Expert Elk Bugling
By Jeff Murray
Jul 26, 2005 – 2:49:00 AM
Bowhunting World Magazine
|Proper technique brings in the bulls
Of the many big game adventures I?ve been fortunate to experience over
the years, nothing compares to bowhunting bugling bull elk. It?s a riveting, dramatic,
in-your-face affair that never fails to raise the hair on the back of
my neck every single time, and it doesn?t have anything to do with
That?s why it?s disappointing when most bowhunters I compare elk notes
with almost always tell a different story. Seems the vast majority only
hear distant bugles; when they try to close the gap, the bulls shut up
or vanish. Is this because herd bulls avoid confrontation by
rounding-up their harem for parts unknown? Is it because ?call shy?
bulls on public
lands are wise to the tactic of bugling?
Not at all, says elk hunter extraordinaire, George Dixon. The veteran
Mathews Pro Staffer from Salida, Colorado doesn?t care if he?s on a
national forest or a private ranch (he says he hunts 99 percent on
When he wants results, he reaches for his bugle, not a cow call.
?(Not being able to) bugle bulls within bow range is a bunch of baloney,?
says. ?My outfitter friend, Gary Bohochik, guides exclusively on public
lands, and he doesn?t even own a cow call. All Gary does is bugle,
500 times a day if necessary. And does he ever get results!?
Bugling?s Little Secret
If bugling is so effective for these guys, why isn?t it for the rest of us?
?They?re spooking bulls instead of attracting them. It takes some
skill to sound like a real bull, and relatively few guys can pull it
off. Every year I call-in hunters, and they all say the same thing: ?I
had no idea a hunter could sound so much like an elk!??
This is exactly what happened last fall when Dixon and I were
working a bull not far from his home. We kept hearing faint cow calls
and, sure enough, I caught the movement of a two-legged predator in the
We gingerly backed out of that basin, and to this day I?m sure that camo coat thinks a big bull gave him the slip.
The solution may be simple but it?s not going to be easy.
?I wish I could say there are lot of super-sounding bugle calls
that are super-easy to master,? Dixon says. ?But there aren?t. An elk
bugle is complex and not easy to duplicate. On top of this, the best
sounding call is the diaphragm, and it requires the most practice to
perfect. You just can?t purchase a call two weeks before season and
expect dramatic results. You?ll scare elk away. It?s like shooting a
bow. Practice makes perfect. There are no shortcuts.?
No question mastering the diaphragm call involves repetition. Last
fall when I heard Dixon work his magic, I determined in my heart that I
would not settle for anything less than his level of proficiency.
Nowadays I practice nearly every day. I must be getting pretty good
because my neighbors are convinced there?s a bull on the loose in our
township (one even called the local zoo).
Steps For No-Bull Bugling
There?s a right and wrong way to practice bugling. The beginning
point is knowing precisely what to sound like. As elementary as this
may seem, many bowhunters make the mistake of trying to make an elk
sound rather than making a specific call. Briefly, you want to make the
sound of a mature bull, and not a ?little bull.? Also, master a unique
bugle that you can replicate every time. To do this you?ll need a taped
recording of a live
bull. My favorite is an old Larry D. Jones cassette recording, Natural
Elk Sounds (Wilderness Sound Productions; 800-437-0006). Wayne Carlton?s
original recording is another good one (available through Hunter?s
Specialties; 319-395-0321). In recent years a few game call
manufacturers have videotaped rutting bulls in the wild. Primos Hunting
Calls offers some of the best (601-366-1288).
Once you get in your head the exact sound you?re trying to
duplicate, you?re ready for some serious experimenting. Two key
a call?s authenticity are placement and pressure. A third variable is
how hard you blow the call. I wish I could offer a simple recipe for
combining them into a can?t-miss finished product, but the truth is it
would surely be half-baked. Only you can put it all together?it takes
time and self-discipline.
Fortunately, these calls are inexpensive with many makes and models
to choose from?Hunter?s Specialties, Outland Sports (417-451-4438),
Primos Hunting Calls, M.A.D. Calls (417-451-4438), Wilderness Sound
Productions, Knight & Hale Game Calls (Pradco Outdoor Brands;
641-856-2226), Quaker Boy (716-662-3979), Woods Wise Products
(931-364-7913), etc. Plan on purchasing at least a dozen to begin with,
and try every one out. You?re going to find that a few might not
produce the pitch and tone you?re looking for.
And as a general rule, triple-reed models tend to produce the
loudest volume and the best gradient of tones, although single- and
double-reed models are easiest to call with. Before long, you?ll
discover just how much tongue pressure and air force it takes to
produce the tremolos bugles are famous for.
?Keep playing the tape, comparing it to your calling,? Dixon says.
?Don?t give up till you sound like a real bull. Practice all the time,
especially in your vehicle as you drive to and fro. Nobody can hear you
so you can just let it rip.?
Putting The Call To Work
Gary Bohochik with Rocky Mountain Outfitters is the first to admit
a bugle won?t work every time. Some bulls are responsive, some simply
are not. You never know what kind of customer you?re dealing with till
you knock on his door. For this reason you?ve got to be mobile.
?Most elk hunters have a hard time believing how nomadic bulls can
be. Sometimes they might hole-up in a particular basin for a week, but
most of the time they?re constantly on the go. I remember the time I
called in a nice 5-by-5 for a client who was unable to get the draw.
That bull was wearing a numbered collar when we met up with him around
9:00 in the
morning. Well, we ran into to him again that evening a good 20 miles
away as the crow flies. There really wasn?t a good reason for that bull
to travel that far, but he did. The moral of this story is come
prepared to do a lot of walking.?
Bohochik?s next piece of advice as important as the first.
?I also recommend calling a lot. And by ?a lot? I mean almost
constantly. I don?t believe a hunt begins until you get a bull to
respond. If you?re not hearing any bulls, you?re probably not into them
yet. Bulls are vocal animals that are curious and social. If they?re
within hearing distance, they?ll usually respond. So keep moving till
you hear elk bugling.
Rule Number Three complements the other two?call as loud as you can.
?If your call sounds halfway decent,? adds Bohochik, ?you?ll never
spook a bull. Bulls might retreat or they might ignore you, but they?ll
never get scared. That?s why I always call as loud as I can, even when
I?m approaching bow range. I want that bull to think I?m the real deal.
The fact of the matter is that bulls don?t call softer when they
approach each other. In fact, they often call louder, sometimes trying
to out-shout the other.?
Finally, learn how to put on the pressure.
?My favorite strategy is forcing the issue with a bugle,? says Brad
Harris with Lohman Manufacturing. ?It?s usually a waste of time to try
to ?seduce? a bull that owns every cow on the mountaintop. This bull?s
not one bit insecure and therefore not vulnerable. Your only hope is
?I believe every bull has a comfort, or tolerance zone in which he
will not be aggressive. It changes every day, sometimes by the hour. If
you stay outside of this zone, the bull will probably bugle, but not
move any closer. However, sometimes if you can penetrate this bubble
you can get him to the breaking point and make him snap.?
In simple terms, Harris wants to challenge the bull so it will
either charge or retreat. Harris is convinced that too many bowhunters
lay back indecisively when they should be moving in for the kill. The
ideal situation is when cows are scattered, satellite bulls are roving,
and the boss bull is trying to round up his herd quickly. If the bull
gets the least bit frustrated over not being able to gather his harem
right away, he?s apt to charge when you bugle. This is exactly what
happened a few years ago when Harris arrowed his best-ever bull, a
massive Arizona brute that scored 376 Pope and Young points.
So master the bugle. Blow it loud, blow it often, cover a lot of
ground. Chances are good you?ll call more bulls than you thought
Bowhunting World Magazine
PO Box 362
Mt Morris, IL 61054-0362
Mike Strandlund, Editor
Mark Melotik, Managing Editor
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