Elk Hunting: The Sounds of September

I sat on the porch of the shooting house at my local gun club; except for me the porch was empty. In front of me was a .22 range, a centerfire range and a pistol range – also empty. I had a gun for each range in the car in case the spirit over took me, but I was mostly looking for a conversation with a like mind.

To the left of the shooting house was the archery range. For a half-hour I’d watched as a young man shot arrow after arrow with intense focus. He shot standing, kneeling and sitting. Sometimes leaning forward, other times leaning backward. At one point he took three steps at full draw, stopped, then shot.

What I found most impressive about his shooting was the size of his groups. He shot five arrows at a time at a target about the size of a quarter and every group was about the size of a baseball and right on target. Not impressed yet? He was shooting from 70 yards.

When I couldn’t take it anymore I walked up to the young man and asked, “What gives?”

“Sorry sir?” He asked a little confused.

“Well, I’ve been watching you for a while now and I can’t figure out if you are some sort of trick shooter or if you just have too much time on your hands.” I think he thought I was kidding; I wasn’t.

“Last year on an elk hunt in Colorado I bugled two different bulls in to 70 yards. I couldn’t get closer to either and I wasn’t prepared to shoot that far. I’m headed back in two weeks and this time I’ll be ready.” He was dead serious.

“I’m pretty sure that if you don’t get a bull it won’t be because of your shooting. What are your plans to get closer?” He looked a little irritated at my suggestion that a broader strategy might be helpful.

“You’ve hunted elk before?” I could tell if I answered “no” that I was in for a lecture.

“I’ve killed one or two. Why don’t you give your bow a rest and meet me on the porch. I’ll buy you a pop and see if I can’t offer some helpful tips.” He obliged.

As I opened a bottle of pop I asked him to tell me the story of the two bulls that got away. “Same story happened twice. I was in the aspens trading bugles with a bull. He came in to about 70 yards, stopped bugling then just walked away.”

I couldn’t help but smile. I’ve been there. Heck, every person that has ever called to an elk has been there. When I suggested that he should stop hunting bugles and start hunting elk his face showed both curiosity and agitation; when he sat back in his chair instead of standing to leave I knew he really wanted a bull, and that I’d finally found the conversation for which I’d been looking.

Hunters new to chasing elk during the rut are immediately beguiled by the bugle. It’s no surprise that the elk rut is often referred to as “bugle season.” Anyone who has ever listened to a bugle rise from the bowels of dark timber and ascend toward the painful blue of a Rocky Mountain sky knows that there is no call on this earth more captivating than that of a bull elk.

So captivating is the bugle that inexperienced elk hunters can, and do, forget that the bugle is but one piece in the puzzle of hunting during the rut. Successfully calling elk requires a genuine understanding of the elk rut, knowledge of all the vocalizations made by elk during the rut and a comprehension of the “other sounds” that elk produce during the rut as a result of preparing to court and breed.


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