Elk Calling: A Beginners Guide

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When most hunters think about hunting, elk is not the first thing that comes to mind. There are hogs, and there are bears with the little known elk. However, there is a reason not so many people have elk trophies, and it is because elk ranks highest as one of the toughest games to hunt.  To hunt elk successfully, one must include different hunting tactics as not so many people can claim it as a trophy or a reward. As an experienced hunter, you must lure elk to your stand if you want to get a clear shot.  

Calling prey is a hunting tactic common for all hunters. You might want to check out our article on Calling Deer and Coyotes. I have used it before with success and can encourage novice hunters to try it out as well. 

However, when it comes to elk, I was out of my depth because I had doubts if it would be effective enough for them to respond to my calls. I suppose it was because I initially did not know how to use the different elk calls available in the market. I started by scaring them away before I could lure them. In this guide, you will understand why you must take out the guesswork from elk calling and have a successful hunt.  

Understanding Elk Sounds and Vocalizations

Elks like deer use different sounds to communicate different messages when facing any circumstances. It is a preferred survival instinct that they have perfected, which helps keep them alive. If you are a skilled hunter like I am, you should take advantage of and intercept the communication pattern. Learn how to interpret each elk sound, understand what they mean, and lure them to your standpoint.  

I have seen many elks, and in the woods, they walk like ghosts appearing and disappearing before you get the chance to have a clear shot. Finding an elk is quite challenging, and it is the most tiresome part of hunting. When you get into the woods, you can seem to find all wild game movements except elk. Experienced hunters can track them by their habitat and characteristics. If you are just starting on elk hunting, you must know the sounds elk make and establish the area. Once you know this information, know the right sounds to make, which can attract other elks. Sounds straightforward, but I must warn you, calling elk is easier said than done.  

All elk sounds are specific to their needs and the time of the Season. Singing the wrong vocalization at the right time may scare away the elk instead of attracting them towards the place you have set your stand. If you must imitate elk sounds correctly, you must identify with the following elk vocalizations before embarking on the hunt, as it may prove to be a futile hunt.  

Scared and Nervous Sounds

Elks are similar to deer and they tend to have a herd mentality, something that has made them survive many years in the woods without extinction from hunters and predators alike.  When elk feed together, they are each other’s keepers and often give out sounds and signals when they feel threatened or sense imminent danger. 


Sniffs are typical for deer but also for elk. It does not matter what sounds you make if the wind betrays you, and the elk catches your whiff; once they smell your scent, they are off. On rare occasions, do elks use sniffing sound, but when they do, just know they have made you. 

I overcame this challenge by using different tactics to tell wind direction. Mostly, I squirt powder in the air, which lets me know the wind direction. I also found a feather tied to my bow to help determine wind direction. Sniffing is an elk’s way of catching suspect scent looming in the air. As the sniffs get louder, the elks get on edge and all scamper to safety. 


An elk bark is one of the sounds that if you hear as a hunter, it means you have been made. As a novice hunter imitating an elk’s bark will put them on edge, and when they get nervous, you can say goodbye to your hunting experience. It is a warning sound that elk make when they want to alert the herd of impending danger. The sound is characteristic of a single, loud, and sharp sound that may sound like it comes from a dog, but only this time, it is an elk making it. Whenever you hear this sound, know that the elk herd will soon leave the hunting area.  

Elk Mew

It is a sound commonly for elk mothers and calves that makes them communicate their bond to each other. Though the mew can be a subtle sound, a high pitch will mean distress. The sound is similar to that of a kitten but only a lot louder because of the size of the calf and the cow elk. 

Not all the time you hear an elk mew is a bonding call. When the calf separates from the mother, it will also mew frequently as it tries to locate its mother. It is among the best calls I have enjoyed as a hunter as it gets even unrelated cows rushing towards the mew sounds. When the maternal instincts kick in, elk will come your way, especially if the herd has calves around them.   

Angry and Distraught Sounds

The best time to hunt for elk is similar to the whitetail deer, and it’s during the rut. The bull elk will be chasing after the cow elks, and when this happens, they do not seem to care about their safety. They will give away their positions and become reckless and noisy. 

When a bull elk is on heat, it will make sounds to warn off other males or try to intimidate them by alerting them of its presence. When dominant elk bulls hear these sounds from other bulls, they get unnerved and may make sounds that warn and seduce the cow elks at the same time. I especially love these hunting moments as they pinpoint exactly where the herd is making tracking and hunting less challenging. 

Bull Bugles 

The bugle is among the defining characteristics of the elk call and is also the most famous elk calls hunters like to make. The sound may start as a low pitch growl that turns into a scream, which is quite high-pitched. 

Elks inhabit the high mountains, and at night it is the only characteristic sound that may alert you to where the herd is. It makes it easy to hunt bull elk all year round, but as the rut approaches, the bulls become dominant, and the bugle noise is synonymous. 

The bugle is a sound of dominance that bull elk makes as a display of dominance and territory control. If a rival bull makes the same sound in an occupied territory, it calls for a challenge that warrants a response. I especially like to use the bugle call as it makes for the best trophies since elk bulls have big racks. 


A chuckle is the low-pitch sounds that immediately follow an elk bull bugle sound. The chuckles and bugle sounds tend to portray the size and dominance of the bull elk. It is also aimed at choosy cow elks who are looking for a dominant male for mating. 

It is usually a long bugle followed by a chuckle that intimidates other bulls. However, using these sounds together may scare the young bulls away from the territory as they fear a powerful male. But for the trophy hunter, it means other dominant males will follow the sound hence a rewarding prize. 


Glunks are deep and drum-like sounds that the elk bulls make. They are less conspicuous and travel long distances. Glunks are much like the bugles as they are supposed to intimidate and scare rival bull elks from a territory. The deep pitch makes the sound to be carried over long distances hence marks the territory of a dominant bull elk. 

Glunks carry the testosterone of raging elk bulls at the beginning of the rut season. They are a sound that attracts contesting bulls and alerts the cows as well. I also prefer using glunks and bugles when I want to lure bull elks into my hunting stand. 

Other Elk Vocalizations

Not all sounds that elks make are aggressive or borne from fear. Sometimes elks communicate their feelings to each other, which is especially common for calves and the cow elks. Elks also get excited and make happy sounds to display their moods, which can sometimes be somber as well.  

Cow Chirps

When elk cows herd together, they communicate lots of social calls. When they talk to each other, they may want to display affection towards one another or their calves. The elk cow sounds resemble their calves mew but at a slightly lowered pitch because of their large bodies compared to their calves. 

Estrus Scream

During the rut, cow elk get on heat and will call for the bulls. These calls alert dominant bull elks in the area that they are ready to mate. The sounds often drive the bull elks into a frenzy and make them rush to the sound’s direction. 

Elk Calves Mew

Calf elk sounds sound similar to elk cows as they use them to communicate with their mothers. The sounds varying on the pitch may communicate different messages. It is a social sound and a distress call when they are trying to find their mothers. 

When the cows are on the move, they use mew sounds to keep track of their calves as they can herd separately at times. The calves mew sounds are not as high pitched as their mothers, which is because of their body size. 

Understanding When to Call for Elks

Calling on elk is a tactic that complements my shooting and hunting abilities, but some people complain that it scares away their prey. Sometimes, calling on elk fails for me, which is why I realized I was doing it wrong. 

When it’s Early in the Season

Elk calling rarely works when it’s early in the Season as you might make the wrong noises. Elk calls are successful when the elks have excess activity during the Season. These times are when the elks are not only feeding but busy with mating and socializing. The perfect time to use aggressive elk calling is when the bulls get ready to mate, and the cows are on heat.  

Bugle calls are successful during this period as bulls size each other sparring and fighting in readiness for the mating season. 

When the Elk Bull resides in the area

It is challenging and even risky to call on a bull that lives in the area as it may scare it away since it is familiar with the territory. If you want to let a bull let its guard down, you must understand its comfort zones. 

Sometimes using better tactics outweighs elk calling. I prefer using scent elimination and holding a hidden stand when I am not sure about the bulls in the territory I am hunting in. 

Understanding the Elk Personality

Elks have different personalities, much like us humans. Some elks may display timid characteristics and get spooked easily while others will wait to see what danger lurks around. Easily spooked elk will run at any inconsistent sound you make while other bulls may heed to your calls out of curiosity. 

I spend most of my hunting hours scouting a region before I embark on hunting, as this makes me get acquainted with the bull in that area. I also get to understand the elk’s body language before making a call.  

Hunting Elk in Pressurized Areas

Calling on elk that reside in an area where they are used to getting hunted can be futile. They are probably accustomed to the sounds hunters make when hunting them. Also, elks that have seen many hunters are less likely to respond to calls regardless of how authentic it may sound. 

Your luck may especially be bad if you hunt an elk that a previous hunter already tried luring with a call and failed at killing.  

Types of Elk Calls 

When I first started sourcing for the best elk calls, I was unaware of the different varieties in the market. It is especially confusing if you do not know under the circumstances that each elk call should be used. I, therefore, had to try out different elk calls before I got it right.

From experience, I would recommend that hunters carry multiple elk calls for different elk sounds when they hunt and see which one works for them. But this is for the novice hunters who are yet to understand which elk sound they need for the hunting season.   


It is favorite for turkey hunters, but the design is among the most versatile for elk calling in the market. The design features a thin horseshoe-like device that can have one or many latexes stretching from across its center.

This is my favorite because I can use it to mimic almost all sounds elk make, with only slight modifications to its design.  The diaphragm also leaves the hunters hands free when hunting as you can use it on the mouth hands free. You can easily stop an unsuspecting bull elk from waking to get a clear shot by mimicking the soft calls of a cow elk. When the bull stops to look into your direction, that is your chance, and often is only a single chance that you must not waste. 

However, I must warn you that this is not for the novice hunter as it is among the most difficult you will have to master. Also, when using this elk call, you must ensure you do not have anything in your mouth. It is because this may make an unwanted sound and scare away the elk instead of drawing it near to you. The bottom line is that the diaphragm elk call needs a lot of practice to get all the elk vocalizations right. 


Unlike the diaphragm, the reed is handheld, and you cannot call and shoot at the same time. When you blow through a reed, the air will pass across the shape of the reed and make the appropriate elk call you want. When I was using the reed for the elk call, I discovered that I could make different tones repeatedly depending on the elk call I wanted to make. 

Some elk calls create different sounds because I was changing the pressure on the reed. I did this by tightening my lips and making different variations of how hard I could blow it. For other reed designs, I had to squeeze on the device to make different elk calls. 

The best thing about reed calls is that they are easy to use, and you will not need lots of practice to master. When using the reed call for elk hunting, select the one with multiple elk call variations as this ensures that you spend less money to get the most reed vocalizations. 

However, reed calls also have their downside, as they can get ruined by your saliva and end up having an unwanted elk call. But when the reed dries, you can use it efficiently again. 


It is the kind of elk call that is quite reliable as they are easy to use. All it needs from the hunter is to squeeze it, and this will force air across the reed.  Similar to the reed described above, it is not a hands-free option, and this will force the hunter to call then reach for his weapon.  

However, you can address this issue by keeping the elk call on a lanyard and dropping it whenever necessary. An example of the manual reed elk calls is the Hoochie Mama and is a design by Primos.


A bugle is an elk call that works by vocalizing the bugle of bull elks. The design features a diaphragm with a tube attached to one end. The purpose of the tube is to create a reverberating sound that elks often make when bugling. If you want to make different tones, all you have to do is to vary the pressure on the latex. Different designs can be used manually to change the pressure on the latex. Sometimes the attached tube can be used together with a regular diaphragm elk call, making the sounds more realistic.


The digital world is never short of technological advancements.  Electronic elk calls feature apps that can be used to turn your tablet or smartphone into an electronic elk call. The best thing about these kinds of elk calls is that they are so simple to use. By the touch of a button, you can get the particular elk call you need for your hunt. However, it is not that easy as some users may not understand how to operate the electronic device. 

The downside to using electronic calls is that the sounds may not be loud enough or even realistic. There is also the problem of having to use your hands to make the call. You will also not find readily available lanyard to allow you to drop your smartphone when an elk stops to look in your direction. The greatest disadvantage is that most states do not allow the use of electronic calls for hunting elk. 


Hunting elks using calls is one of the many ways both novice and skilled hunters can expand their chances of having a successful hunt. To make this tactic successful, you must understand elk language and vocalizations and know exactly when to use them on the hunt.

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