Turkey Tactics that Take Big Bulls

Elk Hunting
The steep mountains and larger home area of elk make it elk hunting physically demanding. But there is not a more beautiful hunt.

Many first-time elk hunters are from east of the Mississippi River, where they have some experience hunting wild turkeys. One way for them to minimize the learning curve on their initial attempt at elk hunting is to use their turkey hunting skills as a basis for pursuing elk. An owner of one of the biggest game calling companies and a master at both disciplines explains how to make the transition.

"Elk hunting is an advanced course in turkey hunting tactics and techniques," he says. "The steep mountains and larger home area of elk make it physically more challenging. But you can apply basic turkey hunting skills to elk hunting and become successful early on.

"The key," He said, "is to respect the strong points of the elk -- its sense of smell and good eyesight -- and attack its weak points -- its hearing, and at the right time of year, the breeding urge."

Hunting The Rut

Elk Hunter
It is very important to be able to adjust your plan according to the movements of the elk or turkeys, and make your own moves based on what is happening at any given moment. If it means dropping to your knees to get a better angle, you must drill yourself and practice in such ways so you are effective in taking such action.

During the pre-rut, the veteran elk hunter recommends bugling to locate bulls, and then cow calling to attack them. "The earliest bugling is just the bulls sounding off, feeling their oats," he said. "The big boys probably won't come to you, but you can use the bugle to find them, and then sneak in closer. Once in close, cow calls can bring them in." He likens these bugles, which he calls "shock bugles," to the shock gobble used in turkey hunting.

During the peak of the rut, bulls have their cows already rounded up, and are reluctant to leave them to take on a challenging, bugling bull -- or elk hunter. This is the time to use mating calls, including both the cow call and what has been termed the "excited" cow call, which imitates a cow elk at the peak of her estrus cycle. "Excited cow calling involves making a series of excited mews, chirps, and squeals," he said, "just like the excited yelps, cuts, and the fighting purr work at the same time on turkeys.

"The secret is to get a bull so worked up that he will make a mistake, which is coming over to the excited cow sounds you're making and try to round you up to be part of his harem. This works on both the more dominant herd bulls, as well as the younger satellite bulls that are always circling a herd of cows during the rut." He compares the antics of satellite bull elk to Jake turkeys.

During the post rut period, he recommends using calls as a primary tool of locating bulls, then moving in as silently as possible. "After the rut, the bulls are worn out and tired," he said. "They've been chased by bowhunters and gun hunters blowing calls out of control, too. They aren't going to come to your calls, but they may answer once or twice, which is all you need to pinpoint their location and plan a stalk."

Once you get a bull to answer you during post-rut conditions, he recommends getting quickly into position. "Often the elk will be moving away from you, wanting to be left alone," he said. "You have to anticipate their line of travel and, often, run as fast as you can to get ahead of them." The same can be said of an old gobbler that won't come to your calls, but instead travels on a line away from your position. Once close, a single soft cow call or yelp can often bring the bull or gobbler that few steps closer needed to get an open shot.

Stay Flexible

Elk Hunters
Novice elk hunters can use their turkey hunting experiences as a basis for elk hunting, and vice versa

He emphasized the need to remain flexible in your approach to both hunting hunting turkeys and elk. "It is very important to be able to adjust your plan according to the movements of the elk or turkeys, and make your own moves based on what is happening at any given moment," he said. "Too many hunters do the same thing day in and day out, falling into a pattern of doing something that may have worked for them once, but isn't necessarily what is going to work for them today. To be consistently successful, you have to be able to adapt your techniques and tactics, often several times during a single encounter."

Honor The Senses

"With elk, you have to watch the wind every second or you're history," he emphasized. "Because elk are noisy animals, you can run, breaking branches and stomping your feet, to get the wind right and get away with it, if they don't see you move. But if they see you, it's all over. You have to be especially careful that a cow or satellite bull doesn't bust you, too." With turkeys, the wind is not a factor, but staying hidden is. "With turkeys, the ambush you set has to be more passive, with less movement," he said. "With elk, the ambush can be more active as you move to get into position."

Use Your Experiences

"Novice elk hunters can use their turkey hunting experiences as a basis for elk hunting, and vice versa. This is a great way to get started in an unfamiliar type of hunting," he said. "Just remember that they're the same, only different. You always have to be ready to adjust in the middle of the hunt, and be willing to learn new tricks every time you're in the woods. That's the best way to become a consistently successful elk hunter."

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