As one of the largest species of deer, second only to the moose in North America, elk has been hunted by man for several centuries. The delicious, gamey meat can happily feed a typical family for months, making elk popular prey.
Hunting elk successfully is all about communication. Understanding how elk communicate with one another is essential to luring a bull to within bow or rifle shot. Many hunters use elk calls to mimic cows, calves, and bulls.
The best elk calls sound realistic and are capable of intriguing your prey, thus leading it right to you. It’s worth taking a look at how elk communicate and the different types of calls that can be used to replicate these sounds effectively.
Finally, we’ll go through six great elk calls to improve your chances of bringing home a ton of delicious elk meat.
Just note that unfortunately, due to over hunting in the past, elk populations have reduced and hunting restrictions are in place. Be sure you know which rules apply in your area and hunt legally.
How Do Elk Communicate?
Elk are incredibly vocal creatures, one would be amazed at how much noise they create around each other throughout the year. The elk hunting season coincides with the rut, or mating season, generally from early September until late November, though dates differ depending on the region.
As such it is important for hunters to understand elk behavior during this period. In particular one needs to know how elk communicate with one another and what it means. For example, a cow in estrus will let out several excited mews and whines, varying in length and pitch, while seeking a bull.
Bulls become very aggressive to one another, especially when competing for cows and will communicate as they size each other up. A wily hunter can use this knowledge to their advantage, luring a bull over with the call of a cow in heat.
To close in and get the bull within range, the hunter will then switch to making bull noises, essentially challenging their prey. If the challenge is accepted and the elk comes within range, the hunter needs only to take the shot. There are several types of calls and sounds that elk make. A successful hunter knows how to imitate, and when.
- Bugle: bulls generally only bugle during the rut. They do this to assert dominance over other bulls as well as to attract females. As a hunter, this is an important call to learn. By bugling, one can lure larger, more dominant bulls over to assert their dominance.
- Raking: bulls rub their antlers against trees and shrubs to mark their territory and take out pent up aggression during the rut. This can also be mimicked.
- Chuckle: this series of grunts normally follows a bugle, asserting dominance over another bull.
- Chirping: cows will typically make these noises while in the herd. It’s a simple show of contentedness – everything is okay.
- Mewing: the most varied of all the sounds elk make. This can mean anything from threat alerts to a cow seeking a bull.
- Barks: short and sharp, these indicate danger. A hunter can use barking to slow a spooked elk, though most hunters tend to avoid this call.
- Estrus scream: or an excited cow call is another important call to learn for a hunter. These calls let any bulls in the area know exactly where a cow in heat is. It doesn’t take them long to flock to the area.
Types of Elk Calls
There are several types of elk calls available, each offering something a little different. They range from simple mouth calls to larger and louder bugles.
Typically hunters will use several different types, arming themselves with a range of calls to try in combination.
- Bugle tube: This type of elk call is perhaps the most popular for hunters to carry. It’s also the largest out of the selection. These generally offer the most flexibility and an experienced hunter can use them to make a wide variety of calls, from bugling to mewing.
They’re typically used to replicate bull sounds, though most are capable of mimicking cow calls as well.
Bugle tubes come in many variations and styles, including some that have a baffler installed to make more subtle sounds.
- Mouth/diaphragm calls: These are the smallest type of elk call available. They fit in your mouth to leave your hands free and as such are ideal for solo hunters. They consist of one or two reeds and sit in the roof of the mouth, allowing one to blow to create a high-pitched mewing.
Pressing with the tongue can adjust the pitch. These are generally fairly versatile and can be used to make cow, bull and calf sounds. They take a bit of practice to get the sounds right, however.
- Reed calls: Reed calls are another classic device used by hunters. They can be single or double reeds and open or closed. Each makes different sounds and are typically suited to replicating cow and calf calls, though bull sounds can be made also.
They are normally fairly easy to use and with a little practice the classic calls can be mastered relatively quickly. Most reed calls incorporate a rubber “bell” at the end, which can be pinched and squeezed to alter the sound.
- Bite calls: These work in the same way as a closed reed call, however, the reed is covered by a softer material. This allows the hunter to bite down on the reed while blowing to alter the sound.
This allows for nasal calls, which can sometimes convince a reluctant bull to show himself.
- Push calls: Relatively new to the market, push calls are fool proof. They are operated by simply pushing and depressing a rubber ball, much like a dog toy. With a little practice, hunters will soon be mimicking basic elk calls.
Unfortunately, they are fairly limited in the sounds that they are able to produce.
Tips and Tricks
With a basic knowledge of how elk behave and communicate, the hunter already gains an edge. Arming oneself with some fantastic elk calls tips the balance further and success seems to be fast approaching. There are a few tips and tricks that can make it a near certainty, however.
- Pre-hunt preparation: the successful hunter will have a good idea about where they will hunt. It is well worth heading out in advance and simply observing the elk you intend to hunt.
Listen to them and see how they communicate, whether they are loud or quiet. Each herd differs. Obviously, during the rut, the calls will be different but you can after some time get a feel for how this group speaks to one another.
- Practice makes perfect: get to know your elk call. It’s no good locating the perfect spot to hunt if you are unable to effectively use your call. Even those who have used calls previously should practice with new calls.
Watch videos and follow along with the sounds of the elk. In this way you learn exactly what you need to do to sound like an elk, rather than a cat whose tail has just been trodden on. Unusual sounds spook elk, who will leave the area in a heartbeat.
- Secure your call: use a strap to keep your call about your person. You need to be ready to seize your weapon and take the shot as soon as an opportunity presents itself. Some hunters strap their calls to their bow.
- Find a partner: Hunting with a partner is not only safer, but it allows one to take charge of the calling, while the other is responsible for shooting.
- Herd talk: experienced hunters will use a variety of calls to mimic a herd of elk, idly chatting away. This can help calm a spooked elk as it will appear help is near.
A Review of Six Great Elk Calls
Primos Hoochie Pack Call
Sound: Cow and calf (herd talk)
Type: Push call
Specific Features: Two pack, cow and calf for effective herd talk,
Best Use: Excellent for luring bulls over by creating herd talk
Description: This Primos Hoochie Pack Call allows hunters to create the social, talking sounds of cows and calves, a sound that is proven to draw bulls over. They are a little larger than more traditional reed calls, but they will easily fit in the hand.
Hunters widely agree that they are incredibly easy to use, with very few people having any trouble replicating a realistic cow or calf sound. One downside is that they must be hand held, so for those hunting alone, it can get difficult to hold both the call and a weapon.
The cow call is generally considered the more accurate of the two, with the calf call being less realistic. The build quality seems fairly solid and the materials used are high quality. A few users have had issues with them coming apart with use, or making the occasional strange sound.
These incidents are by no means frequent however and most hunters use the calls with much success. They are somewhat limited by the variety of sounds they can make, able to produce shorter sounds only.
Longer, drawn out sounds are not possible with these calls. That does not, however, render them useless. Hunters generally suggest that one should use these in combination with other calls for the best results.
Related: The Hoochie mama and baby Hoochie push calls can also be bought separately.
Primos Cow Girl Call
Type: Closed reed/bite call
Specific Features: Bite and blow style call, subtle and adjustable sound
Best Use: Great for close in calling
Description: This is a very affordable, compact cow call that can be used by everyone. The price and the ease of use are strong selling points for this Primos Cow Girl Call, with many hunters happy with how quickly they could master the call.
Just be sure to follow the instructions in order to produce the best sounds. A variety of sounds can be made using the bite and blow method, from the longer whines of a cow in estrus to shorter, sharper more social sounds.
The sound produced is considered a little too high pitched by several hunters, though this doesn’t always seem to be a problem and elk tend to respond. A small number have found that the elks are put off by the sound, though the general consensus is that, when properly used, this is an effective cow call.
The call is made from quality materials and seems to last for a season or two, though on occasion hunters have found they get through them quicker. This could be down to the amount of use and the way they are being used rather than questions of quality. For the price, this call is well worth trying out.
Primos Imaka Da Bullcrazy Call
Type: Open reed call
Specific Features: Manipulate sounds, multiple elk talk, rubber bell to alter pitch
Best Use: Great for closing in while bow hunting
Description: By pinching and squeezing the rubber ball, while moving up and down the reed, one can create a vast array of cow calls. The sound is lifelike and smooth and brings bulls in nice and close.
Some hunters believe that a fair amount of practice is required to perfect the sound.
With that in mind, it is worth getting your hands on this Primos Imaka Da Bullcrazy Call in advance, in order to make the most realistic sounds when out in the field. While the sound is largely accurate, take care not to blow too hard as it can get quite loud.
This is great for normal calling, but when closing in it can be detrimental. Once one has mastered the sounds, it’s easy to use and maintain realistic calls time after time. Made from high-quality materials, this is a very durable call.
Many hunters have been using this call with high success for several seasons. The price is very good and with practice, success shouldn’t be too far off. In fact, there is very little to criticize, with the vast majority of users having only good things to say about this call.
Related: Primos Imaka Da Bullcrazy long range call– louder version to be heard from further afield.
Primos Terminator Elk Call
Sound: Bull and cow
Specific Features: Camo cover and sling included, wide variety of sounds
Best Use: Excellent for bringing bulls out in close quarters and for beginners
Description: Primos Terminator Elk Call is a popular bugle call and its capable of recreating both bull and cow calls. Most hunters agree that the cow sounds are okay, but there are better calls specifically for cows out there. The bull sounds, however, are very accurate and one is capable of producing a variety of grunts, chuckles, and screams.
It is fairly easy to use and one can imitate an elk fairly accurately within minutes. Other sounds such as grunts take a bit more practice and it is worth spending time in advance learning how.
The build quality is again good and many hunters are very happy with the durable, blue diaphragm. This lasts for several years, but just in case, a spare is included and easily stored away on the bugle while out and about.
For some hunters, this call is too large. It doesn’t compact down much and while it can be worn on a sling, those short on space may want to consider another option. Otherwise, this is a fantastic bugle that consistently produces. Finally, it comes with a handy camouflage cover, keeping you hidden while you’re using it.
Related: Primos Baffle bugle – added baffler to reduce volume of higher pitched calls
Primos Elk Select 4 Call
Sound: Bull, cow and calf
Type: Mouth/diaphragm call
Specific Features: Four pack includes a wide range of sounds, call case included, cow and bull calls in each mouth call – no more switching
Best Use: Very good for those hunting alone, bow hunting
Description: These mouth Primos Elk Select 4 Call leave your hands free to keep your weapon ready for action. This pack of four allows hunters to make a wide variety of elk calls and grunts. They are all capable of producing both cow and bull sounds, reducing the need to change them over frequently.
Two of the calls have single reeds and the other two double. The sounds they produce are accurate but require a little practice to nail it. It is worth following a video or soundtrack of elk communicating to get the pitch and modulation correct.
Many hunters are very happy with the calls that can also be used to cover the sounds of footsteps. One is able to walk along through the woods making frequent elk calls and grunts. There are few complaints about the calls themselves, however, the case is fairly flimsy and can be prone to rattling.
However Primos make a superior case (see related products). The calls, if looked after continue to work well for several years.
Related: Primos Mini sonic dome® Elk 3-pack – For those with smaller mouths
Primos No-lose call case – an alternative carrying case, holds up to 10 calls, softer, breathable material
Primos Hunting Calls Mastering the Art Elk Instructional DVD
Type: Instructional DVD
Specific Features: Hunting techniques explained, free single reed call, basic skills for beginners
Best Use: Perfect for learning the basics of elk hunting and calls
Description: The Primos Hunting Calls Mastering the Art Elk Instructional DVD includes an hour and a half of elk calling instruction. The idea is to follow the DVD to learn how to make certain calls.
One is then encouraged to practice along with the DVD during the real hunts, listening to and replicating the sounds of real elk, as well as hunters using calls.
The instruction is a little bit limited, however. The sounds are shown but there is little information to go on when trying to do it yourself. It’s aimed mostly at beginners and those taking an interest in hunting elk using calls.
As such more experienced hunters will probably not gain an awful lot from the DVD. The videoed hunt is great for showing various techniques that can be used to successfully bag your first elk. The free single reed call is fairly basic, but can be used to practice the basics.
Overall, for someone completely new to elk hunting, this is a good place to start and to learn the basics of not just calling, but also scouting and setup.
Now armed with a better understanding of elk behavior and elk calls, it’s time to choose the best call for you. Consider the circumstances of the hunt you have planned. Will you be alone? If so perhaps choose a selection of mouth or diaphragm calls, leaving your hands free to take the shot when it presents itself.
For those in groups take a selection of different calls to create the illusion that will lure your prey to you. Just bear in mind that even with the best elk call, one will have little chance of success if they have not practiced with it.
Indeed, one should also know when a certain call is appropriate. Do your homework before heading out to avoid frustrating days out on the hunt. Armed with this knowledge and a great elk call, you will soon be bringing home delicious elk meat. Do you have any elk hunting tips? Let us know in the comments section.