Elk: To call or not to call | Great Days Outdoors
two hunters glass for elk

Sometimes quietly glassing is just the ticket

I stand by a very unpopular elk hunting philosophy with regard to calling elk.  I assert that an elk hunters best call is saying nothing at all.  August is the time of year when aspiring elk hunters are polishing up their calling and preparing for the all out war in the wilds. I am no exception. Being a proficient caller is essential in the elk hunters arsenal come game time. It is, however, not the end all of archery elk hunting. Being an excellent caller is a formidable weapon no doubt, but it is not always the best move, or appropriate at certain times.  At the beginning of the season every year I tell my guides the objective is to get the hunters body within bow range of the elk’s body.  Once that arrow is inbound toward a bull, it doesn’t really matter how it got there, only that it is on its way.

It stands to reason that it is an unpopular philosophy as there are a lot of people that have a lot of money tied up in convincing the elk hunter that calling is your number one tool.  Frankly, it probably is, but the point of this blog is that I prefer to say nothing at all when I can, and you won’t hear that in many places.  Let’s start with some calling realities.

Once you make that vocalization you have just told every elk in the woods where you are.  Hopefully, you sounded like an elk, if you didn’t, you’re already in trouble.  Let’s assume you sounded great, your location has still been compromised, and all elk within hearing distance will be tuned in to your next move.  You also have to make sense with what you are doing and where you are going from this point on.  Additionally you have to wait for awhile even if you didn’t get a response because you could have a bull moving in silent, or if it is early season you could have some cows closing in.  The obvious disadvantage, is that you may get a bull to answer and say the wrong thing back.  My point is that there are a fair amount of negatives the second you hit that call, and I think that is worth considering.

When I head out from camp and start the morning my approach is vastly different.  I prefer stealth and slipping quietly into an area.  Once there I stop and listen for awhile.  Elk make many sounds, a cough or even a sneeze can give them away.  I have heard a hoof clicking on rock or a bull shaking his coat.  Around wallows you may hear splashing or raking or the light thud of a bull roughing up and old log on the ground.  In nature, there is a certain rhythm to the woods.  It is one big orchestra of sounds and the savvy hunter is listening intently for the one instrument that is out of place.  Once you call, you are the out of place instrument.  I prefer to hear the elk first, develop a strategy, and from there always remember it is about getting the hunter within range.


My absolute favorite time to shut up is when two bulls are screaming at each other.  Typically, the herd bull will take a defensive position between his cows and a challenging or harassing satellite bull.  If you can identify which is the herd bull and which is the satellite bull, you can then approximate where the cows are.  Now is the time to stalk in and stick the herd bull while keeping wind in mind and not bumping the cows.  The herd bull will keep giving away his location and you should be able to slip right in on him and get within bow range.  I can simply find no valid reason to call in this scenario so long as you do not mess up the stalk. If you do there are ways to overcome it with calling at that point.  I will have a comprehensive blog on dealing with this exact scenario and how to overcome mistakes next week.

Another great time to be quiet is in water hunting.  Now I say water hunting to include wallows, and the much less popular water trail spots.  One of my most productive and underrated methods of hunting is covering these water trails in midday.  Bulls and herds  get up and move around in their bedding areas about 1pm or so.  Often times a bull who has been working the herd all morning will get thirsty by midday.  If you know a herd is bedded nearby, sitting one of the trails quietly can produce big results. Setting up trail cams on these spots to ascertain bedding areas and timing the midday trips can be extremely beneficial and is often over looked by hunters.  Sitting a wallow quietly is also a great way to catch a bull looking to do a late morning dip or early afternoon soak.  I will confess that we also employ a wallow calling strategy as well that I will have in a future blog.

So while you’re tuning up your bugle tubes and working those cow calls think a little more about not calling at all.  I think it is wise to evaluate carefully times to call and scenarios not to call.  When you get to that favorite spot in the morning instead of ripping out a bugle in the dark, just sit and listen.  I think by reflecting on not calling at all, and the times when you probably shouldn’t, it will make you a better caller in general. There’s no question calling is an essential tool in the hunter’s tool box, but understand that sometimes the best call is to say nothing at all.

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