An elk hunt during the rut is one of the most exciting quests in North America. Although a few states offer rifle hunting at this time, most units are open to bowhunting-only which means you have to get very close to score. Bugling and cow-calling are popular ways to attract a mate-minded bull, yet a silent sneak may be the best plan.
Sneak, Don’t Call
Some of the most effective elk hunters in the West work for call manufacturers and therefore promote the use of their calls. Indeed, mimicking the sound of elk has gotten much easier with mouth, bugle tubes, and squeeze devices that make incredibly accurate sounds. However, once a bull knows the location of a call, they can come directly to it, often in thick timber where launching an arrow is nearly impossible.
Additionally, unless you are trying to call the bull-of-the-woods, it will probably circle downwind of your location. As the saying goes, “elk will hear you three times, see you twice, but smell you once.” Luckily, the thermals in mountain areas are fairly predictable so that getting below a bull in early morning or late afternoon is always a good strategy. During midday or at times of swirling winds, calling can be very difficult.
Take the Silent Approach
Elk are large animals and normally make a fair amount of noise as they feed and move. As a result, a hunter need not be so concerned about making noise. I once led a group of hunters to a waterhole on a very dry and hot afternoon. I remember thinking that we must have scared every elk in the vicinity. Ironically, five minutes later, two bulls came to drink. I believe that our noise trail sounded like elk and they actually came to drink with the rest of the “herd.”
Zach Bowhay, lays out his experiences in this post from Western Hunter. Learn from his success stalking instead of calling:
As I crested the 9500-foot ridge on September 30, I was feeling deflated. I had made a long climb in the dark up one of the steepest mountains in the area, and as I crested the ridge, I was expecting to be serenaded by bugling bulls. Instead I was only greeted with a beautiful mountain setting completely void of elk!
I walked over to a sunny spot to sit and take a break. All I could think was, “It’s over.” I had spent over 30 days chasing bulls in two states, and although I had passed several bulls, I was still trying to punch a tag. I was mentally and physically exhausted, and ready to go home and spend time with my family.