Elk Calling: 9 Tips to Effective Elk Calling

For many outdoorsmen, elk hunting is a dream. We spend months preparing, getting all our gear together, camo washed and making the last minute supply purchases. Just to realize that we still have to call those elk in once we get there.

Elk calling is essential to a successful elk hunt, it can be more of an art form at times getting the sound and tone just right. Here are 9 great tips on how to call elk.

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So, let’s establish a list of things and break them down to help us effectively call elk. Breaking them down will elaborate on each tip a little more.  Reading and following these carefully will help you be on your way to learning how to call elk. It will take time and patience to be a pro so don’t rush it and don’t give up.

Find The Right Call for You

There are many styles, shapes, tones, and colors for elk calls on the market today. There are 3 main types of calls, mouth reeds or diaphragm call, open reed call, and grunt tubes. Each one has a specific purpose and its own pros and cons.

Find The Right Call for You

However, you will probably end up owning and using a combination of calls.

Mouth Reed or Diaphragm Calls

  • A call that fits into the roof of your mouth, its total hands-free and can be customized to fit you specifically.
  • The tone of the call is controlled with your tongue
  • This style call takes some practice but it can be easily used with the grunt tube.

Open Reed Calls

  • The reed is completely exposed on a half tube with a barrel of some sort.
  • Barrel and tube designs, lengths and colors will vary depending on the manufacturer.
  • This call is much more sensitive to moisture than diaphragm calls
  • Does not require much force or air pressure to use this call.
  • This call is an all-around sensitive call and requires some real practice and getting used to.

Grunt Tube

  • Not technically a call since there are no reeds to produce sound
  • Can be used in conjunction with the diaphragm call to create different and effective sounds.
  • This is an essential “call” for successful hunting

Now that you have spent the time finding your perfect call set up, it’s time to practice. Practice is the key to making sure you have the right call. You can never have too much practice.

Become Familiar with The Sounds of Elk

Becoming familiar with the sounds of elk is important to effectively calling elk in. This helps you understand elk behaviors and sounds. It is one the best things you can do to help yourself become a better caller.

The best way to become familiar with the sounds of elk is to spend time observing them in their environment. This is not always possible because many hunters travel to other states for their hunt, not leaving them time to observe elk in their wild and natural environment.

The alternative to enjoying the outdoors and observing elk in the wild is to watch videos and listen to sound recordings especially from the locale you are going to be hunting in. This is one of the best elk calling tips available.

Know When to Call

Knowing when to call is probably one of the most important things that you will ever need to know when learning how to call elk.  You don’t want to bugle or grunt when that beautiful bull elk is presenting you with the perfect shot. You don’t want to make a nervous heard even more nervous or spook them off by using the wrong call at the wrong time.

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A good timing in calling can help calm a nervous heard or brings that stubborn bull into shot range. The easiest way to learn when to do that is by talking to experienced hunters and guides. They will be very glad to help you learn what you need to know. This too is probably one of the most important tips for learning how to call elk successfully.

Bugle Like A Pro

Bugling like a pro won’t be easy, it will take a lot of practice and patience.  With these 3 helpful tips, you will be on your way to becoming a pro.

  • Practice
  • Be Brief
  • Use Short Tubes

Practice is essential and makes the difference between calling like a pro or sounding like a dying animal. You probably will drive the wife and kids bonkers practicing in the living room, the yard, the garage and maybe even the attic, but practicing every chance you get will be extremely helpful. You know what they say: practice makes perfect.

Being brief is important as well. The average elk bugle lasts 3 to 5 seconds. Shorter calls are more natural and will minimalize the chances of hitting an off tone. Elk has a communication system that is like a one-word sentence. They are short and sweet.

Use a short bugle tube. There is no need for a 3-foot long bugle tube, it doesn’t change the sound or make the call work any better. It will only get in the way and rub against the brush when you want to be quiet. Trim the tube down to about 6 inches and it’s still effective and it’s short enough to put in your pocket and keep it out of the way.

Call Sparingly

Overcalling is probably the biggest mistake that amateur elk hunters make. Calling too much becomes unnatural and alerts any elk in the area to “danger”, which then will also alert elk in the distance by the behavior of those near you.

Call Sparingly

Using brief and intermittent calls will generally pique their curiosity and bring them in. This will also ensure that a quick grunt will put a bull elk on the move so you can take your shot at him.

Elk us their sounds or “calls” a communication just as we talk to another person with words. So when they have either heard a lot of bad calls and sour notes or have just been called to death they know when something isn’t right. They will err on the side or caution and not be responsive to frequent calling, in fact, they will probably spook off.

Use Tree Raking in Close Proximity

Tree raking is the use of a sturdy tree branch for rubbing and crushing the trees or surrounding tree limbs. If done properly this sound will get the attention and curiosity of nearby bull elk. This sound mimics a bull elk rubbing on trees or brush.

While this method is technically not a call, it is extremely effective at bringing in bull elk. A herd bull will believe that he has competition for his cow’s attention and breeding.

Use Different Sounds for Short Distance Elk Calling

Creating a short distance elk calling plan will be very helpful when you are hunting on your own. Most of the time when a guide is asked for tips on how to call elk, they will recommend learning and using these 4 sounds.

  • Squeak: A squeak or chirp is done easiest with a diaphragm call. It is a softer version of the “cow call”. This call done at close proximity and low volume adds a realistic touch to making a bull think that he has left a cow behind and he will go back and look for her and try to get her back with the rest of the herd.
  • Grunt: A grunt is one of the sounds that bulls make when talking to each other. This is also the sound that a bull elk makes right before he makes a full bugle. A grunt done on a diaphragm call is best and it convinces the herd bull he has competition, so he will naturally go and investigate hopefully giving you the shot that you are looking for.
  • Glunk: A glunk is the sound made by a bull that is really ready to breed with cows. This sound can only be heard at short distances. When a herd bull hears this sound he will automatically assume that there is competition around and he will leave his cows. This sound can be mimicked by using a bugle tube and moving your hand over the end of it.
  • Rubbing: As previously discussed this is the act of aggressively rubbing a tree branch against a tree trunk or branches. This makes a herd bull think an intruder is close by and he will come ready to fight.

These 4 calls are great for close proximity elk calling. Close proximity is generally within 40 to 60 yards of the elk or herd. Most guides give these calls as their top how to call elk tips for close distance calling.

Be Mindful of Distance

Generally, when calling elk, the closer you are can be the better off you are. Being 100 yards or more from the herd and trying to call them in is not necessarily effective. Elk tends to spook off when they hear calls or “other elk” at long distances.

Use Different Sounds and Be Mindful of Distance

Loud calls at close range can be unnatural and spook elk off as well. This is like someone yelling at you when they are in the same room you are. Being mindful of your distance will help you use the right tones, volumes and calling sequences. Everyone wants to be successful in elk calling and not have bad calls scare the animal away.

Use a Low “Cow” Call to Calm Nearby Elk

When elk are nervous they are not going to make a successful hunt. Using a low volume “cow” call can calm the herd making them think you are another elk and not “danger”. This elk calling technique is best if you haven’t been spotted or winded by them. This is also great for late season hunts when you are stalking the herd and making a little more noise than you want to.

Wrap Up

Elk calling is not for the weak-minded, it will take persistence, patience, and practice to be all you can be. However, you don’t need to be a champion elk caller to be successful in your hunt. You just have to be able to understand when and how to use an elk call. So taking the time to learn elk behavior and communication is essential.

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Once you have an understanding of how and why they call and what their calls mean, you can begin to improve your skills. Following these tips will help get you on your way to being a good elk caller so that you can be successful in your hunt. The last thing that you want to do is scare the elk away with sour notes and excessive calling.


Shawn Harrison

Shawn Harrison is our expert in hunting. He was born in Alaska, so hunting was his hobby since high school. Later, Shawn took a Hunter Training at Alaska Department of Fish and Game to structure his knowledge and now he is open to share his knowledge with our readers. Shawn is taking ‘Safety First’ approach on all of his trips, especially is some people are going hunting for the first time.


  • I always look for simple and efficient ways to hunt. I’ve hunted rabbits for a long time, and I’ve recently started elk hunting. At the moment I’m trying out diaphragms and they’re extremely helpful. It really surprised me that in a relatively short period of time I learned how to make the right sounds. Diaphragms work excellent, they are able to produce all the sounds and calls you’ll need. I’ll probably start combining them with some other calls in order to be even more efficient if that’s even possible.

    • Having a previous experience with rabbit hunting, that experience can be your platform and establishment of concentration. Now that you’re off catching the bigger hunts, the skill that you have developed can complement the equipment that you have to catch the elk’s attention, and use them to your advantage for a worthwhile and successful hunt.

  • The hunting location is one of the biggest reasons why people don’t have the same opinion about whether calls should be used or not. You just have to be in the right place in the right period of the year. Basically you need to know when the breeding and rutting time is. During that time you can hear bulging and bulls will respond to your calling. If you miss that time period and use a call, you won’t accomplish anything. Then it’s far better to stay quiet and hunt using other tactics.

    • I agree with you, Michael. The acoustic quality of an elk call depends on the terrain and overall environmental situation. These factors affect how effective your call outcome would be.