Skip to main content

Burnworth's Tips for Elk Calling

Burnworth's Tips for Elk Calling
Bull Day - Burnworth's Tips for Elk Calling
Bull Day - Burnworth's Tips for Elk Calling

No moment in hunting compares to that shot of adrenaline that goes right to a hunter’s heart like when he or she is chasing an elk. My first bull came at the age of twelve, with my father by my side amid Oregon’s dense, rugged Coast Range. That experience changed my life and, ever since, I’ve been in elkaholic recovery. I live by the motto, “There are only so many seasons in a man’s life and you have to take advantage of every one of them.” At least that’s what I’ve been telling my wife all these years. Elk hunting is part of my DNA. Recently, I reflected on the elk hunting experiences I’ve been fortunate to have. Those magical times in the field when a bull is taken are what I fondly refer to as bull day. Last October I took my fiftieth bull. Most of my bulls have been taken with a bow in my left hand and a bugle in my right. If I had one tip to offer hunters calling elk, it would be position. As in basketball, if you’re not standing in the action at the right time, things can go wrong in a hurry. The following article highlights key points that I’ve learned along the way, points I hope help you have more bull days.

If you’re a crazy elk hunter like I am, by mid-summer you’ll have an elk call in your mouth. You’ll be grunting, chuckling, and bugling until your wife has had enough. Some time around September 1st, my wife kicks me out just in time to go after Mac Daddy himself. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to hunt with some talented elk callers. Others that I have hunted with should have stuck to the shooting part of the hunt. Calling is important, obviously, but many times it’s not how well you can call, but rather how you call and where you’re positioned. This is not to say that sounding authentic, using the right call at the right time, or regulating the volume and direction are not important, because they are. The key is how you react once you get an answer. The first thing I do when a bull bugles above me is check the wind. No matter how far you have to climb or walk, you have to get the right wind. An elk will tolerate hearing you, maybe even seeing you, but if he smells you, it’s game over. I usually call a couple of times to see how hot a bull is. If he calls back every time, I go on him. What I’ve concluded is that you only have a short timeframe, not much more than fifteen minutes, to close on a bull while his hormones are raging. In other words, I chase them. We run right at them to quickly get as close as we can. Along the way we stop, calling just loud enough to be heard. That tells the bull we’re further away than we really are. We’ll use cow calls and bugles, seeing which one he responds to the best. I don’t rake trees or call real hard, I work with the averages. I use tactics that I think work on all elk. My style of hunting elk is not something you’d see often on elk hunting videos. My goal has always been to try to see every elk I call to. Call only enough to pinpoint where the bull is. You don’t want to risk blowing him out. Be sure to monitor the wind the whole time, and avoid walking on any trails a bull might travel along to reach you. Before you start your call sequence, get the elk posse stopped and listen. Be sure all is quiet so you can clearly hear. Many times I’ve gotten busted by satellite bulls hanging on the outskirts of the main herd. Listening really works when you have multiple bulls calling and they’re keeping each other going. If you’re within 150 yards and can’t hear elk, snap a twig or move your feet. Many times this can get a response and the bull won’t be able to pinpoint you. Usually he will call to you as if to say, “I hear you, what are you?” This is the most critical time to know when and where to setup.

One of the big mistakes hunters make is not putting themselves in the right position. Often you only have seconds to set up. Ideally, you’re hunting with a buddy and at this point it’s the caller’s job is to pull the bull past the hunter. Too many times the caller stays in one position - near the shooter. The approaching bull will hang-up quartering towards the shooter and offer no shot. The bull, the shooter and the caller are all in a line. Most of the time you will not be able to close the deal. The caller needs to be on his feet and ready to move. Many times the bull will try to circle downwind, and the caller needs to get up and move to change the bull’s direction without being detected. The goal of the caller is to keep the bull moving towards the hunter, all the while using the wind and the sound of the approaching bull to determine his position. How far the caller and shooter are separated depends on the type of cover. In semi-open bush where elk can see long distances, 100 yards is not too far. Use the cover to your advantage and hunt smart. Say you’re looking for a place to set up and found a sixty-yard gap that is more open than the cover around it. In this situation, set up thirty yards downwind of the trail, right on the edge of the opening. Try and hit that point where the bull will come out, rather than pull him into the open, then try convincing him to cross an opening all the way to the shooter’s position. Put the caller on the other side of the opening, against thick brush, standing up. As the bull comes to the edge and stops, he gazes across and realizes that what he’s looking for is just through the brush beyond. The caller keeps cow-calling. Only call if the bull stops or slows down; there is no need to call if he’s coming. In this scenario, think about the calling setup as transforming into the shape of a T. The bull is at the top left, the caller on the right and the shooter at the bottom with the wind blowing between you. It’s up to the caller to maintain this relationship. This arrangement will usually result in a bull coming out past the hunter, giving a solid quartering away shot. Believe in your position and, if the wind is right, you’ll get the shot and an extra charge of adrenaline. When you know he’s closing in, take a deep breath, maintain your composure and anticipate when you should reach full-draw. Be sure to range the distance before taking the shot, aiming at a specific point between a 1/3 to half-way up the bull’s chest, right behind the shoulder. Elk have a big kill zone.

I would say fifteen-percent of the bulls we call in get shot after they have passed the shooter. This is ideal when it happens; for the bull is less likely to see you draw. The key is getting the hunter and the caller in a position to work the bull by them. It’s not always going to happen; but, when it all comes together, it’s like magic. Elk hunting takes us to pristine and remote country many of us would otherwise never see. Elk fuel our passion to be a field and, when it all comes together, there’s no matching the feeling of accomplishment. By hunting smart and using your position wisely, you too will be able to feel what it’s like yelling down the canyon at the top your lungs “Bull Day!”


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Engel

Engel's High Viz Drybox Coolers

Versatile boxes available in four sizes; ICAST Fishing Gear Guide.

What

What's New with Abu Garcia Veritas Rods?

There are big changes to Abu Garcia's popular Veritas series of rods. Andrew Wheeler highlights the new features with In-Fisherman's Doug Stange as part of our 2020 ICAST New Fishing Gear Guide.

Daiwa Dark Water Rods

Daiwa Dark Water Rods

From barracuda to wahoo to kingfish to sailfish and beyond, these new Daiwa saltwater rods rely on HVG technology (that makes them 50% lighter), soft tips to protect leaders as big fish make strong runs, and strong backbones to help anglers crank up hard-fighting species from below.

SPRO Madeye Diver 85 & Minnow 120

SPRO Madeye Diver 85 & Minnow 120

The Madeye Diver 85 & 120 feature sound chambers that imitate various batfish.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Starting opening day, there's a small window to tag out before pressure impacts buck movement. Make the most of it.Quick-Strike Tips for Early Archery Deer Success Whitetail

Quick-Strike Tips for Early Archery Deer Success

Tony Peterson - August 18, 2020

Starting opening day, there's a small window to tag out before pressure impacts buck movement....

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? You'll need a cartridge that lives up to the expectations demanded at ranges up to and beyond 500, 600 or even 1,000 yards. Try these different loads until you find the one that thumps steel at long ranges consistently.10 Best Long-Range Rifle Cartridges Ever Made Ammo

10 Best Long-Range Rifle Cartridges Ever Made

David Hart - January 14, 2015

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? You'll need a cartridge that lives up to...

In need of a rugged container to sip from in the backcountry? We've got you covered. From tumblers to bottles to flasks (and even clever bottle openers), we've rounded up some of the best bar gear for the outdoors.Ultimate Outdoor Bar Gear Roundup The Deck

Ultimate Outdoor Bar Gear Roundup

Chelsie Walters and Jessyca Sortillon - August 31, 2020

In need of a rugged container to sip from in the backcountry? We've got you covered. From...

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes.10 Recipes for Your Backyard Get Together Wild Game

10 Recipes for Your Backyard Get Together

Game & Fish Online Staff

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes.

See More Trending Articles

More Stories

Behind the Badge is a regular series of perspective stories by Oklahoma game warden Carlos Gomez. In this article, Gomez recounts his experiences from his first nighttime poaching bust.Behind the Badge: A Warden's First Night-Poaching Bust Stories

Behind the Badge: A Warden's First Night-Poaching Bust

Game & Fish Online Staff - July 30, 2018

Behind the Badge is a regular series of perspective stories by Oklahoma game warden Carlos...

A rimfire, old standard and new import top our list of favorite rifles for coyote hunting 

All3 Coyote Guns Stories

3 Coyote Guns

Brad Fitzpatrick - September 28, 2017

A rimfire, old standard and new import top our list of favorite rifles for coyote hunting All

Last year alone, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act was responsible for $100 million in funding to benefit game, fish and other wildlife in the United States.At Issue: Greenbacks for Greenheads (and Other Game) Conservation & Politics

At Issue: Greenbacks for Greenheads (and Other Game)

Andrew McKean - August 04, 2020

Last year alone, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act was responsible for $100 million...

 Missouri hunter Tim Phillips is all smiles after using his late grandfather's worn Marlin 30.30Grandpa's Gun Tags Giant Buck, Ends Multi-Year Quest Stories

Grandpa's Gun Tags Giant Buck, Ends Multi-Year Quest

Lynn Burkhead - November 21, 2017

Missouri hunter Tim Phillips is all smiles after using his late grandfather's worn Marlin...

See More Stories

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now