A 10-Step Plan for Calling in Big Bull Elk

Bring trophies to bow range with this multi-stage calling tactic.

elk trophy

elk trophy

Big bulls like this will get fired up by the sounds of cow and calf interaction.Mark Raycroft

Take your calling to another level with this breeding sequence, which mimics a small herd of elk tearing up the timber. Paul “ElkNut” Medel uses it, and his five-man ElkNut crew (elknut.com) has killed 178 bull elk in the last 25 years—all on over-the-counter, public-land hunts.

1. Locate

Find elk by climbing high and listening. “You don’t have to see them. If you can hear them, you can pinpoint them,” Medel says. If you’re hearing sounds after 9:30 a.m., odds are they’ve moved into a bedding area. “They’ll be in that vicinity the next day, and the next day, until a predator pushes them out.”

2. Figure the Wind

“The thermals mean survival for elk,” Medel says. “They always travel into the wind. That means they take one trail into the bedding area, and another trail out.” If the wind is right, move in as close as you can without boogering the elk. But don’t worry if you can’t get close. Elk have excellent hearing, and this sequence can work from a mile away. Figure the herd’s movement pattern by looking at the direction of their tracks.

3. Make Cow Talk

With a diaphragm or bite-and-blow reed call, start the sequence with cow sounds. Mimic social herd talk—hit no alarming or threatening notes—for 30 seconds to a minute.

4. Calf Call

With your cow call, make calf sounds, which are shorter and snappier in tone.

5. Get Hot

Now introduce your hot cow. Get excited. She’s in estrus, so put emotion into it, like you’re blowing a predator call. Flow into a higher pitch—a more nasally buzz—and lengthen the call to simulate the hot cow’s getting more and more revved up.

6. Mix It Up

Switch between the cow, calf, and hot-cow calls. Let the sounds ebb and flow in volume and tone. You’re imitating a small group of cows milling around, chatting it up.

7. Thrash the Brush

Kick sticks, stomp around, roll rocks. The idea is to sound as if you’re elk sloshing through the brush. Keep calling: Cast sounds left, right, straight up in the air, and backward. Think of it as throwing an elk party—big animals hooting it up.

8. Slow It Down

After five or six minutes pass, calm it down. The level of intensity should move up and down throughout the call sequence.

9. Send in the Bull

Start with pants, chuckling, or light screams. “Pants show excitement, like something is about to happen,” Medel says. “You’re creating a response to your hot-cow calls.” Use your mouth and make it loud.

10. Get Lusty

Switch to guttural groans and glunking—a deep gulping-like sound that bulls make near hot cows. Other bulls will hear this and charge in to size up your bull. If they don’t show on the first run, slowly bring down the call intensity, then break for a minute or two before starting it all up again. The ElkNut crew will run this sequence for an hour or more in a spot with promising sign.