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If you’re a big game hunter in the American West, the odds are that elk is one of your favorite. While Davis Tent has the outdoor accommodations for your hunting trip covered, we thought we might also offer a few tips on elk calling, as well. As hunters ourselves, we’ve found elk calling to be one of the best ways to land that trophy bull you’ve been dreaming of, and fill the freezer with elk steak for months!

Now, the truth is you don’t have to be an elk call competition winner to draw in that big bull. There’s actually quite a variety in calls, among various elk, in various situations. Bull-calls can get quite dry and hoarse, at the peak of rutt, or can be more solid-sounding. There are, of course, a variety of calls for a variety of purposes, and knowing which ones to use can make the difference between coming home empty handed, or bringing back the prize. 

Elk Calling Overview

In general, the strategy is to make yourself appear to be either a cow, or another bull, in some way threatening the bull you’re targeting. This could be by calling to his “harem” of cows, or by directly issuing threats to him, if he’s within range. Each of these require different sounds; a bugle, for instance, is the sound you make to advertise yourself to female cows, and a “lip bawl” bugle is a warning to a potential challenger, so it’s important to be able to recognize, but not necessarily to reproduce this one. If you hear this, you know he’s recognized you as a threat to his harem, so you’ll likely get him in range. 

Once the elk is visible, other types of calls such as a warning bark, can be important to know. A nervous grunt, on the other hand, can stop a bull in his tracks and have him looking right at you. This is great for if the bull is passing within your shooting window; you can make this grunt to stop him, and get your chance to take him down. 

It’s important to listen to examples of elk calls, and practice them before actually using them.

Further Tools and Tips

As far as the call itself, that is the instrument you use to reproduce the calls, there are a huge variety on the market to choose from. The main two types are outside the mouth, which are easier but simpler, or inside the mouth, which are challenging to use but allow you greater variation of calls. 

The best time to use elk calling is during bow season, because that is also generally when the rut is. Rut is a time when elk are most vocal and communicative to one another, for mating purposes obviously, and so they are far more likely to pay attention and take your calls seriously. 

Assuming you are in the right season, getting the right results with your elk calling can be more complex than you might imagine. For instance, if you issue a challenging bugle to a young and relatively inexperienced bull, he might simply run away. Even an older bull might simply not see the conflict as worth the effort. You also might end up drawing only cows, and while a cow can provide good meat, most hunters are looking for the prized set of elk horns to go on their wall, as well. 

There are also other strategies, such as hunting with a group of friends, and together impersonating a herd of cows, making cow calls and “stomping” the ground with any hoof-like object. Ultimately, there is more nuance and subtlety to elk-calling than we can fully cover in this post, but I hope we’ve got you thinking about getting started with this fine hunting art, if you haven’t already. It’s always a good idea to watch and learn from experienced elk callers.

We all have to start somewhere, so now’s your opportunity to start studying up, and working your way towards speaking the language of the elk!