Calling All Herd Bulls
Updated: May 10, 2018
Learn this one call to bring herd bulls screaming into your lap.
You know the scenario, the herd bull with cows. He is on lockdown, he will bugle back, but he is not coming into your calls no matter what you do. You chase him up and down the mountain, only to arrive back at the conclusion at which you started. Herd bulls do not come into calls once they have built their harem. Until now.
The truth, there is no magic call. The best call is the right one at the right time.
Rewind to a 2014 hunt. My hunting partner and I had located a large herd, with a herd bull and a smaller, but nice, subordinate 6-point. Many other satellite bulls cruised the periphery. The spectacle unfolded through our optics. The herd bull aggressively scattered the challengers any time they let loose with a bugle or approached his females. It was a carnival atmosphere, and the herd bulls unabashed aggression led me to believe he was vulnerable to a grunt- tube-wielding-bipedal-nimrod. The elk woods were preparing to, yet again, serve as cruel bed partner to practitioners of self deceit. The elk were too far to reach before nightfall. We made a plan for the morning.
To our surprise, the basin was silent the next morning. We kept pushing, thinking the circus of muscle and tine was just over the next ridge. As the wind began to switch directions and draw our hunt to a close, we turned and proceeded to leave. A faint bugle convinced us to stay. We moved in the direction of the bugle, and then chaos erupted. The bull met every noise we made with a growling return bugle. A leaf crunch, even my hunting partner urinating, were all met with an ear-rattling return.
I fell prey to a standard mistake, the kitchen sink approach to calling. I tried it all, cow calls, estrus cow calls, bugles, chuckles, and challenge calls. None of these techniques convinced the bull to show himself, but he had worked himself into a frenzy.
At one point, the bull began to slam his antlers into something. It sounded like someone had started a rock crusher. "Bigfoot playing the rock symbols." I told my hunting partner.
We stayed on that bull all day, he never broke from his cows. Towards the end of the night, Jessi ended up killing the subordinate bull who came into six yards.
In hindsight, I made one big mistake with the herd bull. I tried to pull him away from his cows without creating a situation that demanded he leave his cows. It is really that simple, in that instance I needed to do what the elk-nut Paul Medal calls the roundup bugle. More to the point, Joel Turner calls it the "bull calling cows bugle". See Joel's description at the website contained in the notes section of this blog.
The Mistake: Not enough variation in my calls.
That herd bull was doing exactly what he felt comfortable doing. Staying out of site, and keeping the others (cows and bulls alike) away from his harem. It was simple, a challenge bugle elicited a 'stay down there response', cow calls, elicited a 'come here response'. I am certain however, that had I started to bugle to his cows, he would have had no choice but to fight. No doubt in my mind, that bull should have been in our lap that day.
The roundup bugle has one key piece of vocalization included in it, a short lip-bawl. The lip-bawl is a hard call to learn, but it is deadly on herd bulls. You have to be in close, but then again, isn't that true with most calls?
Now, back to the 2017 season. All of Joel Turner's stuff on 'the bull calling cows bugle' convinced me that it was time to learn to lip bawl. I picked it up with some practice, and was ready to take it to the woods.
At the same time, I discovered Phelps Game calls. They make the some of the best diaphragm elk calls on the market. Jason Phelps has hit it out of the park with his AMP calls. They are loud and tone rich. The link to the calls are available in the notes section of this blog.
I hit the elk woods with a new sound, and it paid off in spades. The 'bull calling cows bugle' brought in several herd bulls, that I feel, would not have come in other-wise. I nearly killed the biggest bull of my life, a 340"+ monster.
Here is where it all falls apart. The bull in the photo above, he came into spitting distance of my brother and was lured in by an estrus cow call. He was a herd bull. At the time, I thought I had discovered "the one", the call that brings them in every time. There really is no such thing.
The call that brings them in, is the right call at the right time, to the right elk. To hit this sweet tone, you need to be able to make all the sounds an elk can make. You need to be able to create all the situations that can occur in the elk woods. Paul Medal has created a comprehensive phone application that explains all the different calls available. Links to this app are available in the notes section.
The Answer: Learn to make different calls. The lip bawl will change your life. Hunt for situations, and adapt your calling. You will be successful.
Joel Turners description of the "bull calling cows bugle": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0GLwTya44c&t=386s
Phelps Game calls are available at: http://phelpsgamecalls.com/
The Elknut app is available at: http://www.elknut.com/
Another great Elk hunting website is: http://www.elk101.com/ Corey Jacobsen (a World Champion Elk caller) includes allot of free knowledge here.