Scouting, Wind Sense and Calling Pay off During Archery Elk Season

By Gary Lewis

Gary Lewis Books and DVDs

Walt Ramage and Jon McLagan topped out on the ridge, looking into the valley below. Morning sun pushed back the shadows, poking bright fingers beneath the firs and ponderosa pines that forested the north-facing slope. Across the canyon, on the dry side, sagebrush and junipers cooked in the early morning heat.

Walt knows where to look for elk during warm weather. As a pro-staffer for Primos Hunting Calls, he also knows that hunters make their own luck when they learn to speak the language and follow a simple three-step system.

He hunts a small tributary drainage where elk find food, shelter, water, and escape cover. It is public land, a little over two miles in from a well-traveled gravel road.

Walt and Jon began calling at the top of the ridge with the wind blowing up from the bottom of the canyon. For a half-hour, they bugled and cow-talked, listening for answers from inside the tall timber. They moved down to the edge of the trees and set up again. Walt's bugle was finally returned by a thin, quavering sound that drifted up from the valley below. Was it a bull or another hunter? They couldn't be sure.

Walt called again, challenging the unknown. They heard the answer closer this time, a full bugle that trailed off with a high-pitched squeal and that deep, guttural chuckle that only a big bull elk can make.

Setting up on a flat spot on the shoulder of the ridge, Jon nocked an arrow while Walt moved in behind him. The bull was coming fast, tearing up underbrush, screaming his rage.

Walt raked a pine tree with a branch, simulating a big bull raking antlers, then continued to call. He answered scream for scream, bugle for bugle, throwing in a higher-pitched cow whine from time to time. The match continued for nearly twenty minutes as the bull came on. Jon and Walt waited, unmoving, arrows nocked, watching, listening, hardly daring to breathe.

Walt's system for elk hunting success can be applied wherever you hunt elk. First, learn to hunt where elk live. If you are not finding fresh sign, move on. Look for long, deep drainages and adjacent trails. Find where the animals bed and watch nearby meadows. Elk have to drink twice a day and won't range too far from water in warm weather. Late summer days are usually hot, so look for sign on north slopes and in shaded bottoms. Deep canyons with few or no access roads are the best bets.

Second, pay attention to wind direction. Never let the wind carry your scent toward your quarry. Hunt with the wind in your face.

Third, learn to speak elk. Buy your calls at a pro shop in order to get a little instruction with your purchase. Watching videos or listening to tapes will help you practice the right sounds. 

Walt uses a planned, patient, aggressive calling strategy. He intends to make something happen every time he calls, beginning with a high-pitched locating bugle, listening for an answer. He follows with cow calls then another bugle. To vary the sound and pitch of his cow calls, he uses an assortment of reeds and a pushbutton call.

After five to ten minutes of silence he begins an aggressive calling sequence, bugling and cow calling with his Primos Terminator bugle. He will call, listen, wait and watch for 45 minutes before abandoning a stand. His pre-season scouting gives him the confidence to know he is hunting within earshot of elk. Practice makes him confident he can bring a bull in.

Finally, Jon saw the bull, picking his way through a patch of eight-foot firs, but he didn't have a clear shot through the brush.

Walt cow-called one more time and saw an antler tine appear above the foliage. He had a small shooting lane. Walt drew his bow, holding at full draw. If the bull took one more step… 

There, a chocolate-colored foreleg appeared, followed by the creamy flank. Walt picked his spot and let the arrow go. His hunt was successful because he followed his simple system.

Scout, hunt into the wind, and use a planned calling strategy. A lone bugle drifting on the September wind is both a challenge and a promise. It is a challenge to us to keep such places wild. It is a promise of high adventure if we go prepared to speak the language.

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