The Finer Points Of Calling Elk During Archery Seasons

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Calling All Elk

Calling snot-slinging, wild-eyed bulls into archery range is the stuff of bowhunting dreams. Unfortunately, this seldom comes off as depicted in heavily-edited hunting videos starring major game-call icons. I've been in this dodge long enough to understand these moneyed captains of industry don't bowhunt the same places you and I do, haunting instead properties we'll never afford, or wait decades to win a lottery tag for.

In other words, elk-calling success is a bit more involved. The first problem's hunting pressure in increasingly crowded woods, directly correlating to more uneducated hunters blowing more unrehersed calls, while neither fully understanding how timing relates to success or having the slightest inkling what they're relating while calling - perhaps most importantly, when putting the call away is indicated. Yet, many bulls are called into archery range each year, even on heavily-hunted public lands. Success lays in the details.

You must first understand why elk come to calls at all - curiosity, territorial tendencies or seeking cows for breeding - cautiously reading each situation, determining if a particular stipulation applies and which approach might work best. This includes, again, intuiting when to put your call away. A single herd bull with a painfully-gathered harem is a perfect example of the latter. That herd bull has everything to lose and absolutely nothing to gain by picking a fight, aggressively bugling to him a sure setup for failure. Other examples of losing propositions include calling in areas where hunting pressure's exceptionally intense, well before breeding urges begin (normally revealed by tight-lipped elk) or in areas where elk are naturally taciturn due to extensive predation (wolves most especially). Listen to what elk are telling you -- or not relating -- and follow suit.

Winning propositions (for mature bulls) include tightly-controlled units with hard-won lottery tags (or exclusive private ground), remote areas requiring great effort to access, resulting in light hunting pressure, and situations where large herd-bull controlled harems are surrounded by desperate, subordinate bulls. Too, if you'll be satisfied with young, small-antlered bulls, persistent calling can bring success in nearly any area with a healthy elk herd.

Curiosity's sparked by rattling just proir to peak breeding activities (just like whitetail but with bigger antlers), setting up on known travel corridors and producing quiet, social cow calls (and anticipating silent approaches), or producing squealing "spike" bugles at the fringes of large mixed herds to attract satellite bulls. 

Bugling's all about territory and hinges on timing - finding any bull in the right mood, solitary but dominant bulls with fighting personalities, or hormone-addled satellite bulls surrounding chaotic mixed herds. Bulls seeking companionship normally respond well to aggressive "hyper" cow calls or mixed calling feighing a coed herd led by a younger bull. In all, nonaggressive, subtle social cow calls or subdominant spike squeals are always safer bets than demanding cow calls or aggressive bugles. 

Experience is, of course, the best teacher; learning to recognize situations when you should back off, or pour it one, when to cow call or when to bugle.