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Elk Calling Made Easy

Come Along As A Trio Of Experts Showcase Some Hard-Earned Wapiti Wisdom

By Mark Melotik

With the previous day's grueling, near-vertical trek up to our tiny backpack camp still etched clearly in our minds, backs, and legs, starting the morning out dog-tired was a given. The skills of a brain surgeon were also unnecessary to determine that the rhythmic, predawn pattering on our two-man tent meant we'd be soaked to the bone, rain gear or not, before hiking morning's first mile.

Not so expected was the fog, thick and soupy, in some cases masking what lay before us in this craggy Colorado high country, but mostly just lingering in the lowest spots and creating a scene reminiscent of one of those vintage, silent horror flicks. Much too silent, my partner felt, for elk camp.

"Time to try a little bugling", Steve announced, simultaneously gasping for air and motioning toward the black tube that hung from my neck. Faced with yet another near-vertical climb immediately in front of us, it was time for a breather either way. I'd been so intent on covering ground and catching my breath that calling had slipped my mind.

My best, high-pitched rendition of an immature bull feeling his oats was barely out of the tube when an answer blasted back.

AaoooohhEEEEEEEEEE! Came the raspy bull-scream, from somewhere atop the next ridge.Just like that, aching, tired muscles and cold, damp clothes were forgotten. Elk hunting is all about adrenaline, and soon two prime examples of the fact were scrambling quickly up a dicey rock slide that just minutes before would have taken us four times as long to conquer.

Though there're plenty of opportunities to feel drained and discouraged on most any elk hunt, arming yourself with a pack full of proven strategies can give you the confidence needed to hunt hard and effectively all day - and all season - long. What follows is a whale of wapiti wisdom from some of the nation's most experienced elk-chasers. Learn it and get ready to feel your own elk-season adrenaline rush.

Jones Uses Early Season Serenade
"When you're talking elk seasons that start in late August, and early September, usually, the cows aren't coming into heat yet", Oregon's Larry Jones says. "So normally, you're not going to hear a lot of bugling activity, and that's the reason most people don't like the early season. For someone who doesn't have a lot of experience, when they don't hear elk talking, they'll usually give up. That's a mistake."

"What I do, is I try to create excitement, like there's something happening that a bill should be a part of. Especially when I find an area with lots of fresh sign, fresh tracks and droppings, and wallows with murky water. I might stay in an area like that for an hour. Calling, listening for a minute, then calling again. My thought is, the elk can hear me, so I just keep nagging them."Without a doubt, I get most of the bulls to answer with a bugle. But I still mix in those cow calls, because you never know what it might take to get a bull to answer.

"Sometimes I try to mimic little scenarios, where bulls are bugling back and forth, and cows are answering. Not just using soft little cow mews, but make them louder, and make several in a row, with a bugle right behind it. Probably the call I use most is the Medium Bull, the red diaphragm, and I can do nice mews with that. For louder cow calls and bugles, I like to use my fluorescent orange "Screamer" diaphragm; with that one I can get really mean and snarly. You can put a lot of pressure on it, and it gets loud. At times, that really gets a bull excited."

"I'll usually work a good area with multiple sounds. I'll switch from a diaphragm, to a metal reed call, to a silicone call like my Persuader. I just keep looking for something that'll trigger them."Jones says for the best daytime response, stick to areas of dark timber.

"In areas with a lot of pinon pines, and sagebrush, it seems you may only get that first hour of the day to trigger a response. I don't know, maybe it gets hotter in those areas. But I can be in the same unit, and go into the timber, and I'll get some bulls going all day. "Once I get a bull to respond, I'll get the wind in my favor right away, and once I get within a couple hundred yards, I look for an ambush spot, with shooting lanes, and dark shadows - just like later in the season. Then I'll start softly cow calling. I think the bulls already have their harems, but since there's less cows in heat, they're more likely to leave them, and go out to grab a hot cow. Always start out with soft cow calls, and if he starts bugling back, I stay with that.

"If he doesn't come, then I'll get him to bugle back and I'll move up on him. Maybe start working him with weak bugles, then more aggressive calls. But the harder part is just finding him. It's essential to work enough country, call enough to locate a bull, then slow down a little bit".

Anyone looking to hunt elk with Jones or tap his proven calls can phone (800) 437-0006.

An Elk Guide's Pack

  • waterproof binoculars (8x35)
  • spotting scope (20 x 60) with tripod
  • Bushnell laser rangefinder
  • elk calls (diaphragms, bugle tube, reed calls)
  • camo face paint
  • Wyoming saw
  • camo facemask
  • camo gloves
  • scent eliminator spray
  • headlamp (w/extra batteries)
  • emergency  space bags (2)
  • 100 feet nylon cord
  • firestarter sticks
  • matches, candle
  • compact folding knives, sharpener
  • compass
  • fluorescent flagging tape
  • blaze knit hat (to mark kill site & emergency warmth)
  • first aid kit
  • flare
  • AA flashlight
  • bear repellent (pepper) spray
  • plastic canteen
  • lunch
  • maps, regs in plastic bag
  • Compact camera
  • tape measure

Ramos Makes Like A Cow
Citing what he tabs as both effective and off-beat elk-calling strategies, the methods of New Mexico's Ralph Ramos are indeed somewhat non-traditional. Ramos, a 14-year elk bowhunting veteran, depends on excessive cow calling backed up by high pitched, non-intimidating bugles to lure cagey bulls.

Ramos says he believes duping rut-charged bulls in this fashion is not unlike the draw a Spring Break bikini contest holds for human males. "The typical bull will always give in to the call of willing cows", Ramos says. "Bulls are greedy, making them easy targets for excessive cow calling.

"Ramos admits that most veteran elk hunters don't agree with calling excessively, but, experience has shown the tactic works - consistently.

"I like to go hunting with a minimum of eight types of calls, open-reed Hyper Lip calls, bite-and-blow-type calls, and bugles such as the Primos Terminator system with the resonator sound chamber, or the more compact Primos Hyper Lip Bugle.

"Ramos' first goal is to locate a bull - calling any way necessary to get a bull to bugle. Next, he closes the gap to within 250 yards, and begins searching for a good setup location, with the wind in his favor. Then comes the cow calls, in an attempt to entice the bull within bow range.

"I've found that the Primos Palate Plate diaphragms best reproduce the varied cow and calf tones bulls are looking for. I use the diaphragms with and without a bugle  tube, shuffling the tube in and out near the front of my mouth rapidly. This "shuffle" allows me to produce cow sounds that seem to be both close-in and far away - like an entire, mingling cow herd."

"I like to simulate a herd of cows feeding with one cow in the bunch that's in heat. I imitate her with the Hyper Lip Single or a Hyper Lip Double cow call. I'll make a quick series of cow-in-heat whines, maybe only two to three times within a 10-minute period. Too many hunters over-use this "hyper-heat" call; real cows won't make it over and over again.

Ramos finds that most bulls will eventually hang up between 100 to 125 yards from the caller, but he says this is a good thing. The bull doesn't see any cows to go to, but will typically bugle often, in an attempt to get the "cows" to come to him.

"Now it's time to bugle like a young bull that's keeping the cows from going to your target bull",  Ramos says. "You will find the target bull will respond aggressively; it'll be a screaming, almost growling half-bugle, as he begins to come the last few yards. Meanwhile, you bugle, and also include some more cow talk. Bulls at this point will come in looking for a battle, trying to steal the imaginary herd of cows."

Early Calling for Private Elk
Common wisdom in elk calling is that elk are becoming more and more call shy; that the window of bulls bugling and a hunter's ability to call them in is becoming narrower; and that the early, pre-rut part of the season means silent and scary-wary bulls.

That may hold true in the vast areas of public elk habitat, but experts say it's a whole 'nuther ballgame in the undisturbed confines of private ranches. Case in point: Brush Mountain, a 4,000-acre piece of prime elk habitat in northern Colorado, Owner Mike Henricksen has given all livestock the boot and initiated an intense program of game-habitat improvement. Part of the program is leaving elk the heck alone. People and especially vehicle traffic through the area is kept to an absolute minimum. Numbers of hunters are very restricted. There is even a sanctuary atop the mountain that is left completely to the elk: no one is allowed there, ever, even in hunting season.

The result: incredible numbers of laid-back elk that feel free to bugle and respond loud and long. Guides there have great success calling in bulls from the beginning to the end of elk season.

"I've called in bulls there on the Fourth of July", said Mark Garcia, who guided at the ranch several years before taking a job with bow maker High Country. "It's all about hunting undisturbed elk. If you have a place where they haven't been messed with, they'll come in anytime to a call.

"Guides at the ranch use the entire repertoire of modern elk calls, but regularly lure in bulls with nothing more than a good-old bugle, which on much public land these days is known to scare elk off rather than attract them.

To see for yourself, you can contact ranch owner Mike Henricksen at (906) 892-8120 or ranch manager Keith Morris at (970) 583-2976.

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Click on the Magazine Cover to Read About Us!

"A Guide's Life"
by Tim Dehn

"Elk Calling Made Easy"
by Mark Melotik

"Sweet Talk or Insults?"
by Bill Buckley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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