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Learn More about Hunting Elk Day 4: What Are Do’s and Don’ts for Bugling Elk

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Editor’s Note: Will Primos, the founder of Primos Hunting in Mississippi, enjoys the challenge of hunting elk in the West.

To effectively bugle an elk, you have to understand the dynamics of an elk herd. Regardless of where you hunt, the most dominant bull usually will have the most cows (the most extensive harem) in the area. This bull may be bigger, stronger, older, and/or meaner than the other bulls in the region.

Then, outside the bull and his harem will be satellite bulls—bulls that want to breed but aren’t willing to fight the dominant bull for the cows. These satellite bulls hope to catch a cow drifting away from the herd so they can breed with the cows and avoid a fight with the dominant bull elk.

When the lead cow (herd boss) hears your bugling, she assumes it’s a new bull and will start moving the herd. Although you may think the dominant bull determines the herd cows’ direction, this assumption isn’t valid. Like a boss hen in a flock of turkeys, the lead cow decides the direction in which the herd will travel.

The dominant bull will try to keep the cows close to him by either hitting the herd with his horns or bugling at them and preventing them from wandering off and the satellite bulls from breeding them.  If you get too close to the herd, the lead cow and the bull will move the herd away from you and out of the area you’re hunting.

Often, I use bugling to locate a bull in the herd. Then, instead of bugling, I get close enough to the herd to use cow calls to attract the dominant bull or a satellite bull. The safest thing to do after you bugle and an elk answer is to start giving cow calls.  If the bull doesn’t come to cow calls, I’ll return to the bugle and give spike bull bugles.

To sound like a young, immature bull, I don’t growl as much at the start of the bugle. I also don’t put a huge number of notes in the bugle or make heavy chuckling sounds. I give a plain and simple squeal on the bugle, a high-pitched one-note sound.

Elk bugling is like turkey calling. You want to be behind some terrain barrier so the elk can’t see you until he’s within shooting distance. You want that bull to come hunting for you. If the bull comes closer to you but doesn’t see the cow, he’ll leave.

My two favorite bugles are the Hyper LIP and the Terminator.  If I can only use one diaphragm cow call, I’ll choose the Hyper LIP.

Sometimes, an elk will stay hung up about 75 yards away from you after you bugle. The best way to solve this problem is to buddy hunt. The caller needs to set up about 75 yards behind the shooter.  When the elk comes in looking for the cow, you need to have a close shot before the bull stops and won’t come in any further after hearing the bugle.

Looking for more content? Check out our YouTube channel and watch “Moving Before You Take the Shot” by John E. Phillips.

Expert Guidebooks on Elk Hunting: Best Sellers

Secrets for Hunting Elk
The quickest, easiest (if there is an easy way), and safest way to find and take that bull elk of a lifetime will be to hunt with a guide.

Chad Schearer, a longtime Montana guide and TV personality, told me, “My hunter is my gun. If I get to the elk, and my hunter isn’t with me, then we don’t take the elk. My job is not only to find the elk but also to help the hunter get to the elk and make the experience as enjoyable as I can for him.” That’s the kind of fella with whom I want to go elk hunting. 

An elk hunt can be tough, but it doesn’t have to be so tough that you don’t enjoy it. That’s why this elk hunting book starts with the confessions of an elk guide and with Chad Schearer’s philosophy of what the guide and the hunter’s relationship should be.

A good portion of your success will depend on your physical condition, and Matt Morrett of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania explains how an eastern hunter can get ready physically during June and July to hunt western elk, the animals he describes as, “Like deer or turkeys on steroids.”

Wayne Carlton, well-known elk hunter and TV and video personality from Montrose, Colorado, tells us what types of elk calls to use and what to say to the elk. Mike Miller of Colorado, another elk guide and Mossy Oak video personality, has tactics for the best equipment for bowhunting and gun hunting elk.

You’ll learn helpful strategies and hunting tips in this book, as well as some straightforward hunting methods that will help to make your elk hunt more successful.

“Thanks to the advice in your elk hunting books, I was able to call up a nice 6-point (6X6) bull elk! He was bugling like crazy. I called him in from about a ¼ mile away. Called him into bow range (about 40 yards away). It was a thrill!” ~Rob Brannon


Elk: Keys to 25 Hunters’ Success
Often just one tip or tactic makes the difference in whether you take an elk home to dinner or have to hike back to the truck by yourself. In John E. Phillips’ latest elk book, Elk: Keys to 25 Hunters’ Success, you’ll learn from successful elk hunters the strategies they use to find and take elk.

Many know that the technique that seems to work most often is to hunt where other elk hunters don’t and understand where the elk are before you go on a hunt by studying data from each state, visiting HuntData (see chapter 1), examining maps, and reading postings on elk forums.

This book also tells you how to get ready physically for an elk hunt, including participating in Train to Hunt Competitions, what gear you need to take, how to enjoy a successful do-it-yourself elk hunt, or how to pick the best elk guide for you. You’ll also hear about the X System and the Broken Y System of hunting elk. 

Although no one person has all the answers on how to help you find and take your elk, I’m convinced that this book’s outdoors men and women will teach you how to have satisfying elk hunts.

As my friend Karl Badger once told me, “Elk hunting doesn’t get any better than when I ride horses into the high backcountry, see two grizzly bears, hear a pack of wolves howl close to camp all night long, eat plenty of delicious food prepared on a fire and enjoy the company of good friends.”


How to Find Your Elk and Get Him in Close will teach you the tactics of 10 nationally known elk hunters, to help put that giant bull that’s been screaming at you from afar, in your lap. You’ll learn what some of the best guides, outfitters, and successful elk hunters do to find elk and get them in really close.

Also in this audiobook, you’ll notice that the majority of the experts call elk to within bow range. We selected numerous bowhunters and bowhunting guides, since the bowhunter has to get much closer to a bull than the gun hunter does – often less than 20 or 30 yards – practically in your lap.

On one elk hunt, I’d heard this bull bugle all morning. My guide had called him within 30 yards, and he was standing just inside black timber. I saw the smoke from his nose wafting out into the icy air less than 30-yards away. All the bull had to do was step out, and I could take the shot with my bow. But then, through no fault of my guide or me, the bull vanished.

The only conclusion I could come up with to understand why the bull I wanted to take with my bow hadn’t stepped out and given me a shot, was because he got raptured. He evidently had left the earth with no trace of himself.

This hunt was when I started wanting to learn more about hunting elk up close. In this book, I’ve tried to find some of the most knowledgeable, experienced, and practical elk hunters. I’ve always found that the best way to learn any outdoor skill, is to either hunt or fish with the best sportsmen in that field.

Often, in elk hunting, that means elk guides, who generally hunt every day of the season and receive a salary for every hunter they guide. So, I’ve put together a group of some of the best elk hunters I know to help us all learn how to find bull elk and get them in close.


Tomorrow: What Some Elk Hunting Guides Say

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