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Midday Madness – A Frenzied Elk Calling Strategy

January 24, 2018 by

Midday Madness – A Frenzied Elk Calling Strategy for Any Rut Phase or Challenging Scenario

After furiously thrashing the spruce tree with a sturdy, three-foot branch, I notice blood trickling down my forearm as a reckoning from the lively session. Unfazed in the moment, I am quickly distracted from the cut, as the herd bull lets out a chilling bugle that raises the hair on the back of my neck. He begins to thrash a tree of his own not more than 70 yards away. Momentarily, he pauses the battering of the innocent pine and bugles again. I swiftly reach for my bugle tube and try to cut him off. Before he finishes his series of weighty chuckles, I let out my own course, piercing challenge bugle, telling the brute that I’ve had enough of his shenanigans. The next thing I know, dry pine branches are snapping and popping as he losses all sensibility and forces his way through the thick timber and approaches my shooting lane. I draw as his head passes behind a young blue spruce and tuck my green fiber optic pin behind the crease of his front shoulder. My heart is racing and I breathe deeply, slowly beginning to squeeze my release as he commences another step, exposing his lungs.

Elk, by nature are very vocal animals and communicate a great deal. When we learn to speak their language, hunters can create a significant advantage when trying to get close enough to make an accurate, ethical shot. Hopefully this brief and general calling exposition will give you some tips and tactics to replicate, add to your repertoire and increase your chance at success on these monarchs of the Rocky Mountains. I have found my most successful calling scenario to occur late morning or midday, regardless of the rut phase, moon phase or weather circumstance. I, and others, call it ‘midday madness’. I employ this technique as early as the pre-rut phase (late August) through later in the fall as the rut is winding down (mid-October). This strategy lends itself more appropriately to archery and muzzleloader seasons as a closer shot opportunity is always necessary. Having a strategy that can be effective during any challenging and awkward time is a necessity. Let’s face it, most of us only have a certain amount of time to be in the woods and we don’t want that precious time to be wasted sitting around camp wishing circumstances were different.

Rather than heading back to camp early and not leaving camp until late in the evening, make every effort to track the herd to their shady and cool bedding area. Obviously, you want to stay far enough away from the herd to not be detected. If you did not locate a herd in the early morning, cover as much ground as possible trying to locate one late in the morning or into mid-day. This can be a challenge as their tendency is to minimize their bugles as the morning goes on, but continue covering terrain until you hear a bugle or locate a bedded herd. The bugle from his bed is very recognizable as you will hear more groaning and guttural sounds. When laying down, he is not able to expand his lungs as much. This muddled or toned down bugle is a dead giveaway that you have found a bedded bull and the game is about to be on. A bull will also get up on his feet at various times during the day to stretch, visit a nearby water source or wallow or to check on his harem and have a bugle session.  

Once you determine that the bull or herd has settled in for their midday siesta, set up far enough away as you wait out the changing thermals. Remember that thermals tend to rise up elevation once the terrain begins to warm. Once the wind is consistently in your favor, stealthily move to within 100 yards of the herd, nock your arrow or ready your gun and set up in a position that has good shooting lanes. When you are set up in their ‘bedroom’, let out a few soft cow calls and see if you get a response from the bull. If you do not solicit an initial response from the bull, try 2-3 more soft mews a few minutes later. If still no response, you can ramp up your cow mews to include more aggressive estrous whines. If still no response, then try a non-aggressive bugle. Once the bull bugles in response to your calling, immediately hammer him and try and cut him off with a gnarly challenge bugle of your own. If he bugles back in response to your cow calls or your soft bugle with his own challenge, I try and match his aggression and tone while trying to cut him off again with another bugle. I literally try and mimic his bugle and sometimes I will slightly ramp up my aggression with each challenge back. If the bull makes a move towards you, but hangs up, pick up a sturdy limb and try raking a tree. Bulls rake trees to demonstrate dominance and aggression and sometimes this is the extra motivation he needs to come in hard for battle. If you are able to replicate this mid-day madness scenario and create a challenge situation like this, it will likely get real crazy, real fast!  

I know that hunters often have a “lone wolf” mentality, but I would recommend to any hunters trying to have more success in the field to hunt with a partner. When engaging in mid-day madness, you can increase your shot opportunity and success ten-fold by having a caller and a shooter. Have the caller drop back at least 75 yards or so behind the shooter. If you have this tag-team luxury, make sure that the shooter is positioned in such a manner that the bull comes in to the caller upwind of the set-up. One of the main advantages to this set-up is that the bull comes in focused on the caller, giving you an opportunity to draw your bow or raise your gun without detection. It also often brings the bull in the extra yardage necessary for a shot where otherwise he may get hung up just out of shooting range. Another tip related to a tandem set-up is that the caller try as hard as possible to be positioned to see the shooter. That way you can communicate and better know how to play the situation and act or react according to what the shooter or bull is doing. As the caller, don’t be afraid to make noise and move around a bit to imitate a live, aggressive bull or small herd of cows.

Even if you are the best caller in the world, sometimes seasoned bulls will hang up on you just out of range because they aren’t seeing the source of the calling. If you don’t have a caller with you, a decoy can get them the extra 20 or so yards you need to make the shot. I recommend you try using a decoy, such as the ButtHead Elk Decoy (Native by Carlton), Heads-Up Decoy, or Montana Decoy, to act as a visual to draw attention away from you, the caller and shooter. Set up the decoy far enough behind you or away from you so that you can draw your bow or raise your gun without being detected.

Undoubtedly, even with the best laid plans and strategies, ‘the wild’ doesn’t often follow our rules. However, your success will always be minimized if you aren’t learning new techniques and trying new strategies. Maybe it’s my personality or maybe it’s just become my style, but I have found more success by being aggressive in most elk calling situations. So, try this midday, antagonistic calling strategy this fall and be ready for incredible encounters that will bugle their way into your memories forever!