How to Call Bull Elk & Moose

bull-elk-callHunters: learn calling techniques for bull moose and elk.

By the time I finally arrived at the small alpine meadow I had chosen for my first call site, the early rays of daylight were already creeping through the spruce. The wind was calm and that chilly late September air certainly held the promise of another bluebird day. Perfect for calling moose. As soon as I had my back propped up against a stump, I began a series of cow calls. The response was immediate. The bull, while quite some distance away, let forth a series of grunts that assured me he was not only interested but also was headed in my direction. There was no cat and mouse game with this bull. With only minor prompting by a cow call or two, he grunted and thrashed about every clump of willow he encountered all the way down the mountainside. By the time this old warrior stepped into the clear, a mere 20 paces away, I’m not sure whose heart was pounding faster his or mine. In the world of hunting there is little that is more exhilarating than calling a wild animal to within shooting range.

Learning To Call

Effective calling not only works but at times it can be the most effective tool in a hunter’s arsenal. But it is not always so. Timing, location and one’s ability to call do play a critical role. Despite living in the very heart of moose country, my first attempts at calling moose in Northern Alberta were an abysmal failure. I basically spent my first fall floundering around attempting to call next or adjacent to roads and most likely if memory serves me with little regard to how or when I called. Needless to say, I soon realized that some major changes had to be made. Long before the next hunting season rolled around I had purchased a recording on how to call moose and had practiced to the point were my family’s tolerance was reaching the breaking point. But finally in the end, I did at least start to sound a lot like the guy on the recording.

While many factors impact on any success you may have, if you can’t call effectively you might as well seek another method of bringing home those moose or elk steaks. Hunters today are most fortunate as there are any number of quality instructional videos on learning to call. Having said that, my first recommendation is to purchase one. Then take it home and after begging your family’s indulgence, not only play it to the point of distraction but practice until you sound as good as the caller on the video.

While for a moose call one only needs a birch bark horn, for elk the scenario is quite different as there are dozens of different calls to choose from. For moose I most often use a birch bark horn for long distance calling but frequently just cup my hands, particularly when a bull is in tight. Whereas for elk, I use a number of different styles of bulge calls and a single-but-favoured cow call. While I must admit, I have never cottoned on to the use of a diaphragm call for elk, these do however offer hands-free calling, which can be a real asset when a shot is in the offing. I have seen them used very effectively and would recommend their use but, once again, be prepared to spend the necessary time learning to use them properly.

Timing and Location

Calling undoubtedly is most effective during that period shortly before and during the primary rut. I also found that larger bulls may often respond better to a call just prior to the rut as once they start running with a cow or cows they tend to be much more difficult to lure away from a cow or two. The rut for both moose and elk generally runs from mid September into early October, however there are, of course, always exceptions to that rule. As an example, I called in the largest bull moose I have ever shot, a 67-inch Alaska Yukon bull, on September 4; long ahead of when one might expect a bull to respond to a call. But for the most part, planning a hunt around these dates is a good starting point. The rule of thumb here is be prepared to be flexible. While timing is critical, so to is location. Thus, not only should you be in prime country during this period but for best results you will want to be as far away from roads and disturbance as feasible. There is little doubt in my mind that any disturbance — and I mean any disturbance — can often spell failure. In fact, I  often cold-camp it and additionally hunt well away from my camp until I have a bull  hanging on my meat pole. Don’t expect these bulls to be stupid just because the rut is on. They will still use all their senses to avoid danger. Horses, a float plane or a boat can often provide the opportunity to get into these remote areas where your odds of success climbs exponentially to the distance you are removed from civilization. I believe hunting in remote undisturbed wilderness has increased my success rate by as much as 90 per cent. This may, in fact, be the best advice I can give. Get off the beaten track!

Set Up

There are three principals to remember when setting up for a calling session. The first is location; in other words pick a site that is has the look of prime habitat and that offers you a good view of the surrounding area. Often a point in a meadow or a vantage point overlooking a draw or willow flat are good examples. Next is wind. Make sure you set up in a location that offers you  a view of the area where you might expect a bull to emerge that won’t be compromised by the wind. If the wind is not right, find a spot where it is. Remember that bulls will often circle downwind to get your scent so be prepared by choosing a calling site that will offer a view of this area as well. Last, avoid visual detection. While scent-free camouflage clothing will help, always find a location that will break up your outline, such as a clump of willow or deadfall or even an old stump.

Techniques

While to this point there are similarities between moose and elk, when it comes to actually calling technique I use quite different approaches. In an effort to locate a bull moose I tend to use a series of cow calls as they are louder and carry further, whereas with elk the reverse is true. I most often start with a series of bugles in an effort to locate a bull. At times this may be all that is needed as either may react directly to this initial calling and with only minor additional calling head straight for you. If so, don’t overplay your hand by too much calling, as a single mistake and all could be for not. However, if the bull slows or is showing signs of wandering off, get them back on track with an additional call or two. Remember every bull may react differently, some just suddenly appear, others let you know exactly where they are and yet others need constant coaxing. Often a bull will approach but not show, so here is where I change gears again. With moose I will bull grunt while raking a nearby brush simulating a new and challenging bull in the area. It is surprising just how often this hereto shy bull will charge out of the trees to challenge this interloper. The scapula or shoulder blade of a moose makes a great  raking device. While for elk there are a number of different approaches to a reluctant bull. I have found that narrowing the gap and repeating your calling sequence with some additional bush raking can work or I have switched to a cow call. I have actually had more success for both species using cow calls but the trick is to learn when to use them and that most often will come with experience.

If neither approach will pull a bull elk or moose out of its comfort zone, I stalk the bull using calling simply as a location device. There are a couple of other factors to consider when calling and they are excessive wind and time of day. If it is too windy, your success will plummet and I have always found early morning on those crisp falls days, particularly after a good frost, to be about ideal. It is amazing how far your calls will carry on those calm  frosty mornings. Another technique that I have found works great for moose is to get up in the middle of the night and go though a sequence of cow calls. On more than a few occasions I have had a bull behind camp by morning. A couple of last tips. Don’t overwork an area but stay put at your call site for at least an hour as a silent bull will, on occasion, just show up unannounced and out of nowhere. Last, don’t give up on calling as it will not work every time out and remember to put yourself into the character mode of whatever role you are playing. Make your calling efforts as natural as possible and it is surprising the results you can achieve.

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