the proverbial "kitchen sink" at
bull elk might work in your dreams,
but in reality you've got to make
the crucial decisionCow
call or bugle?
a doubt, the biggest debate among elk hunters is
what call works best for bringing in rutting bulls:
bugles or cow calls? And no doubt it is the question
running through most hunters minds after they get
a bull to sound off.
like most kinds of hunting there is no one, simple
rule of engagement. How else can you explain the
almost polar approaches two highly successful outfitters,
Tim Doud of Bliss Creek Outfitters in Cody, Wyoming,
and Dan Reddick of Wapiti Basin Outfitters in Belgrade,
Montana, employ. Doud, for example, is an aggressive
hunter who bugles in most of his clients' bulls.
Reddick, on the other hand, can't remember the last
bull he bugled in.
their different styles, however, both guides approach
rutting bulls with many of the same fundamentals
in mind, while always being quick to adapt to the
situation. And therein lies the answer to their success.
in an elk starts
with locating one, but don't think all you have to
do is bugle once and any bull within
answer. Fact is, only a fraction of the bulls hearing
you will, and even then they often
have to be
encouraged. To get bulls bugling and to cover ground
efficiently, Tim Doud has developed
his own system.
I'm locating bulls, I always start off with a soft
bugle, just in case a bull is close by and so I don't
blow him out of the country. And if there's no response,
I'll always bugle again, this time loudly. Just like
when someone calls and catches our attention, yet
we don't know where the person is, the first bugle
might only make the bull aware another elk is calling.
It's often the second bugle that gets the response.
Doud is working
along a ridge, going from one good bugling spot to
another, he'll cow call frequently. "I
around because you can't cover lots of country that
way, so to cover our noise, and in
a bull right in front of us, I cow call every 50
to 100 yards. And the denser and rougher
the more I'll do it. That way there's less of a chance
we'll bump a bull, and it gives
us every opportunity
to hear a nearby bull bugling or walking toward us."
the time we reach
the next bugling spot, anything close should have
heard the cow calls. So when I
bugle again, we
won't get caught off guard, nor will I blow out
a close bull."Dan
Reddick also uses bugles to locate bulls, since the
sound travels so well and he can locate elk from
far away. But his reliance on bugling has decreased
strategy has changed dramatically over the past 10
years", says Reddick. "It
used to be
toot on your
bugle at the
But not any
and that they'll
or twice, then
shut up. Obviously
has a lot to
do with the
stage of the
and a bull's
but to put
the odds in
my favor and
be the most
I can be, I
use cow calls
more and more.
in on the
fact that during
the rut bulls
are after cows,
and that is
a fight, and
of bulls come
to bugles only to bump into hunters."
has so much confidence in cow calls that he frequently
uses them to locate bulls. And when he does bugle
but doesn't get a response, he'll often get one by
following up with a cow call. Rather than making
a few soft chirps, however, he uses his grunt tube
for greater volume and makes a few drawn-out mews.
they do locate a bull, each outfitter's response
will often be completely different, thanks to their
favoring one call over the other and due to their
different hunting experiences over the years. When
Doud hears a bull bugle, even in the distance, he's
off and running right away.
not coming to me, then I'll go to him. I hunt very
aggressively. I'd rather blow the bull
out of the
country or get in on him close. Since I've switched
to more aggressive tactics, I've called
in twice as
many bulls. The fact is, a real elk doesn't stand
in one spot and bugle incessantly. He's either
the other bull or, if he's a herd bull and doesn't
want a confrontation, he'll be moving
why I'm not one of those stalemate hunters who stay
in one spot for a long time."
going after big
bulls, typically herd bulls, and they're not going
to walk a long distance away from
their cows to come
to my calls. So the easier we can make it for him
to come to us - i.e. the closer
we are - the easier
it will be to get him within bow range."
Doud wants to get in a bull's face, he doesn't charge
recklessly toward him. To avoid bumping the bull,
he tries to cut the distance by half each time he
moves, say to 100 yards if he thinks the bull is
200 yards away. If he's still not close enough, then
he'll try to halve the distance again. Bulls often
sound farther away than they are, either because
they're facing away when bugling or the terrain or
thick timber muffles their calls. This way Doud can
still move up aggressively, but with caution.
Dan Reddick so
often locates bulls by cow calling, and bulls are
more likely to sneak in to cow calls
than bugles, he's
content to stay put once he gets a bull to bugle. "Patience
really pays off with cow calling. If I'm in good-looking
elk country with
plenty of fresh
sign, and there's plenty of timber around me, I'll
stay still for as long as an hour
and a half, even
if a distant bull really gets worked up. I know
I can still go after him later on because
he's not going
to leave the country. In fact, he could even be
coming in. But what if there's a closer
bull and he's coming
in? If you move on the distant elk, you'll probably
bump the closer one."
the most significant
change in my hunting strategy",
says Reddick. "Seven
at the longest.
But I've called
to be patient.
to rush in.
you have to
be on guard,
they do bugles.
They can also
the only downside
to cow calling.
But still, it's a good trade-off.
found cow calling
two or three times, then waiting, really works
early in the season, when bugling activity
is slow and bulls
tend to come in silently, and also late in the
season during the second rut. During
this period, from
about September 28 to October 2, cows that haven't
bred come into season, and the
bulls are really
revved up for them. Then I cow call much more than
bugle, with tremendous results. Bulls
- and many of them
big bulls - will often bugle once, then come running
in. And they'll cover lots of ground
to get to me. Of
course, I don't always stay put when I hear a bull
bugle, especially if I don't think
the immediate area
is going to hold any elk. If I'm on an open ridge
and hear a bull a half-mile away,
for example, I'll go after him immediately."
A BULL'S SOCIAL STATUS
Reddick and Doud stress the importance of trying
to figure out what kind of bull you're working. That's
because his age and social status - single, herd
bull, or herd bull with satellite bulls - will dictate
what tactics and calls you should employ.
it's hardly an exact science, if a bull continues
to bugle back to your calls but moves away when you
try to cut the distance, then chances are you're
dealing with a bull with cows. If a bull's bugles
either sound like he's staying put or coming in,
then he's probably a lone bull, and if the woods
light up with multiple bugles, you've got a herd
bull being harassed by satellites.
a big fan of cow calls, Reddick will use them with
telling results on lone bulls and younger bulls.
And if he gets into a herd bull being harassed by
satellite bulls, and he's after any bull, he'll play
the odds and stick with cow calling. He may suck
in a satellite, although he surely won't get the
herd bull leaving his cows to come after another.
If, however, Reddick is trying for the herd bull,
then he knows he's got to pressure the bull. He'll
try to work him up with bugles, but if the bull still
won't come in, then he'll stay back and continue
calling while his hunter sneaks in for a shot.
you'd expect, Tim Doud also advocates pushing herd
bulls. For lone bulls he's content to be less aggressive,
since that bull is probably coming in and being too
aggressive will only increase his risk of bumping
the bull. But if a herd bull is moving away, he has
no choice but to run after him and apply pressure.
it takes one or two hours of hounding a herd bull
before he'll think "enough is enough" and
come in", says Doud. "But
you've got to keep
the pressure on.
Herd bulls try
to avoid confrontations,
so when I move
up on a bull, I
move quick. And
I can, I'll hold
off calling to
him until I think
I'm really close.
That way he can't
track my approach
and he may not continue to move off."
Doud figures he's dealing with a herd bull and the
bull's walking away, one trick he uses to head off
a wild goose chase is to quickly cow call, which
sometimes stops the bull from fleeing and might even
bring him in. However, that's about the only time
he'll breach what both outfitters consider one of
the cardinal rules of elk hunting: don't mix bugles
and cow calls.
concrete rules in hunting elk, but not mixing cow
calls and bugles is one of them. And for
a very good
reason. As Tim Doud explains, "If
and all of a sudden switch to a cow call, now the
bull's going to be looking for two elk instead
of one. Then
I have to make sure there's enough cover to hide
two elk. The chance of him stopping short
for more visual confirmation has just increased.
of this, if I switch
from bugles to cow calls to stop a herd bull from
moving off, and then he answers,
I'll quit bugling
and try to change position to make him think he's
stealing one of the other bull's cows.
If for some reason
I can't move, then I'll cow call in a different
direction than I bugled. That way
the bull might
think they're separated and that he might have
a chance to sneak in and steal the cow."
cow calls and bugles don't mix. According to Dan
Reddick, the more elk an approaching bull
see, the more elk he expects to smell. "Hunters
how much elk rely on scent (both airborne scent and
scent left on the ground). And when a bull
what he thinks is a small herd, he starts to get
rule both experts agree on is to stick with whatever
call happens to be working, and for as long as it's
effective. If you set off a bull by bugling, don't
change to cow calls once you move in and set up.
There's a reason the bull reacted so vocally to that
call, and the only way to take advantage of his aggressive
mood is to keep it up. Even though Tim Doud bugles
in most of his bulls, the moment a bull answers one
of his cow calls, he abandons bugling - at least
until the cow calling stops working. Dan Reddick
will also stick to whatever call is exciting a bull,
no matter if it's a cow call or bugle. Like all good
elk hunters, he stays flexible and lets the bull
dictate what he uses. Only when the bull's interest
wanes will each outfitter switch gears.
last rule of
thumb Tim Doud uses is to imitate a bull's bugles. "As soon as a bull answers me",
says Doud, "I'll
throw the same
back at him.
It's like if
you and I are
I repeat every
word you say
get mad. And
for elk, too.
So the more
bigger a bull
more I do too.
And when I
off his bugle
with a similar
of my own,
you can get
a bull, the
chances of getting him to come
in keeping with not mixing bugles with
cow calls, both outfitters
need to change locations any time you
and any time a bull hangs up or starts
to lose interest.
As Reddick says, "If a bull
hangs up, you've got to do something to regain
his interest. Changing location is often the only
way to do it. Most hunters don't realize that in
nature, when a bull bugles to a cow, he's saying, "I
hear you and here I am, so come on in",
- and the cow
to the bull.
order by calling
the bull in,
the more natural
we can be,
So try moving
closer or to
side of the
I decide to
switch calls, changing location makes him think another
elk has just walked onto the scene,
generates more excitement - especially if he thinks
another bull is going to get the cow
he's been waiting on."
Doud also believes
changing position is critical to success. In fact,
he says the worst mistake a
hunter can make
is to stay put and call from the same position,
trying to get the elk to come to him
and not vice-versa. "An
elk knows something's
up when he hears
a bull bugling
from one spot for
of time. Real bulls
move around, and
when a bull stays
put for long, he's
bugle at each other, 90 percent of the time they're
bluffing. Fighting rarely happens, especially
when one of
them is a big bull. So one bull bugles, he bugles
back, and that's it. He knows the smaller
and there's no need to pursue the matter.
if I move in and
get right in his face, then the bull knows I'm
not bluffing, and he's going to have
to do something
about me. By getting close you make it easy for
him to check you out. He might still
not want to fight,
and he might not walk 200 yards to take a look
at you. But if he only has to walk
50 yards, then
you've just made it easier for him to come in.
That's why staying put for long doesn't
work. It never
forces the bull into action, because as long as
you stay over there, he can ignore your
there's the bugling versus cow calling debate in
a nutshell: One outfitter advocating cow calling
and being patient, the other partial to bugling because
of his aggressive style. Still, despite dramatically
different approaches, both experts regularly call
in bulls because they've learned to treat each bull
differently and let him decide what tactics they
need to employ. That's sound advice no matter what
calls you think work best.
Editor's Note: For
more information about elk hunting in Wyoming or
Montana, you can contact each outfitter at the
following addresses: Tim Doud, Bliss Creek Outfitters,
P.O. Box 2776, Dept. WS, Cody, WY 82414; (307)
527-6103, Dan Reddick, Wapiti Basin Outfitters,
2755 Outlaw Drive, Dept. WS, Belgrade, MT 59714;
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