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The Art of Using Game Calls: Part 2 – Elk Calls

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In this article, we’re going to focus on the majestic elk. We’ll delve into understanding elk sounds, explore which elk calls you should be using and when, and share some of the best elk calls. Passionate big game hunters are also welcome to check out our Guide to Deer Calls.


Quick Guide to Elk Sounds
How Elk Behave During the Season
How to Call in Elk and What Calls to Use
Types of Elk Calls
Best Elk Calls – Review

Quick Guide to Elk Sounds


Elk bugle is an iconic elk sound that starts with a growl and progresses to a high-pitched whistle or scream that can send chills down your spine if you’re hearing it for the first time. Male elks, or bulls, use this call mainly during the rut season to establish dominance and attract females. After the bugle, you might hear a series of short, throaty grunts. This is what hunters refer to as the chuckle.

Glunking might sound funny, but it’s an essential part of the elk’s communication repertoire. It’s a popping sound made by bulls while they’re tending to cows. You don’t need to replicate this sound, but remember that a glunking bull is likely to be difficult to call in.

Cow mewing is a common sound of cow elk. It’s a soft, nasal sound, similar to a kitten’s mew, used by cows to communicate with each other, their calves, and bulls.

Calf elk sound is very similar to cows. It’s a lower-key, high-pitched bleat akin to a lamb’s cry. This call is usually a distress signal, letting the mother know they need attention.

During the rut, cow elks in heat make a unique whining sound. It’s a long, drawn-out call that signals to bulls that she’s ready to mate. This sound can also attract other bulls in the vicinity, leading to intense competition.

Elk bark is a sharp, explosive sound that usually signals danger. If you hear an elk barking, it’s likely something has startled or threatened them.

How Elk Behave During the Season

Early Season: The Calm Before the Storm

In the early season, elk herds are generally peaceful. The bulls are still in velvet and aren’t very aggressive. Cows and calves stick together, while bulls may form bachelor groups. The most effective calls during this time are soft cow mews and calf bleats, used primarily for communication within the herd.

Pre-Rut: The Tension Builds

As we move into the pre-rut period, things start to heat up. Bulls shed their velvet and become more aggressive, often bugling to assert dominance. Satellite bulls hover around the herd, waiting for an opportunity. Cow calls become more intense, and a well-timed estrus whine can lure in a hopeful bull.

Peak Rut: The Battle Begins

During the peak rut, the forest is alive with the sound of bugles, chuckles, and intense cow calls. Herd bulls are at their most aggressive, defending their harem from satellite bulls. Cows in estrus make long, drawn-out whines, which can be mimicked to attract bulls.

Post-Rut: Winding Down

Post-rut is a time for rest and recovery. The bulls are exhausted from the battles, and the herds start to disband. Calls during this time are generally less effective, but a soft cow mew can still get a response.

How to Call in Elk and What Calls to Use


Some experienced hunters only use cow calls, avoiding bulges due to the risk of scaring off timid bulls. They suggest that this strategy can be effective in areas with a high bull-to-cow ratio where competition isn’t a driving force.

There are two basic types of cow calls: subtle social mews and aggressive cow whining. Subtle calls are useful when navigating through thick vegetation or when first encountering bugling bulls. Aggressive cow calls are more effective as competition increases, especially in attracting desperate satellite bulls.

Another winning strategy is sounding like a small or average bull. This call can attract satellite or lone bulls, or even some curious cows. Moreover, this could potentially provoke herd bulls. They might feel compelled to confront a smaller bull and assert their dominance.

Types of Elk Calls

Diaphragm/Mouth Elk Calls

Placed on the roof of your mouth, this call type produces a variety of sounds by controlling the airflow. Narrower frame widths are generally preferred because they require less air pressure to create elk sounds, allowing for both loud and soft calls. This also prolongs the lifespan of the call because it doesn’t have to be forcefully blown to produce sound. When comparing calls with the same frame width, consider the latex thickness, type, and tension during manufacturing. Also, elk calls with a “palate plate” are recommended due to their tonal quality and user-friendliness.

Bugle Tubes

While a grunt or bugle tube isn’t classified as an elk call “type” since it needs a mouth reed or voice to produce sound, the tube you choose can significantly alter your bugling, chuckles, and grunts. When used with a mouth call, the tube generates an impressive elk-like resonance. Specifically, it creates “back pressure,” a crucial element in producing 3-dimensional elk tones when bugling with a mouth reed.

Reed Elk Calls

Reed calls are typically hand-operated devices, using different reed configurations to produce a range of sounds. From the softest calf bleats to the most intense bugles, reed calls can do it all. Medium-to-wide width reeds with suitable thickness often produce a more nasally, 3-dimensional tone, which is more likely to elicit responses from bulls.

Manual Elk Calls

These calls are hand-operated and often simpler to use, making them an excellent choice for beginners, but they don’t offer the wide range of sounds that other calls do.

Best Elk Calls for Hunting – Review

BUGLING BULL Select “A” Bull Calling System

This call is a fantastic option for those seeking a do-it-all elk call. This system includes a tone selector that allows you to switch between different elk sounds and features an external mouthpiece for more versatility. Whether you need to mimic a cow’s mew or a bull’s bugle, this set has got you covered.

BUGLING BULL Bully Bull Extreme Elk Call

This is one of the best elk bugle tubes is designed to be paired with a mouth call to produce deep, resonant tones that mimic the bugles and grunts of mature bulls. Еhe call’s durable construction and easy-to-use design make it a favorite among seasoned hunters. Perfect for the rut.

BUGLING BULL Raging Bull Elk Call

An excellent option for those looking to mimic the aggressive sounds of a dominant bull, this mouth elk call ideally pairs with the bugle tubes mentioned above. Its patented Tone Selector allows you to adjust the call to produce a variety of sounds, from the high-pitched bugle of a young bull to the deep, throaty growl of a mature bull.

PRIMOS Sonic Dome Single Elk Call

This is another popular elk mouth call among hunters loved for its design that automatically gets positioned in the mouth. It features one latex reed and boasts a consistent distance between the reed and the dome roof, which translates into an outstandingly consistent elk call.

PRIMOS Lip Service Elk Call

For those seeking an easy-to-use option, this Primos call is worth considering. This bite-and-blow call allows you to produce realistic cow calls without the learning curve of a diaphragm call. It’s ideal for beginners or those who prefer a straightforward, no-fuss approach.

PRIMOS Hoochie Mama Elk Call

Touted as one of the easiest elk calls to use, it requires you to simply press the upper part to create convincing cow calls. It’s the ideal tool for those starting out in elk hunting and looking to grasp the basics of elk calling.

PRIMOS Terminator Elk Call

Another great bugle tube on our list. It stands out for its patented “Support Shelf” mouthpiece that allows you to reproduce accurate bugles and cow nasal calls with ease.

Read other posts:

Mastering the Art of Using Game Calls: Part 3 – Turkey Calls
Mastering the Art of Using Game Calls: Part 4 – Duck Calls
Mastering the Art of Using Game Calls: Part 5 – Coyote Calls


What does an elk bugle sound like?

An elk bugle is a high-pitched whistle or scream emitted by bull elks mainly during the rut season to establish dominance and attract females.

What’s the best call to use during the rut?

Both bugle and cow calls can be effective during the rut.

How often should I make calls?

Overcalling can make elk suspicious. It’s generally best to wait 15-30 minutes between calls.

Are there any calls to avoid during certain times?

Bugles can scare off smaller bulls if used too early in the season or too frequently.

What is the best elk bugle?

Bugling Bull elk calls – mouth calls, grunt tubes, and elk calling systems – are very popular among elk hunters, but Primos elk calls are also great.

What is the best cow call?

Many beginner hunters find success with calls like the PRIMOS Hoochie Mama Elk Call due to its ease of use and realistic sounds. But if you’ve gained some experience with manual game calls, you can opt for an elk grunt tube, such as the Bully Bull Extreme from Bugling Bull, because usually, such systems are capable of producing a great array of elk sounds.

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