Schearer and I were hunting elk in central Montana that morning, glassing
the timbered slopes from an wide-open field and not seeing much. Then,
out of the blue, we spotted a big 6×6 bull. He was crossing the open flatlands
we were on, from one band of timber to the other, hunting cows. Neither
of us had ever seen anything like it — there wasn?t a tree within a mile
of that huge bull.
We ran as fast as we could,
trying to anticipate where he would cross the small creek separating us.
I picked a narrow point, but the bull chose a more open spot 100 yards
below us. The bad news was the wind was wrong, but we were so exposed we
couldn?t move, so we lay down and hoped he?d follow the creek. If he did,
I?d have a 35-yard broadside shot.
Instead, he sauntered right
below us, straight as a string, until at 60 yards he intersected our scent.
That?s when he slammed on the brakes, threw his head up, and wheeled back
the way he came at a fast trot, bugling all the while.
Schearer, a former world
elk calling champion and one heckuva elk hunter, and I just grinned at
each other. As one, we said, ?Just when you think you?ve seen everything
in elk hunting, something like that happens!?
Hunting Is Not A Calling Contest
?One of the things I?ve learned
over the years is that competition calling is a different world than calling
when actually hunting elk,? Schearer said. ?Really, it is harder to convince
judges you?re the best than calling a bull elk in. In the RMEF (Rocky Mountain
Elk Foundation) competitions, you have one minute for cow sounds, one minute
for bull sounds, and two minutes for making any elk sounds you can.
?The big difference is that
when we?re competing we?re trying to sound like a large, aggressive herd
bull, but when you are hunting you have to tone your calling down to a
more submissive level. The raspy, growly calling that wins contests can
be counter-productive when hunting, actually scaring most bulls away. Competition
is fun, and you?ll learn a lot, but how we hunt and how we compete are
two different worlds. To consistently kill elk, you have to be a woodsman
In addition to mastering a few basic
elk sounds, to be successful you need to hang loose when hunting, Schearer
?The biggest thing I have
learned after calling in hundreds of bulls is that you must be flexible,?
he said. ?You have to be willing and able to make instant adjustments when
you?re working a bull. No two situations are ever exactly the same.”
“One thing that has helped
me become a better elk hunter is spring turkey hunting. This is almost
identical to elk hunting, except that you don?t have to watch the wind.
You do have to be more careful with movement, which has helped me fine-tune
my setups for elk. You learn not be sloppy. I recommend that all hunters
planning a fall elk hunt with calling involved do some spring turkey hunting.?
Chad also emphasizes the need for preseason
?People need to practice
their calling before the season,? he said. ?They?ll shoot their bows or
firearms for months and work hard to get into good physical condition,
but they won?t blow their calls until two weeks before the hunt. I have
had a lot of people tell me, ?Well, by the end of the season my calling
started to sound good.? It?s too late! You need to be in mid-season calling
form from the get-go.?
Little Things Make Big Differences
Chad Schearer always carries
a cow call, no matter the season or time of year. If he is still hunting
and not hearing any bugling, he will blow his cow call every 100 yards
?I do this in case I break
a branch, kick over a rock, or make some other noise,? he said. ?When they
walk through the woods, elk are generally noisy, and as long as they don?t
hear a ?human? sound like voices, metal clanging, etc., they might think
you?re just more elk cruising the timber.?
Chad likes to sneak up to a ridge line
inside the timber, then carefully peak over to see what?s on the other
?Lots of times bulls will
bed just over the top of a ridge, so any time I crest a ridge I peek over,
use my binoculars, and try to find a piece of elk, like an antler tip,
ear, rump patch, or leg. I also use my own nose. Elk have a distinctive
barnyard smell to them, and many times I?ve smelled them in the timber
before I?ve seen them.?
When he sees or smells elk in the timber,
Chad then will set up and cow call, hoping the bull will stand up and investigate.
Calling can be difficult
on windy days, when sounds don?t travel well and it is hard to hear. Then,
you have to hunt in areas where you can hear, at least a little bit.
?First, get to a place where
you can hear that is protected from the wind,? Schearer said. ?The lee
sides of hills, little hollows and cuts, places like that. Otherwise you?ll
never hear a bull respond to you unless he is right on top of you.?
When hunting with a buddy,
make sure that person is standing at least 10-15 yards away from you when
you blow a locator bugle.
?If they are right next to
you, the sound of your call will drown out their own hearing, making it
tough for them to hear a distant answer,? Schearer said. ?An elk may also
answer you in the middle of your own bugle and you can?t hear it, but your
buddy can and also pinpoint the sound.? Schearer also recommends always
calling away from stream noises, etc., which can also make it tough to
hear a response.
Another big key to successfully calling
elk is to not get frustrated.
?If you are seeing elk sign,
the elk are there, and you should always be ready for an elk to come in
to your calling,? Schearer said. ?So many times after people have been
hunting for days and not seen or heard anything, they let their guard down,
and that?s when a bull comes in quickly and catches them off-guard and
they blow their chance.
?You?ve done your homework,
so you know you are hunting a good area,? Chad said. ?You have practiced
your calling, and are making quality elk sounds.
By staying at it and not
giving up, you are going to get a bull in. It?s just a matter of time.?
Article reprinted with permission from Bowhunting World magazine.
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