for them, getting another such bull may take a lifetime.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather be lucky than good any day of the week too, but it just doesn’t work that way for me, so I am forced to climb into deep, bottomless holes and try to lure a bull into archery range with a variety of soft, seductive mews and calf talk coupled with an occasional bugle or two.

Sometimes it works, and when it does finally come together, you don’t even feel the earth under your feet.

Which is a nice feeling since you don’t notice the blisters on the bottom of your feet either.

I have had many days filled with trial and error — well, mostly error. These mistakes and rewards have taught me valuable lessons.

Here I will break down some of the calling tips and techniques that have brought others and myself success over the past decade.

Keep in mind these tips will work, but first you have to put yourself in a good hunting area. Your hunt is only going to be as good as your spot.

If you are not getting a response from the elk, then it may be time to try another location.

There are a few key things to take into consideration before you start calling. You need to be aware of your surroundings.

Mainly this applies to areas that are easily accessible to other hunters.

Once you get a bull fired up, you are inviting every hunter within earshot to your location. I have had many bulls blown out from under me due to this.

Elk like to move mainly from deep, mild temperature bedding grounds to open feeding areas in the late afternoon.

Once you locate the herd, run these questions through your head before you spring into action: How many hunters are in the area?

Have these elk been pressured and pushed here?

How many elk are in the herd and how many satellite bulls are roaming in the immediate area? What is their travel pattern looking like?

You want to cover all these basics before rushing into a calling situation.

If I know there are other hunters in the area, I am more likely to take it easy.

I don’t want to do any bugling that may invite a hunter to my location and have him walk through the herd and end my hunt early.

Elk that have been pressured by calling are not likely to answer a call.

If you do get a response, it might be as the bull rounds his cows up and moves them and himself out of the immediate area.

A herd that contains quite a few elk can be more of a problem than a bonus — more elk mean more eyes, ears and, even worse, noses.

Calling techniques

As for calling techniques, let’s start with bugling. Every new elk hunter owns a bugle; whether or not they know how to use it properly is another thing.

Years ago, the bugle used to be a great way to bring elk in close.

Bulls were accustomed to other bulls “bugling” their way into the herd, and the herd bull would defend his cows and come after the intruder, often creating a shot for the hunter.

Now that every hunter owns a bugle, elk have grown accustomed to the instant onslaught of bugling and feverish cow calling that occurs when archery seasons open in late August and early September.

The rut usually peaks about the second week of September and finishes well after the archery season has closed.

Bugling activity from active bulls really starts to pick up during this time.

Activity in highly pressured areas may pick up more after dark as nocturnal herds spread out in the cool air to fight for breeding rights.

Using the bugle to your advantage

From a high vantage point, you can often lay out a long series of tones and pitches that simulate a mature bull seeking other elk.

This is not necessarily a call for a fight or to take over the herd, but basically as a way to say “Hello, where are you?”

Elk are social animals and are very communicative while keeping in touch with one another.

It is very common to get a response from a bull during early morning and late afternoons stretching into dusk.

During cooler weather when rutting and bugling activity is at its prime, calling can last all day.

The bugle can be used as an aggressive call, seductive or warning.

Usually what will bring a bull into a hunter’s call is curiosity to basically size up the competition.

If you ever watch a herd of elk, the smaller bulls are usually quiet and constantly sneaking their way around the herd to try and get a chance with a receptive cow.

Once the herd bull bugles, though, the smaller bulls will usually look in that direction and clear out before being seen. They are familiar with the herd bull.

Let your presence be known but don’t be overly aggressive with your calls.

A bull with a large herd which has been fighting satellite bulls all evening can easily push his cows out of the immediate area instead of respond.

A bull with a couple cows does not want to compete and chance losing his cows that he may have just gotten. More than likely he will leave too.

However, sometimes a bull has just lost his harem and is looking for a fight. If he keeps answering your bugle, keep bugling.

The only time you would need a cow call would be to stop the bull for a shot.

Take the bull’s “temperature.”

If he sounds big, try to tone it down a little and give him the feeling that you’re an easy target for punishment.

Couple this with a few soft cow calls, and the bull will think he can come in and take what’s his.

Cow calling

Everyone I know owns the Hyper Hot Cow Call by Woodswise.

While it is a great call and can be very deadly when used correctly, the key to any cow call is to be realistic and not too loud.

If you have a cow call that is slightly nasally, this is realistic to elk.

Once you’re in close to a herd, a cow call may not be much use.

A hyper cow call may create some excitement, but as soon as you begin to make some noise, you are going to have every eye looking in your direction.

Usually the lead cow (or sentry) will come in close to investigate; this may bring the bull in too. The cows control the herd and the bull.

Where the cows go, the bull follows. If the bull is unresponsive, then try to pull a cow to you with some soft cow calls.

Sometimes this will get a cow to feed or walk into your direction which may bring the bull in closer too.

Keep it soft and simple. Mimic whatever the cow does and all the herd talk might create some curiosity to bring the bull to within range.

If the bull hangs back and the cow comes within 30 yards, hit your bugle and make the bull think a smaller bull is in the herd.

Not being one to give up a cow, usually the bull will come charging in your direction in no time.


There are many different tactics, but if you are sensible about your approach your odds of calling in a bull greatly increase.

I suggest watching instructional videos.

You may need to go back a couple years to find a good one.

More of today’s elk hunting videos are made up of mostly kill shots with very little focus on the actual calling techniques that are used to bring an animal into range.

The main thing is to keep it simple and as real as possible. It’s not a bugling contest.

A loud bugle will shut every bull in the woods down for fear of both their lives and herds being taken from them.

Soft and seductive calling when you are in close will usually create a shot opportunity.

One Response to “In Range: Getting All the Elk Calling Secrets”

  1. colton Says:

    You say tone it down as you get closer? From My experisnce bulls get louder as they come closer to another bull

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