Elk Hunting Essential Tips

elk-hunting-tipsIf you want to bag a trophy bull elk, sometimes you just gotta get aggressive.

The bugle was clear and concise, reverberating off the forest wall behind me. I challenged the vocal bull but it was apparent that he was not coming to the dare I presented him. He obviously had some cows and wasn’t about to leave the girls behind in pursuit of a fight.

I cut the distance and bugled again. The bull wasted no time screaming his disapproval in my direction. We exchanged several vocal challenges but once again the bull simply wasn’t moving. I headed straight towards him and cut the distance in half, hoping that my advancements would be more than he could tolerate but he simply decided to move further down the ridge and took his cows with him.

My pursuit had started the day before when I had a bull respond to my call. Walking the fertile, green forest trails, I stopped at every vantage point and chirped on my cow elk call hoping for a response. It was apparent that the elk were in the area, with the deep impressions of hooves on the well-beaten game trails, droppings and shredded alders, where the bulls had cleaned the velvet from their antlers and built their neck muscles for fighting.

I stopped and stood on the top of a hill to watch the intersection of three cut lines and try calling one more time. After several minutes I decided to move on only to have a cow elk walk out in front of me. I immediately dropped to my knees to hide my outline. The tall grass on the line didn’t offer the concealment I needed and in a matter of seconds the cow’s ears perked up and then she locked her eyes on me. All I could do was sit still and hope that she would eventually move on or decide that my camouflaged outline wasn’t a threat. The staring contest lasted for minutes and I eventually saw movement in the trees where several cows and calves milled in the alders.  I knew there was a good chance that a bull was travelling with the group but the cow retreated on the trail she emerged from and the entire group slipped away silently before I could get a good look for antlers.

My cow calls had obviously worked and the elk had moved towards me without being vocal. I sat tight for close to 20 minutes before moving further up the line to put the wind in my favor. I called again and the same group of cows darted across the narrow cutline about 80 meters from me. There wasn’t a bull in the group but I knew he couldn’t be far away.

I continued to cow call but never got a single response. As the sun started to set I pulled out my bugle, pointed it down the ridge, and screamed out a challenged that echoed through the trees. I immediately got a response from a bull that sounded about a kilometre away. We bugled back and forth several times before I came to the conclusion that the bull was staying put in the distant trees. I headed off through the broken aspen and alders trying to close the distance before bugling again. When I stopped and called the bull answered and gave me a pretty good indication of where he was. The cow calls had not generated a response from the bull but he didn’t like the bugle of a challenging bull and finally broke the silence.

I had a decision to make. With fading light I could try to get down to the bull or I could simply leave him and come back in the morning with the hopes that he’d return to the safety of the densely forested hole he was calling from. I opted to sneak out and formulate a plan of attack during my walk back to the truck.

Adrenaline Calling

I love calling elk and over the years I’ve learned that every bull responds differently. Being versatile in my approach would hopefully put me on the elk in the morning. The elk seemed content to hold tight to his location and I needed to figure out a way to get on top of him.

Well before sunrise I found a new hand-slash seismic line that ran west towards the area where the bull had been calling the night before. I still hunted the grassy trail with a slow and methodical approach, occasionally chirping on my elk call. I travelled about a kilometre into the bush when I bumped an elk that crashed off into the alders. I keep my Squeeze Me cow elk call in my pocket so that I can pinch out a quick chirp when required. As soon as I heard the trees rustling I hit the call and everything fell silent. I dropped to one knee and sat patiently. Within a matter of minutes a spike bull appeared less than 20 metres from me and fed back onto the line until he was just eight metres away. A young cow followed him and I eagerly watched as she ate the green leaves off the surrounding alders. The pair moved on and when I was convinced there weren’t any other elk I advanced.

I carried on down the line until I knew I was approaching the area the bull had called from the night before. I pulled out my bugle and whistled the notes that would challenge the bull. The response was immediate and came from the same place it had the evening before. We bugled back and forth but once again the bull was staying put in the safety of the dense trees.

With a brisk wind in my face, I moved toward the bull on a game trail that meandered down the ridge. When I knew I was getting close I stopped in a patch of open aspen that provided better visibility and bugled again. Within seconds a large cow emerged from the alders and stood on the edge of the trees. She scanned the area thoroughly, looking for the bull that had called. I sat on the ground to hide my outline. The bull continued to bugle at me and I answered when I could stay undetected. The cow got curious and eventually wandered to within 20 metres of me. The last thing I wanted was to spook the cow and have her crash off. Thankfully, she satisfied her curiosity and eventually wandered back towards the bull.

It was obvious that the bull was going to hold tight to his location so I decided to get aggressive and picked up a large aspen branch and thrashed an alder along the game trail. The bull bugled at me and I answered him as soon as he got the first notes out of his mouth. Unfortunately, the bull still refused to make any advances and I knew I had to do something quick or possibly loose the interest of the bull or have him run away with his harem again. I scanned the trees carefully with my binoculars to make sure there weren’t any elk watching, slung my rifle over my shoulder, and ran down the game trail in the direction of the bull. I stomped on every log and branch along the trail crashing my way down the hill until I knew I was less than 100 metres from the bull. As soon as I stopped I bugled and the bull answered, followed by a vigorous chuckle and grunts of disapproval.

The herd bull now had a decision to make. He either had to come to my challenge or attempt to round up the cows scattered in the dense bush and run them away from me. It didn’t take him long to make a assessment and when I bugled again the bull came crashing towards me like a freight train roaring through the dense alders.

The bull was snorting and was extremely worked up and prepared for a fight. I slid up beside a big aspen and listened to the bull crashing towards me. The alders were so thick that I couldn’t see more than three metres into the dense tangle of limbs and leaves.

When the bull was less than 50 metres from me, he stopped and the woods fell silent. I knew I had to stay aggressive and pointed my bugle in his direction and blasted out my challenge. It was more than the bull could take and this time he came running. I steadied my rifle against the aspen and tried to follow the bull’s advances to determine where he’d show up. I could see the tops of the alders swaying with the weight of the bull pushing them as he ascended the hill.

As luck would have it the bull advanced to the edge of the slash trail I was on, where he stopped to thrash the alders. His eyes were bulging from his head and he blew snot from his nostrils in a worked up frenzy of discontent. The shrubs flew back and forth as the bull unleashed his rage on the foliage. I stood ready and seconds later the bull stepped forward, exposing his head and neck. There wasn’t time to wait for a better shot, as we were so close to each other it would only be a matter of seconds until he knew something was up. With my rifle on my shoulder, I centred my crosshair on the base of the bull’s neck and pulled the trigger. The bull collapsed in his tracks and didn’t even twitch after hitting the ground. I could feel a shot of adrenaline surge through my veins and quickly reloaded and made my way over to the tall antlers sticking up through the trees.

I developed a bad case of the shakes, as the excitement was finally over and I could let myself relax. My Alberta elk hunt was over and the herd bull would have my tag to seal the end of my elk season.

If you plan on hunting the rut, don’t be bashful. Get aggressive and you might just have the most exciting close encounter of your hunting career. It is an addictive rush that will have you hooked on elk hunting for years to come. Once is never enough and the close encounters only help you get better with your calling and knowing how elk will react.

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