Bugling is an amazing tool to use when elk hunting, but when the bulls go silent a good hunter should have additional methods ready to use!
It seems that it’s every one of my hunter’s dreams to hunt a bugling bull elk, but the truth is bulls typically bugle for three or four weeks of the entire hunting season. For success, you need several methods ready if you want a shot outside of the bugling period!
I’ve found success in these strategies when bugling just wasn’t working!
Elk, like beef cattle or any other type of livestock, require large amounts of water. It is often fairly easy to tell if a particular “hole” is being used because of the large amount of track you’ll be able to find. I’ve seen elk wade right out into the middle of the water, just in attempts to cool themselves from the September heat.
To set up on these waterholes, I’ll put my hunters on small knobs downwind of where I expect the elk to come in from. This enables a great vantage point of funnels and trails coming to and from the waterhole.
Find a Wallow
Elk will often wallow where there is a small creek or spot in the ground that holds moisture, usually in a place that water isn’t running quickly. A wallow is basically large mud hole found along a trail where water is present. Elk paw out the dirt for moisture, which they use to cool themselves off with. It isn’t uncommon that I’ll see an elk that’s completely transformed from a rich yellow color to a deep brown color from laying in a wallow. Elk also coat themselves in mud as a way to leave scent. The bulls will urinate in the wallow and then roll in the mud and urine, getting that smell all over them. (If you have ever harvested a bull or been close to one you know exactly what I’m talking about).
Setting up on a wallow is often times tougher than an open waterhole, because they are usually found in the deeper darker timber. In most situations you probably won’t be able to see over 50 yards. You still can count on a wallow as a great setup spot, since they’re productive early in the morning and late in the evening.
Early September, I go to regions where I know elk are hanging out. Find a spot with good vantage points, start cow calling and call in a bull – ONLY DONE WITH PATIENTS! When the bulls are quiet, you have nothing to lose by cow calling. Many times when I’m cow calling, the bull will come in silently. One must understand that elk are hard animals, and more times than not the bull will come in to learn what the cows are doing.
When I’m cow calling, I try sounding like a herd of cows. I use several types of pitches and calls to sound like more than just one. I’m never worried about “over calling” with a cow call, I’ve seen cow calling have no effect on a bull, but I’ve never seen a bull blow out of an area due to cow calling. I’ve found the most productive spots for me to call in bulls are between bedding and feeding areas.
I love hunting elk from high points or knobs that look down into drainages. When I hunt this type of setup I try putting hunters on points that have three of more drainages coming into a bottom straight across from that point, giving the hunter various opportunities at filling their tag. Because most shots will be 250 plus yards, the shooter must be capable of making a good shot at those distances. The advantage of this method is that most of the time, you can see elk coming down those drainages from long ways off, particularly if you’re high on the side of the mountain. This gives you plenty of time to set up to take a shot before elk reach your location.