Chasing elk during September is something I look forward to every year. I can’t think of a sweeter sound than a bull’s bugle cracking thru the early morning air just as darkness is giving way to light. Over my 24 years of elk hunting I have learned a few lessons the hard way that have stuck with me. Hunt long enough and you will repeat some mistakes a couple of times before they sink in and get logged into your mental database for easy retrieval.
Early on in my elk hunting career I would set up as soon as I heard a bugle. Didn’t matter how close or far it was. My thought was that this bull was looking for a cow and if I could hear him, then he surely could hear my cow calling. What I learned was that you needed to get close and give the bull a reason to come in. A bull is going to come in for one of two reasons: 1. to find that seductive cow that has been tempting him to come her way; 2. to kick the butt of that pestering bull that has annoyed him beyond the breaking point. I prefer the 2nd reason. Usually when a bull comes in looking for a cow he is very cautious and really looking for the cow that had caught his attention. When a bull comes in for a fight he comes in like a freight train. He doesn’t go around things, he goes right thru them. His eyes are wide open, nostrils flared and he is all jacked up ready for a battle of the century.
A couple of weeks ago I was in the high country of Colorado hunting elk with good friends. My duty for the day was to be the caller which I was really looking forward to. None of us had any clue to what was about to happen on this day.
As we crested the ridge to our vantage point I saw a creek drainage that had good timber on the Northeast facing slopes. This place had potential. I let out a location bugle and got one little response. We decided to set up and see if I could entice the bull to leave his safe haven across the draw and come over to us. As I continued to bugle I started throwing in cow calls also to make it sound like there was a party going on and he was missing out. After about 15 minutes we had 4 different bulls chiming in on the discussion. As I continued to increase the excitement of the calling sequence we found ourselves surrounded by bugling bulls. Jimmie was hanging out near me in case we got that sneaky back door bull while Rockie was over the edge covering a trail and Brad was above us on another trail. We had all avenues covered. After about an hour of calling I heard a turkey call from over the edge. Jimmie and I went over the edge toward Rockie. As we approached Rockie he looked up at us and gave us thumbs up. 5 bulls in total crossed the draw and took time to play in a wallow before heading up towards us.
We made quick work of the 5×5 that Rockie had shot and decided that Rockie and Misty would go get the horses while Brad, Jimmie and I would continue to hunt. The three of us hiked around the mountain to another ridge that overlooked a deep creek bottom. I let out a location bugle and again got only one little response.
We sat down in some oak brush where we could see the other side but still had good cover if anything decided to step out and look our direction. I started to repeat the same sequence I had done in the previous drainage but received a reaction that took my breath away.
I started to mix in estrus cries into my cow calls and bugles. The hillside lit up. Before we knew it we were looking at 7 bulls in a little meadow just above the creek bottom. 3 of the bulls took turns thrashing a small tree in the middle of the meadow while the chorus of bugles continued. This was crazy. I let out another estrus cry and one bull started walking in our direction. I hit the estrus cry again and now the bull was trotting to the creek bottom. I told Brad and Jimmie that we needed to set up as that bull was committed and on his way.
I backed up to the opposite edge of the ridge while those two dropped down the ridge below me. We had only been set up maybe 30 seconds when I turned behind me to bugle and noticed a really nice 6×6 on the edge of the aspens looking to see what was going on before walking back into the trees. I let out a soft bugle and turned around to see the first bull standing there looking at me. He was only 6 feet from Brad. He ran up our side so fast that Brad never had a chance to draw. My HECS suit hid my EMF and he really wasn’t sure what I was. He started to turn and leave so I cow called to stop him. I heard Brads bow go off but the sound of the hit didn’t sound right to me. It was a clean miss. None of us know what the heck happened or how a shot that close could be missed.
The other bulls were still bugling so we stayed put and continued to work them. Two more bulls committed to come our way when I heard the familiar sound of a bite and blow cow call. Someone had slipped into the timber patch just below the bulls with the wind going uphill. Things went silent and the bulls returned the trees. You have to love hunting on public land. The two setups together resulted in 18 bulls being worked with 6 of them coming into shooting range.
The story I was telling in my calling sequence was that there was a small group of cows and calves with one bull on the ridge. The excitement was created from one of the cows coming into estrus and the whole group was feeling the effects of it. If you tell the story right you will get other bulls to feel like they are missing out on a party and they have to be a part of it. I have used this sequence a bunch in the past with great success. The other bulls either want to be the first one to the hot cow, or they come in to run off that other bull and take over the cow. In both of these set ups the bulls where coming in for the hot cow. You have to add emotion and excitement into your calling. If I had just sat there and blown on a call without emotion or a plan then nothing would have happened. You have to give the bull a reason to come. Have a story in your head that you want to tell before you start to call but have the flexibility to adjust your plan based on the bull and his reaction. Give him a reason and he will come.
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