Heavy Cover Bulls
By Scott Haugen
Dec 27, 2006 – 8:31:00 AM
It was the first week of the season, but the only time I had to hunt Roosevelt elk in Oregon’s rugged Coast Range. In many hunters’ minds, this is the least productive time to hunt these elusive elk, but like any bowhunter, I hunt when I have the time, and this was the only time I could shake free.
Rain hadn’t fallen for over two months, and the conditions were dry and noisy, even in the lush timber. This meant stalking to within range was out of the question. But at least it was no mystery where the elk were, in the creek bottoms. It was here they congregated, near water, shade and food.
Early calling efforts brought almost no results. One bugling bull was all, and I couldn’t pull him from the deep hole he called home. On day four a weather change hit, and the temperature dropped, considerably. That evening eight different bulls bugled back at my cow calls. I even managed to call in a good bear, but passed on the shot due to a bull bugling less than 200 yards away.
I was using a new open-reed cow call produced by Jones Calls (www.jonescalls.com). At the time of this writing, the call didn’t even have a name, but it’s the best call I’ve ever blown for elk, as well as predators. Crafted from the tip of a cow’s horn, the chamber produces realistic sounds that carry great distances. Being able to project loud, pleading cow and calf talk is a favorite way of mine to penetrate thick timber and reach distant bulls, be it Roosevelt of Rocky Mountain elk.
I also like loud cow calls, not bugles, when trying to pull a bull from a big herd early in the season, or when trying to break up a bachelor herd. Like any type of calling, it’s never 100%, but the number of elk I’ve had respond to these, versus timid calling approaches, leads me to believe that loud, aggressive calls work consistently in thick cover.
I failed to pull any big bulls within range that evening, but could hardly wait for the next morning, when I was sure they’d be bugling at every sound I made. They weren’t. A small four point came to the call, after bugling one time. That was the only bull I heard all morning.
Then I found a big herd, moving from the bottom of ravine into a unit. There were over 30 head in the bunch, including more than a dozen branch bulls, with two whoppers. Two different times I worked the wind and took up a good calling position, but the big bulls would have nothing to do with me.
As the herd moved toward the point of a ridge, I dropped into the bottom, circled to get the wind right, then hiked back up their direction. It worked, and as the herd spread out as they fed, I offered subtle calf and cow calls. Immediately a raghorn approached, then the smaller of the big boys, a heavy 5×6.
At 56 yards the sight pin felt solid, and the BowTech Tribute sent my Gold Tip arrow and Titanium 100 grain broadhead into the sweet spot. The bull went less than 80 yards and piled up.
Knowing when to get aggressive and when to lay low, both on the calls and on foot, is key to tagging thick country bulls. Worked in tandem, calling and stocking, combined with close observation of elk behavior, will help swing the odds in your favor and put the tag on one of the nation’s most prized big game animals.
Note: Beginning in January of 2007, look for the new TV show, BowTech’s Western Adventures with Scott Haugen, appearing on The Men’s Channel. Haugen is also editor of Hunting The West magazine, www.huntingthewestmag.com.
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