Mastering the Art of Calling Elk: A Comprehensive Guide

Posted by Joseph Sears on

Elk hunting is a thrilling and challenging pursuit that requires skill, patience, and knowledge of elk behavior. One of the most effective techniques in elk hunting is calling, which can attract elk by mimicking their vocalizations. Whether you're a novice or an experienced hunter, mastering the art of calling elk can significantly increase your chances of a successful hunt. This guide will cover everything you need to know about elk calling, including the types of calls, equipment, techniques, and tips for different seasons.

Understanding Elk Vocalizations

Elk are highly vocal animals with a range of sounds they use to communicate. Understanding these vocalizations is crucial for effective calling.

  1. Bugle: The most iconic elk sound, primarily used by bulls during the rut to establish dominance and attract cows. It's a high-pitched scream followed by a series of grunts.
  2. Cow Calls: These include mews and chirps used by cows to communicate with their calves and other members of the herd. They are softer and more frequent than bugles.
  3. Calf Calls: Higher-pitched and shorter in duration, these calls are used by young elk to communicate with their mothers.
  4. Barks: A warning sound indicating danger, used by both cows and bulls. A single, sharp bark alerts the herd to potential threats.

Types of Elk Calls

To effectively mimic these vocalizations, hunters use various types of calls:

  1. Diaphragm (Mouth) Calls: Flexible reeds placed in the mouth. They are versatile and can produce a wide range of sounds, but require practice to master.
  2. Bugle Tubes: Long, horn-like instruments used to amplify bugles. Often used in conjunction with diaphragm calls.
  3. External Reed Calls: Easier to use than diaphragm calls, these handheld calls have an external reed that produces sound when blown into.
  4. Bite and Blow Calls: These calls use a combination of biting down on a mouthpiece and blowing air through the call to create sound. They are user-friendly and effective for both cow and calf calls.

Techniques for Calling Elk

Successful elk calling involves more than just making the right sounds. Here are some techniques to enhance your calling effectiveness:

  1. Location and Timing:

    • Scouting: Prior to the hunt, scout areas where elk are likely to be. Look for signs such as tracks, droppings, and rubs on trees.
    • Prime Times: Early morning and late evening are the best times for calling, as elk are most active during these periods.
  2. Sequence and Realism:

    • Realistic Sequences: Combine different calls to create realistic scenarios. For example, follow a cow call with a bugle to mimic a bull responding to a cow.
    • Vary Your Calls: Change the pitch, tone, and volume of your calls to avoid sounding repetitive and unnatural.
  3. Playing the Wind: Elk have an excellent sense of smell. Always stay downwind of the area you're calling to prevent elk from detecting your scent.

  4. Patience and Movement:

    • Stay Still: After calling, remain still and silent. Elk may approach cautiously and any movement can give away your position.
    • Relocation: If you don't get a response after 20-30 minutes, consider moving to a new location and trying again.

Seasonal Strategies for Elk Calling

Elk behavior changes throughout the year, and so should your calling strategies.

  1. Pre-Rut (Late August to Early September):

    • Subtle Calls: Bulls are just starting to establish dominance. Use fewer bugles and more cow calls to gauge their reactions.
    • Locate Bulls: Use location bugles to find where bulls are without over-calling.
  2. Peak Rut (Mid-September to Early October):

    • Aggressive Bugling: Bulls are more aggressive and responsive to bugles. Challenge bugles and estrus cow calls can provoke strong reactions.
    • Decoy Use: Consider using a decoy to enhance the realism of your calling setup.
  3. Post-Rut (Late October to November):

    • Cow and Calf Calls: As the rut winds down, bulls are less vocal. Cow and calf calls can still attract bulls looking for late-breeding opportunities.
    • Locate Feeding Areas: Focus on areas where elk are feeding, as they are less likely to respond to calls but still move predictably.

Advanced Tips and Tricks for Elk Calling

  1. Calling with a Partner: Having a partner can create a more realistic scenario. One person calls while the other positions themselves for a shot.
  2. Mimicking Multiple Elk: Use multiple calls simultaneously to mimic a herd, increasing the chances of attracting elk.
  3. Adjusting for Pressure: In heavily hunted areas, elk become call-shy. Use softer, less frequent calls and focus on more remote locations.


Calling elk is an art that combines knowledge, skill, and experience. By understanding elk vocalizations, using the right equipment, and employing effective techniques, you can improve your chances of a successful hunt. Remember to adapt your strategies to the season and the specific conditions of your hunting area. With practice and patience, you'll be able to call in elk and experience the thrill of a successful hunt. Happy hunting!

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