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Elk Calling Strategies for the Rut

Calling elk is a strategic game that requires calling skills, knowledge of local elk behavior and a plan of attack that often forms and fluidly changes in the heat of the moment. Even the best calls and approaches often fall short. Elk are crafty and difficult to pinpoint and manipulate with calls. 

However, when it all comes together, these moments are pure magic. There are few things in hunting as exciting as a close range shot opportunity at a bull elk.

Here are a few different elk calling strategies to help you get started…

Pressured vs Unpressured Elk 

The difference between pressured and unpressured elk is significant. Elk that see very few hunters are often more responsive to calls and the element of other callers working the same herds is not an issue. That doesn’t mean pressured elk are not responsive to calls. But they are certainly more wary and adaptive to the calls of hunters.

Be extra considerate of the circumstances surrounding the hunt and look for other hunters and vehicles at trailheads to assess pressure. If you are not alone on the mountain, consider a more passive approach using glassing, cow calls and silent stalks rather than aggressive bugles. It’s not uncommon in pressured areas for hunters to return each other’s bugles by accident.

Single Person Passive Approach

When you’re hunting solo on public land with other hunters in the area, consider a passive approach. Drive around the area at night and throw out an occasional bugle as a locating methodology. Pressured elk still bugle and will do so heavily at night during the rut. After locating an active area, hike the morning and pay special attention to wind while moving slowly with intermittent cow calls. You know elk are in the area and this passive game is highly effective.

The Challenger Approach 

Some bulls simply can’t turn down a challenge from outside suitors. The bulls have their harem intact and a challenger presents a risk to their breeding rights. Bugle aggressively and wait for the bull to return the call. After a round or two, cut off the bull’s call. This will get him fired up. Be aggressive in your movements as well. Break sticks and branches to sound like a bull crashing through the forest. Ideally, the bull will move to you. But in some cases, making a move to close the distance is required.

Multiple Caller Action

Utilizing multiple callers delivers a major advantage in the field. It adds a realistic dynamic with two or more callers representing several bulls and cows. This works especially well for vocal bulls that will not close the distance to the call. One caller can challenge and distract while the shooter closes the gap while using cow calls as needed. Using multiple callers to represent a group of cows is also a great approach. A greedy bull will view the calls as an opportunity to build a harem. Try this early in the season as they are just beginning to gather cows.

Wind and Approach Still Matter 

Playing the wind and making a strategic approach remain essential, even when a hot bull is bugling and kicking up dust. A bad breeze or poor position will give away your presence and send the bull running. Take your time and make a game plan before calling and making a stalk on that bull of a lifetime.

Recommended Elk Calls

All the gear on our website are items that we personally use in the field. And that’s true of our elk calls. We carry diaphragms and bugle tubes from Rocky Mountain Hunting Calls. These high quality elk calls offer great consistency and durability.

Different diaphragms fit each person’s mouth differently. If this is your first time, we recommend trying a few different ones before you decide on a favorite and stock up for the season.

Best of luck to all the September elk hunters this year! With everything else going on in the world, we hope the 2020 elk season proves to be a highlight of your year.

By Zach Lazzari | Photos by Ryan McSparran

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