Elk Hunt With Wayne Carlton

Not what you’re looking for? Find more articles on hunting ungulates!

I first met Wayne Carlton about 25 years ago, when he came to Canada to put on an elk-calling seminar. Back then, little was known about calling elk and there were only a few options for manufactured calls.

Wayne revolutionized elk hunting and calling with the introduction of his diaphragm calls and bugles. His passion for hunting elk led him on a mission to develop a call any hunter could use to duplicate the natural sounds of cow, calf and bull elk.

Wayne was a great speaker and was always eager to show off an x-ray he took of a diaphragm call in his mouth, showing exactly how it needed to be placed in order for it to work properly. He jokingly told everyone to tie a string to the call just in case it was swallowed during the training exercise. His sense of humor and ability to take novice callers and turn them into proficient elk hunters made his seminars a huge success, changing the way thousands of sportsmen and women pursued their favourite game animal.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to hunt with Wayne this past fall and even though I have successfully taken 18 elk since my first seminar with him, I still had much to learn. During this trip, we shared a hunting camp full of seasoned elk hunters, all with high expectations of success. The first morning out was indicative that everyone could continue to learn if they really want to.

Getting started at daybreak, our small group hiked along a high ridge. Our guide, although very experienced, was a bit nervous calling, knowing that Wayne was in our group. After a series of cow calls, nothing responded in the basin below. Wayne just sat back and listened, letting the experienced guide work.

When it looked as though nothing was there, the guide decided that it was time to move. Wayne, with a small grin, asked if he could take a crack at calling. With an assortment of calls at his disposal, he chose his hype cow call and stepped to the edge of the basin. The loud, excited, high-pitched calls were distinctly different from what we’d heard from the guide. Literally seconds later, in textbook fashion, a deep, guttural bugle sounded just a couple hundred metres below us. Our group exchanged looks with each other, both excited and stunned at what we all just witnessed. Wayne responded with more high-pitched calls and minutes later we had the bull snorting and thrashing the trees just 20 metres away. There wasn’t a shot opportunity, but the sequence of events left everyone excited and ready for the next opportunity.

That first day, we saw five different bulls come to our calls. We had one bull stand in front of us at eight metres, for almost five minutes. It was extremely exciting and helped prepare me for the next day in the field.

In preparation for this article, I took the opportunity to ask Wayne when the best time was to call elk and he laughed and responded, “any time you’re hunting.”

Known for his story telling abilities and great sense of humor, he regaled us with a story of his biggest bull, taken on a lunch break after scouring the mountains to no avail. Wayne and his hunting companion had stopped on a fairly open hillside to rest their mules and have lunch. While unwrapping his sandwich, Wayne started a calling sequence and before they were done eating a big bull came screaming in on them. The action was fast and furious and was proof that calling works anywhere and any time.

I was able to sit by the campfire at night and pick Wayne’s brain about the specifics of calling. We inundated him with questions about calling and he patiently answered, telling what he could.

One of his key recommendations was to go to elk country and listen to them. Our national parks are great places to listen to and observe elk and how they interact. He developed his Fight’n Cow call after watching the interaction amongst a herd and seeing how the bulls responded to what they were hearing. It is loud and aggressive and was the actual call he used on the first morning of our recent hunt, to wake up the silent bull that was below us in the timber.

Elk are noisy creatures and make a significant amount of noise going through the bush. Even a content herd, feeding in an open meadow, is full of chirps and mews to break the silence. They are social creatures and keeping that in mind allows us to call different ways. People don’t interact the same – some are quiet and others are loud and obnoxious. Elk are no different and using a variety of calls on any given outing helps to add realism to generate a response. I’ve used the Carlton Squeeze Me Cow Elk call for years, as it is extremely easy to use and it works. I like to keep it in my pocket, where I can produce a sound immediately. I’ve stumbled upon elk in the bush and when they nervously try to head out, a quick cow call settles them down.

He also suggested making your calls sound appealing. In other words, really focus on the type of call you are attempting. That is, if you are trying to locate elk bedded up for the day, call like a cow trying to find her herd. The call should be long and pleading in nature. If you’re trying to attract a bull during the rut, using the Bull Hooker Cow Call will provide the pitch and tone to produce the hormonal-charged excitement that can really get a bull going.

I’ve had lots of elk hunters tell me they always use a cow call for hunting bull elk, while others say nothing works better than a bugle. Wayne’s advice is to use them both. I did notice Wayne using his bugle to locate bulls whenever we started hunting. Our first night in camp, while unpacking the trucks, he had a bull screaming back at his calls, less than a mile away. The bull didn’t come running to the bugle that time, but I did see several bulls come charging in over our weeklong hunt when we enticed them with a cow call.

On day two, we rode our mules into the high country, to a steep drainage flanked by heavy timber. In the early morning light we cow called and immediately generated a response. A hoarse, old bull growled at us from below, but wouldn’t budge from the protection of the heavy cover. We moved down the ridge towards him, trying to entice him with a cow call, but getting in close and bugling like a challenging bull had the valley erupt into turmoil. The bulls in the valley obviously knew each other and the stranger intruding on their territories created a bugling war between two herd bulls with harems.

When we couldn’t draw a bull from the trees, we’d moved in closer, cow calling as we snaked our way through the trees. Bugling when we stopped would produce an instant response. Our persistence finally paid off when the cows from one of the herds came sneaking through the trees to get a glimpse of the rival bull we were imitating. Once we had the girls coming, we knew it would only be a matter of time before the herd bull showed up.

Watching the dark timber across the creek, I picked up antlers with my binoculars. The bull was coming down the hill, grunting his disapproval of the situation. Three of the cows were now directly below us in the open and when Wayne bugled again, the bull had no choice but to try and face his rival. It was an adrenaline rush to see the bull step out of the spruce, and when I tightened up on the trigger, I knew I just taken the biggest elk of my hunting career.

The bottom line is, bugles work in many ways and there is never a bad time to try one. Wayne often interchanges his calls, knowing he has to get a reply to be successful. His lanyard has a multitude of cow calls and his bugle is always hanging off his shoulder.

The new Mylar reed calls are easy to use and come in a variety of sizes to produce different sounds. The largest version of the reed calls is for reaching long distance and trying to locate animals far off. The shorter version is for producing a soft, subtle sound of an adult cow, with a long, drawn out note. Having a number of calls, and different sizes, allows you to mimic various sounds that would be heard from a group of elk. Short, excited calls would imitate calves running and playing and could be used as a confidence call or to indicate there is a group of elk from your calling point.

The reed calls are easier to use than a diaphragm call and require a lot less practice. Clench the call, at the tip of the reed, between your teeth and use the pressure from biting down to change the pitch of the call when blowing into it. Start with a high note with firm pressure and slowly release with your teeth to make the mewing or chirping sound.

For novice hunters not wanting to learn the techniques required for a diaphragm or reed call, the squeeze calls are a great option. A rubber bulb on the call is compressed with your thumb to produce sound. Start with slow pressure and increase to change tone. I like to use the squeeze calls, as I can use them in conjunction with a mouth call to sound like several elk talking at the same time.

The original bugles were all based on using a diaphragm. Carlton’s Mac Daddy bugle is Wayne’s newest bull call, which has been simplified so that anyone can use it. There is still a diaphragm in the call, but it is built into the mouthpiece so the user simply has to blow into the call to stream air over the latex membrane to produce noise. Instead of having the diaphragm in your mouth and using the pressure of your tongue to change tone, a pressure tab is used on the mouthpiece so the call does all the work internally to produce the different octaves of a bugling bull. Simply blow into the bugle and slowly compress the tab to produce higher notes. It really doesn’t get any easier, and if you growl with your throat while using the call you can add the raspy sounds of an old bull. Using your diaphragm to push air into the bugle mouthpiece will produce the chuckling sound of a bull after he calls.

Wayne has been hunting elk for decades and has taken and guided more bulls than most hunters will see in a lifetime. Elk hunting is his passion and perfecting game calls just comes naturally. He is a character to have in camp, always making sounds that make everyone take a second look. It wasn’t unusual to wake to the sound of a coo-coo clock, which was simply Wayne making the noise in his throat. He fashioned a toy on a bungee cord to play with the puppy in camp and of course he couldn’t resist barking like a dog and hissing like a cat. The sounds he produces are realistic and if he puts a diaphragm in his mouth, you don’t know if you’ll hear a coyote howl or the cackle of Canada geese. His innovation inspired an entire industry based on elk calls that many companies have benefitted from. He is a true ambassador for hunting and is only too thrilled to share his knowledge with anyone showing an interest.

Join us on Facebook!

Do you like what you’re reading? Subscribe to Western Sportsman print edition today!

Find more articles on hunting ungulates!

This entry was posted in Hunting, Ungulate and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.