Mastering Elk Calling Skills: A Hunter’s Guide

Mastering Elk Calling Skills

Steps for Learning or Improving Your Elk Calling Skills

As a hunter, there’s something exhilarating about being able to communicate with elk during a hunt. Mastering elk calling skills is an important aspect of the hunt, allowing you to mimic the vocalizations of these majestic creatures and increase your chances of success. In this “Mastering Elk Calling Skills” blog post, we will explore techniques and strategies you can employ to practice and improve your elk calling skills. From selecting the right calls to perfecting different vocalizations, let’s dive into the world of elk calling.

Understanding Elk Vocalizations

For hunters, especially bow hunters, elk-calling skills can be a real game changer. Before delving into the practice of elk calling, let’s understand their vocalizations and meanings. By familiarizing yourself with the sounds elk makes, you’ll be better equipped to mimic them convincingly.

Productive Hunting Vocalizations


Bugles are the most iconic and recognizable sounds associated with elk. Bulls primarily use these vocalizations to establish dominance, attract cows, and intimidate rival males. Understanding the different types of bugles is crucial for effectively communicating with elk:

Bugling Bull Elk
  • Long Bugles: Dominant bulls emit these bugles to announce their presence and assert their dominance. They typically consist of a series of high notes followed by a deep, resonant growl. Long bulges are often used to discourage competitors from approaching their harems.
  • Short, sharp bugles: Bulls use short bugles to challenge other males or indicate aggression. Accompanied by aggressive body language such as head shaking and thrashing of vegetation with antlers, short bugles serve as a clear warning to back off.


Bulls may emit low, guttural growls during aggressive encounters with rival males. Growls are deep, harsh vocalizations that convey aggression and dominance.

Grunts and Chuckles

Apart from bugles, elk also produce grunts and chuckles, which play a significant role during courtship and communication:

  • Grunts: Bulls and cows alike emit grunts during courtship to communicate with each other. These low-frequency vocalizations are softer and less intense than bugles and signify interest and receptivity. Bulls use grunts to indicate their interest in cows.
  • Chuckles: Cows respond to bull grunts with chuckles, which are short, staccato vocalizations. Chuckles signify a willingness to mate and serve as an encouraging response to a bull’s advances.


Cow and calve elk in a field

The mew is a soft, high-pitched vocalization primarily used by cow elk. It is a contact call to communicate with their calves or other herd members. Mews are gentle and intimate vocalizations that help maintain social bonds and coordinate movements within the group.

Non-Productive Hunting Vocalizations

Learning some sounds elk make won’t be necessary, but it is good to know what they are. Sometimes, they will alert you that the elk knows your presence.


Elk bark when they are startled or feel threatened. Barks are sharp, loud, and repetitive vocalizations that serve as an alarm signal to other herd members. They can be heard when elk detect predators or perceive imminent danger.

Cow elk on alert from bark


Elk emit a high-pitched whistle as an alarm call when they perceive a potential threat. Whistles are short, sharp vocalizations that alert other herd members to danger. They are often accompanied by body signals such as raised heads and ears. This is obviously a vocalization you won’t be practicing.

Selecting the Right Elk Calls

Elk calls are crucial for hunters targeting elk due to their ability to attract, communicate, locate, strategize, and enhance the overall hunting experience. By mimicking the vocalizations of elk, you can attract elk closer to your position, increasing their chances of a successful harvest. Elk calls also serve as a means of communication, allowing you to imitate the sounds made by elk and effectively engage with the animals. These calls help locate elk herds by listening for bugles and other vocalizations, providing valuable information on their proximity and direction. Understanding elk calls enables you to adjust strategies based on the stage of the rut and elk behavior, increasing the likelihood of a successful hunt. So before you throw on your hunting pack and venture out this season, take some time to fine-tune your calling skills.

Bugle Tubes

Bugling to elk bull

Bugle tubes are versatile and widely used for imitating elk bugles. These handheld devices allow hunters to manipulate the airflow and create a range of bugle sounds. When selecting a bugle tube, consider the quality of sound, ease of use, and durability. The bugle tube is likely the best starting point for learning to call elk.

Diaphragm Calls

Diaphragm or mouth calls are inserted into the hunter’s mouth to produce elk sounds. These calls offer flexibility and convenience, leaving the hunter’s hands free. Diaphragm calls require practice to master, but they allow precise control over pitch and tone.

External Reed Calls

External reed calls, also known as cow calls, imitate the vocalizations of female elk. These calls are effective for attracting bulls during the rut. They are relatively easy to use and produce various cow sounds, including mews, chirps, and estrus calls.

Practicing Elk Calling Skills

Now that we have covered the foundation of elk vocalizations and the types of calls available let’s explore effective strategies for practicing elk calling skills:

Study Elk Vocalizations

Before practicing your elk calling, spend time studying and listening to recordings of elk vocalizations. Pay attention to the pitch, duration, and rhythm of different calls. This will help you develop an ear for the nuances and intricacies of elk sounds, allowing you to replicate them more accurately. Youtube has some fantastic live Elk call-calling videos.

Practice in Controlled Environments

Start by practicing your elk calling in controlled environments like your backyard or a secluded area. This allows you to focus on perfecting your technique without the pressure of real hunting situations. Experiment with different calls, tones, and volumes to create realistic elk sounds.

Use Field Practice

Field practice is essential for honing your elk-calling skills in actual hunting scenarios. Head to areas with known elk populations and practice your calls in the field. Pay attention to the natural rhythm of elk vocalizations and incorporate it into your practice. Observe how elk responds to your calls and adjust accordingly.

Mimic Realistic Elk Behavior

Elk Scraping tree

Calling alone is not enough to fool elk. To enhance your chances of success, learn to mimic realistic elk behavior alongside your calling. This includes understanding body language, such as antler movements, thrashing of vegetation, and other visual cues accompanying vocalizations.

Incorporating these elements into your practice creates a more convincing illusion for approaching elk.

Mastering Elk Calling Skills Conclusion

Mastering elk calling skills is an art that takes time, practice, and a deep understanding of elk vocalizations. By studying the different sounds elk make, selecting the right calls, and practicing in controlled environments and the field, you can effectively improve your ability to communicate with elk. Remember, elk calling is not just about your sounds but also about mimicking realistic behavior. Combining these skills increases your chances of a successful hunt and creates memorable wilderness experiences.

Mastering Elk Calling Skills FAQs

Can anyone learn to call elk effectively?

Yes, anyone with dedication and practice can learn to call elk effectively. It requires patience, an understanding of elk vocalizations, and the ability to mimic their sounds convincingly. By investing time in learning and practicing, hunters can improve their elk-calling skills and increase their chances of success.

How long does it take to become proficient at elk calling?

The time it takes to become proficient at elk calling varies from individual to individual. It depends on factors such as the amount of practice, previous experience, and natural aptitude. With regular practice and dedication, hunters can expect significant improvements in their elk-calling skills within a few months to a year.

Are there any specific techniques to make elk calls sound more realistic?

To make elk calls sound more realistic, studying elk vocalizations and mimicking them accurately is important. Pay attention to the pitch, tone, and rhythm of each call. Additionally, incorporating realistic elk behavior, such as mimicking body language and visual cues, can greatly enhance the authenticity of your calls.

Should I rely solely on elk calls during a hunt?

Elk calls are an essential tool for attracting elk, but they should not be the sole focus of your hunting strategy. Combining calling techniques with other hunting skills, such as scouting, stealth, and knowledge of elk behavior, is important. Integrating calls into a comprehensive hunting approach maximizes your chances of success.

Can practicing elk calls scare away elk if done incorrectly?

While practicing elk calls, it’s important to exercise caution and avoid overcalling. Elk are intelligent animals and can become wary if they sense something is amiss. By practicing in controlled environments and gradually refining your technique, you can minimize the chances of scaring away elk during practice sessions.


  • Michael Hodgdon

    A firearm, shooting, outdoor, and hunting enthusiast for over 35 years. Thank you all for the suggestions on topics you would like to see; we'll keep posting as you keep sending them in. Please comment; we will try to answer all comments quickly.

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