The Fundamentals of Calling Elk

After a summer spent consuming podcasts and online articles I have a tornado of complex strategies swirling around my tiny little brain. As a result, early in the season I tend to overcomplicate calling and overlook the basics. This season’s bull was another reminder that success often comes from simplifying my approach and prioritizing the fundamentals.

Worship the Wind

Wind will ruin more opportunities than anything else. Always check the thermals before planning an approach. Track what time of day they shift and understand how terrain features may cause the wind to betray you.

Wacky wind often occur during transition periods between 8:30 to 10:30 am and 4:30 to 6:30 pm. East facing slopes cool down earlier in the afternoon than west facing. As a result, thermals on the east face may begin to drop while the west face thermals continue to rise. Keep your wind checker handy, and continue to test the direction every few minutes. Above all else avoid letting elk catch a whiff of your man stink.

Get on Their Level

After checking the wind, get on the same level as the bull. While at the same elevation thermals can carry upwards or downwards without tipping off the herd. And, keeping out of sight becomes less of a task.

Elk rarely respond to a call by charging downhill. They’re more likely to bugle and rake while waiting for you to climb up and join them. Elk also have a better vantage point from above, which makes stalking into bow range difficult.

Though bulls will respond from below, both morning and evening thermals travel downwards. In rare circumstances, such as following a full moon, you may locate a bull bugling at noon making downhill calling effective. However, if the wind will shift within an hour, you’re better off calling from equal footing.

Close In

Close only counts in horseshoes and elk hunting.

Judging the distance of a bugle is tough. A bugle from a standing bull a few hundred yards away can sound similar to a bedded bull at 150 yards, and dense cover can also impact how far sound travels.

When in doubt, keep stalking. Every step closer increases your odds the bull will choose to investigate. Hop from one brushy patch to the next while scanning for the shine of antler tips and listening for the snap of twigs. A bull may be on his way.

Last Step: Bugle and Rake

If the wind switches, circle back to tip the scales in your favor. If the bull gets above you, don’t force it. When he slips away, chase him down from equal footing. Finally, once you’ve checked the first three boxes, bugle and rake.

Keep it simple: match the bull’s intensity and rake before each bugle as raking after a bugle can make it difficult to hear a response.

Remember: worship the wind, get on their level and close in.

Good luck,


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