The articles on this page are excerpts from the Elk Addict's Manual, by T.R. Michels. For more information on elk biology and behavior, and elk hunting techniques, order your copy in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products Catalog
T.R.'s Hunting Tips: Elk
From theElk Addict's Manual, by T.R. Michels
T.R.'s Tips: Elk Calling
Determining what call to use when you are hunting elk is not a matter of what time of the year you are hunting, but which sex and age class elk you want to attract. Cows don't normally respond to any call, preferring to stay with the herd and their young. However, lone cows may come to a Social Mew, Low Mew or other cow/calf call to join a herd; or to the Bugle; remember it's the cow that chooses and responds to the bull. Older cows may respond to Distress calls and Maternal/Neonatal calls out of maternal instinct. All bulls respond to any call that may lead them to an estrus cow, especially a Social Contact Mew or Low Mew. Herd bulls also respond to Roars, Bugles, Chuckles, Contact or Aggressive Grunts, and Gurgles out of dominance. There are basically four different techniques for calling elk that can be used anytime. The fourth technique is not as effective after the rut because the bulls are exhausted, not as aggressive, and not as interested in breeding.
1. For cows and young bulls; Distress Call or Fighting Squeal.
2. For any elk; Contact/Cow Mew, Fighting Squeal or Contact Grunt.
3. For any bull; Contact/Cow Mew, Contact Grunt, Fighting Squeal, Glug or non-dominant Bugle.
4. For dominant bulls; Social/Low Mew, Contact Grunt, Fighting Squeal, Loud Inhale/Exhale, Cough, Glug, Dominance Grunt, Gurgle, Growl, Roar, Bugle, Chuckle or Full Bugle Sequence.
What Calls to Use
For calling elk I use a Bull Elk Bugle call and a Cow Elk calls. When I use diaphragms to call elk a Single Reed Turkey call to sound like cows, calves and yearling bulls, I use a Double Reed call to sound like cows and 2 year old bulls, and I use a Triple Reed call to sound like 3 year old and older bulls.
When you are using scent to hunt elk don't forget that elk use sound as the primary means of locating each other. But, elk do use scent to identify each other by sex, age and social status when they are near each other. To attract elk during the rut get as close to bedding sites and feeding areas as you can, or setup along the travel route between the two in the morning and evening. In the late morning and early afternoon you can setup near wallows. Prior to the rut, and when the weather is hot, wallows are used somewhat regularly, depending on how many animals are in the area and their proximity to the wallow.
When you are hunting elk before the rut (early September) and there is hot weather, expect elk to move and feed for a couple of hours during the day if it cools off, or after a rain. Hunt near food sources, travel lanes, watering sites and bedding areas. Elk seek relief from late summer and early fall heat on high open slopes; in low areas holding cool air; in shaded forests; or near water. Look for elk on east facing slopes, in conifer trees with the bottom branches gone, that allow cool winds to blow through; and in shaded creek bottoms. Because bulls are establishing dominance at this time they may be willing to fight. Use the sounds and scent a cow or a bull challenging another bull. You can use the bugle to locate and attract the bull. Once the bull comes in use cow calls, grunts and Glugging to convince him there is a young bull with a cow, by using estrus and bull scent.
During the rut, about mid-September, the bulls are hard to attract because they are with the cows. You can locate them by sight or sound, and setup to call near travel routes and feeding areas. You may have to move to the bull while you cow call to get him to come to you. Use estrus and bull scent. If the bull is willing to come to bugling you should sound like a small bull, not a dominant. Most bulls will respond to the challenge of a small bull, but only enraged dominants will respond to the sound of another dominant. A combination of cow estrus and bull scents can be used at this time to convince the bull that there is a small bull with an estrous cow nearby.
After the Primary breeding phase in September the bulls still answer calls but generally will not come to bugling. Unlike whitetail bucks, that may not be seen because they often retreat to their bedding areas during the rest phase, bull elk often remain with the cows at this time. Some subdominant bulls may start to try to sneak into the herd at this time; hunt them on the fringes of the herd. Some bulls may be driven away from the herds by this time; look for them near secure bedding areas and food sources, often well away from the cow herds. If you know where the bull bedding areas and available food sources are, setup between the two to intercept a bull. By this time they are not as willing to fight but are still interested in breeding. Cow calls and estrus scents may work best.
Three to four weeks after the first breeding phase occurs you can expect a late breeding phase. This is when some cows come into estrus for the first time, and those that did not conceive the first time come into estrus again. The bulls may respond to bugling and cow calls, but are generally much harder to attract and less willing to fight. They can be found near bedding, staging and feeding areas. Use estrus scents.
Hunting elk after the breeding phase can be extremely frustrating because the bulls may not be with the cows. They may become solitary, or form small bachelor groups that remain together through the winter, or until they migrate. After all the fighting, chasing and breeding of the rut, the bulls are worn out, hungry, and in need of food to supply enough fat to get them through the winter. They look for secure places to rest, and can be found near secluded bedding and feeding areas where they seek high quality food sources. Unless you know where their bedding and feeding areas are you may not be able to find them. Use estrus scents. When you are hunting after the rut in cold weather expect elk to move and feed for a couple of hours if the weather warms, or after any strong wind, rain or snow lets up. Hunt near food sources, travel lanes, watering sites and bedding areas. During inclement weather look for elk in protected areas of valleys, drainages, thick coniferous forest, or the downwind side of forest and hillsides.
T.R.'s Tips: Elk Decoying
If a bull elk is traveling through the area you are hunting in, hears your calling, smells elk scent, and is in the mood, it may come in to investigate. But if the bull doesn't see another elk it may not come into range. If you are using a decoys, and the bull comes to the decoy, just because it is curious and wants to find out what this new "thing" is, it may present a closer shot than if you were not using a decoy. And that is why you use any product that attracts game, to get the animal into range.
1. To be safe, especially on public land, hang fluorescent tape nearby, or hunt from an elevated stand.
2. Don't get human or unnatural scent on the decoy. Use gloves when carrying and positioning the decoy. Spray cover scent on the decoy after positioning it.
3. Place the decoy in a high use area near trails, wallows, and bedding, staging or feeding areas with nearby cover.
4. Don't place bedded decoys directly on trails. Big game animals seldom bed on trails.
5. Place the decoy upwind of where you expect the game to appear. Elk like to approach downwind from cover if they can.
6. Place the decoy within your personal shooting distance in a clear shooting lane.
7. Don't place the decoy in a direct line between you and where you expect the elk to come from, it may see you. Place the decoy to one side of your stand to distract the elk's attention from your position.
8. Use bull or cow scents, calling and TRTR to create the total illusion of another elk, and to initially attract the elk.
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©Copyright 2002-2005, T.R. Michels / Trinity Mountain Outdoors Magazine
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T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors