Hunting the Elk Rut with “The Linguist” Corey Jacobsen
Corey Jacobsen, of Boise, Idaho, is a 4-Time World Champion Elk Caller.
Corey serves as the Pro Staff Director for Sitka Gear and has been hunting elk in over-the-counter archery units on public land in Idaho for over 20 years.
He has placed in the top 5 at the RMEF World Championship Elk Calling contest 10 of the past 11 years
Elk Calling TacticsÂ
By Corey Jacobsen
Calling elk is probably the one area where the greatest gap between confidence and insecurity exists. There are so many variables and factors in calling elk that it can become overwhelming. Many hunters are completely confused, and donât even know where to start. How do I learn to use calls? What sounds do I need to practice? When do I use each sound? Do I bugle too much? Should I use a cow call instead of a bugle? What did the bull just say to me, and should I respond aggressively or timidly? Why is the bull bugling aggressively, but running away? Why did that bull just sneak in on me? Why is he hanging up at 100 yards? What call should I use to break him loose? And on and on and on goes the questions and the doubts.
The confusion that often comes from this one topic can be enough to cloud not only our understanding, but also our hope of being successful. Fortunately, it doesnât have to be confusing or complicated. And there is no need to worry that your calling abilities or understanding are going to keep you from being successful.
Many of you probably know that I am an engineer. You probably also know that it took me a long time to learn to be successful as an elk hunter. Coincidently, once I applied my engineering thinking to elk hunting, my success rates increased exponentially. And, that thinking also made my approach to calling elk much simpler.
Engineering has taught me to break processes down to the basic mechanics, and then simplify the process (eliminate unnecessary steps) to the point where it is producing the most efficient yields. Believe me, I once stood in that vast wilderness of elk calling doubt, and have felt the overwhelming despair of not knowing what to do, and being absolutely frustrated that the elk wouldnât do what I wanted them to do. I knew my calling sounded realistic enough, but something was missing in my efforts. So, how did I overcome it? I simplified my approach.
The most-asked question that I see in response to this topic is âHow do I understand what the elk are saying, and what do I say to respond?â However, I think there is a second question that probably holds more value for this discussion, and is just an extension of the first question. It is, âWhen should I be aggressive or timid, and how do I know whether I should respond with a bugle or a cow call?â
As I go through this topic, remember that I once had the same questions you have in regards to calling elk. Through many years of trial and error, and simplifying my strategy, here is what I have concluded. There are two trains of thought when it comes to calling elk. First, you can try to analyze every single sound the elk makes and attempt to define it and assign a language to it in order to make the best response. This approach involves allowing the elk to control the conversation and all of our actions become a âbest-guessâ reaction to what the elk says or does. You can only imagine the plethora of combinations of elk sounds and actions you would need to learn, memorize, and act upon.
Or, you could completely ignore what the elk is saying and learn to control the situation with your communication, regardless of what the elk says. This is definitely the more simple approach, but would it really work? Honestly, yes. In fact, Iâve found that the more I simplify my calling strategy, the more confident I become in my calling abilities and the more success I enjoy.
So, now as we go back and look at that question, the real question becomes, âWhat do I want to say to the elk to control the situation?â And thatâs completely up to you. If you are always responding to the elk, they are controlling the conversation. And if an elk is in control, you will have a hard time gaining an advantage over him. So, just ask yourself this question: What is the reaction you want to elicit from the elk? Do you want him to come slipping in out of curiosity, or do you want him ripping large trees out of the ground as he comes storming in to annihilate the challenger? Either one is fine, and both can lead to a successful hunt. You just need to determine how you are most comfortable calling and hunting, and then go and do it.
It really boils down to this: bull elk respond to two primary vocal triggers â the desire to breed (cow calls) or the desire to fight (bugles). Outside of those two factors, there really isnât any other reason a bull elk will be likely to come in to your calling. So, you need to funnel your communication into one of those emotional triggers.
Someone recommended that I create a flow diagram for the process I go through as I determine how to approach each calling situation. I actually have one already created, and it is very simple. In fact, I am able to approach every single calling setup the exact same way, and it doesnât matter if itâs the pre-rut or the peak rut. My goal is the same regardless of the day â I want to call in a bull elk. And to do that, I have to trigger an emotional response from him. Since there are only two emotional triggers I can use, my choices are simple â cow call to make him think there is a cow there to be bred, or bugle to make him think there is a bull there for him to fight.
But this is where the real psychology of elk calling comes inâ¦.itâs not necessarily what you say (the cow call or the bugle) that will elicit the response from him âÂ itâs how you say it. If you want a bull to get excited about a lonely cow that is ready to be bred, you need to play the part. Communicate that loneliness and desperation to the bull. That doesnât mean you have to go all âhyper-hotâ and cause thumb cramps from rapid-action on the Hoochie Mama. But you do need to trigger his emotions. Every time he bugles, talk right back to him with cow calls. Tell him you are interested in him, and invite him to come hang out with you. Put emotion into your cow callsâ¦donât just use a basic, mechanical cow call to make an elk sound. Use your emotion to communicate what you want the elk to hear.
On the other hand, if you want to deliver a message that will get the bull fighting mad, what do you need to say? Or rather, how do you need to say it? With emotion, right? If you use your Marty McFly voice and timidly say, âGee Biff, one of these days Iâm going to get angry and youâll be sorryâ, the bull is going to laugh at you and walk off. Youâre not serious, and youâre not a worthy challenger. If you scream venom and fire at the bull, however, and insult him to the point that every other elk in the valley is laughing at him, heâs going to be more apt to come looking for a fight. Maybe Iâm just a natural-born pesterer, but using emotion in my calling to start a fight with a bull elk has been insanely effective.
To summarize this concept, donât worry about what the elk is saying. If you have any chance of calling him in, you are going to have to control the conversation and trigger one of two emotional responses in the elk â either his desire to breed or his desire to fight. Yes, it is possible to call in a timid, call-shy bull with a blind calling setup where you sit for 45 minutes and go through a full-range of herd communications to make the bull think there is a herd of elk there. But that same bull has a bottled-up emotional response ready to be triggered. Plus, when he comes in to your calls because of that emotional response, he becomes a much easier target. His guard is down and emotions â not logic – are controlling his actions. With logic, he is coming in warily and using his senses to protect him. With emotion, he is thinking only about breeding or fighting.
Additionally, those emotions are building within a bull elk from the middle of August all the way through the middle of October when they are finally done breeding and retreat back to their post-rut haunts to recover and prepare for winter. So, the simplicity of this calling strategy answers all of the top 3 questions: What is the elk saying? How should I respond? and How can I use calls during the pre-rut?
Now, there are quite a few additional variables that are definitely worth discussingâ¦.call-shy elk, bull-to-cow ratios, hunting pressure, choosing your setup, supplements to your calling, etc. All of these variables can add to or affect your calling. If you are able to simplify your actual calling approach though, you can then fine-tune your tactics and develop a calling strategy that you are confident in, and that works most effectively most of the time. And ultimately, that is what we need to be consistently successful.
Eat. Sleep. Hunt Elk.