Elk Call



There are apps available that will turn your smartphone into an electronic elk call. Use of this type of call is as simple as pushing a button, assuming that the user is familiar with the operation of the electronic device.

There are multiple cons with electronic elk calls. The sound may not be realistic or loud enough to be effective; not many cell phone lanyards are available that allow you to simply drop the phone if you need your hands; and the biggest drawback is that use of electronic calls for elk hunting is not legal in most states.

Mastering your elk call

While using an elk call can be extremely effective in locating and attracting elk, it does no good to have an elk call but be unable to use it well. In fact, a poor attempt at imitating an elk, can actually scare an elk away. Because of this, it’s important that you follow the two keys to mastering your elk call.

  1. Know what an elk sounds like – Obviously, if you are going to imitate the sound of an elk, you need to know what an elk sounds like. If you have spent time in elk country, you may have the sounds of an elk call burned into your brain. If not, you will need some help. Many of the calls available for purchase include a CD or DVD that give you some sounds to imitate. That can get you started, then as you hear the real thing, you will know what your elk call is supposed to sound like.
  2. Practice – Just as most people can’t play a musical instrument by simply listening to that instrument, you can’t expect to become proficient with an elk call without spending the time to figure out how to make it work. Find a place where you aren’t worried about sounding silly, listen to the sound you are trying to imitate, and go for it. After some trial and error, most people can get the hang of it. Don’t stop when you figure it out, continue until you get proficient. When you are close to an elk that you are trying to call, you don’t want to have two or three failed attempts at calls before you get it right.
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Hunting with your elk call

The reason most of us are interested in elk calls is because we are hunting elk. Once you have determined what type of elk call you want to use, made your purchase, and practiced until you sound like an elk, then you need to know how to use it in a hunting situation.

Locating elk

There are times when elk will answer a call, but will not come. This is especially true before and after the rut, but also sometimes even in the peak of the rut, depending on the situation. When this occurs, your best bet may be to simply locate the elk with a call, then plan a silent stalk.

  • Bugle – If all goes quiet during your hunt, try one or two bugles early in the morning or late in the evening. If you get no answer, change locations and try again. If you do get an answer, move in the direction of the bull and call again. Be careful and stop calling before you get too close. If a bull decides that another bull is moving in on his territory, he is likely to silently leave the area. Sometimes bulls will shut up and go to bed long before daylight and not begin bugling until well after dark. If you are confident elk are in the general area based on the sign that you see, try driving or climbing to a ridge top and bugling in the middle of the night. You obviously won’t be hunting at that time, but if you get a response it might give you a good clue where to be at first light the next morning.
  • Cow Calls – Even though cow calls aren’t typically as loud as a bugle, sometimes elk can’t resist answering what they think is a cow elk. Also, a cow elk call can prevent you from surprising elk as you walk through the woods. Before entering that thicket of trees or dropping into that canyon, cow call a few times. You might get an answer that will alert you to be cautious. Finally, when walking through woods that are particularly noisy, cow call every now and then. Elk in the area may be fooled into believing that elk are making that noise, and not be scared.
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Attracting elk

One of the exciting parts about elk hunting is that it is sometimes possible to call an elk to you by using an elk call. This is especially true during the rut, but is possible at other times too. Different calls work better in different situations.

  • Cow call – Cow elk make many different sounds, but the main ones to imitate in order to attract elk are Cow and Calf mews, and Cow in Estrus
    • Cow and Calf Mew – This elk call is the most common heard in the woods, and should be a standard for any elk hunter. Cows and calves communicate regularly and a cow call from an unknown “elk” will often cause elk to be curious enough to come and investigate. A bull elk during the rut may think you are a cow that has been attracted to his bugles, and he may come to check you out. If you are calling on the outskirts of an elk herd, be on the lookout for elk coming from any direction. Cows or satellite bulls may come in silently. If all of your attention is focused on the bugling herd bull, you may get caught by the other elk coming to you. Elk that are alone seem to be the most likely to come and check out a cow call, but pre-rut bulls may only be interested in answering your calls and not actually coming in. Be careful and don’t call too often. Real elk will usually call and then listen for a while. An effective elk hunter will do the same.
    • Cow in Estrus – This type of elk call can be extremely effective during the rut. Bulls at the peak of their hormone levels may come running in to this call. A herd bull that is hesitant to leave the herd to check out a normal cow call may not be able to resist a Cow in Estrus call. Even if he doesn’t come in, he may bugle an answer to you. Unlike the standard cow call, this elk call can and should be used aggressively.
  • Bugle – Since a bull elk bugle is the signature sound of the species, it is the elk call that most new hunters want to master. However, it is sometimes less effective at attracting bulls than cow calls. But there are certain situations where the right bugle can be bring a bull, or even a cow in for a shot.
    • Big Bull – Most hunters want their bugle to sound like the biggest baddest bull in the country, but often this can do more harm than good. Most bulls will avoid a fight if they can, and herd bulls will often move their harem to avoid the risk of losing cows to another dominant bull. So a big bull bugle can simply chase bulls away. There is at least one situation where this elk call can be effective. If you are very close to a herd, and have approached silently, a big bugle can shock a bull into coming toward the call. He may think that he has no time to move his harem away, and needs to confront the interloper immediately. Just remember that he will come charging in spoiling for a fight.
    • Little Bull – Most hunters will not have perfected the bugle to sound like a big bull, and that’s ok. Sounding like a small or average bull can be very effective. Satellite or lone bulls or even cows may come to check out the new bull on the block who is strutting his stuff. Herd bulls may come in to put a smaller bull in his place to show his dominance.
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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>