Put some emotion in your calling and make sure you understand the situation before letting a bugle rip through the woods.
Rocky Jacobson, owner of Rocky Mountain Hunting Calls, recently held a calling seminar in Helena covering the many sounds elk make and how hunters can do their best to mimic them. He started the company in 1992, developing the “palate plate” diaphragm call that is now the No. 1 selling design on the market.
When regulations in Idaho changed to bull-only, Jacobson says hunters needed to adapt.
“We had to learn how to call a bull in and we learned that all on our own,” he said. “I made many, many, many mistakes to learn how to make it work, and I still make many, many mistakes and I still have to figure out how to get them in all the time.”
Through hundreds of days watching elk, Jacobson has learned plenty about elk behavior, and when certain calls work and when they do not.
“You watch videos and it looks easy to call an elk in, but sometimes it takes 30 days hunting every day for nine minutes of footage,” he said. “Don’t expect every time you call an elk they’ll come running to you.”
Jacobson does not believe increased hunting pressure had made elk “call wise” but rather that low bull-to-cow ratios in many general tag areas mean less competition and a tendency for bulls to run. Even so, hitting an elk with the right call at the right time can still bring them in, and it is important to know what elk are doing and when certain calls may be effective.
The pre-rut starts around Aug. 15 (earlier than Montana’s archery opener) and is generally when bigger bulls start to come off the mountain in search of cows. From Aug. 20 to Sept. 5 some of the older cows may come into their 24-hour fertility cycle, and Jacobson counts that time period among best opportunities to call in larger bulls.
The peak rut starts around Sept. 15 and runs for roughly three weeks until about Oct. 10. It is the time when the majority of cows come into cycle and the hardest rutting displays.
After Oct. 10, the post-rut starts, older bulls peel off the herds to recover and although a few bulls continue to bugle, cow calling is Jacobson’s primary technique.
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Whenever a hunter calls, Jacobson recommends putting variability into calls.
“To be variable in different calling techniques is very important,” he said. “You don’t want to be out there in the woods making the same sound every time you bugle.”
Repetition in the woods is unnatural, Jacobson says, so when the same bugle or cow call is made time and again elk do not necessarily become leery, but do tend to become accustomed to it and ignore it. That is why some popular calls designed to produce the same sound every time may work for a few years but then fall on deaf ears, he said.
“The more sounds you can throw at an elk the more they get confused, the more curious they get and they want to come in and see what the heck is going on,” he said. “Plus, you become realistic sounding to them.”
Emotion is also key to calling. Jacobson detailed the different bugles bulls will make, which also dictates which calls he uses.
A location bugle is long and high-pitched, and without much urgency.
A display bugle is used by nearly every bull in the woods depending on the time of year, with more growl and aggression.
A challenge bugle is very high-pitched and aggressive. And when a hunter hears it, get ready because that bull is coming in.
“It’s very important to let these animals know there’s some emotions in your calls because that’s what they play off is emotions, they’re playing off the rut period,” he said. “There are days and times when they’re wore out and tired from being in the rut and they don’t want to do anything. There’s times when they’re aggressive and slept good and really chipper and they really bugle a lot.”