Editor's Note: This tip ran as a sidebar to the author's "Put the Sneak on Elk and Elk Hunters." Read that story here.
I paint a bleak picture of elk actually answering your calls. That may be truer than not depending on your current situation. Wilderness settings could be blaring with boisterous elk. Conversely, pressured elk may just need the right stimuli to join the conversation. In any event, carry an arsenal of calls for cows and bulls. If you hunt hard enough, you’ll discover that elk respond to some calls but not to others. There may be no rhyme or reason to it, but one day a bull may zip his lips to a bugle and another day hardly let you finish a mew before he responds.
Hunters Specialties, with its Wayne Carlton’s Calls series, offers a variety of cow and calf calls to imitate the entire spectrum of herd conversation. High-pitched calf calls, mothering responses and the demanding estrus whine each send a different message that may spark elk to converse.
Bugles also vary from the enthusiastic pitch of a young satellite bull to the growl of a bull nearing senior-citizen status. Different diaphragms and specialized calls like Carlton’s Rowdy Bull Bugle meet the taxing challenges of triggering dialog.
Once you feel you’ve forced your way into a herd’s personal space, consider adding the subtle sounds of big animals on the move. The occasional snap of a branch or a rolling stone isn’t out of place. In thick-cover settings it could instigate a bull to step out and give you a shot. And if you really want to irritate a herd bull, move in close and use a limb to rub a tree trunk, mimicking another bull rubbing a tree. If nothing else, you’ll inflame a bull to bugle, giving you one more clue to close the deal.