Nothing beats hearing the guttural bugle of a bull elk.

A few weeks ago, before the massive Pole Creek fire ripped through the area I hunt elk, I was up doing a bit of fishing and scouting. I fly fished my way up to a meadow, timing it so I arrived at dusk. I pulled my binos out of my pack and glassed the edges of the meadow, looking for movement between the thick pines.

I didn’t see anything, but I heard one loud bugle ring out. Not so close as to be ear-splitting, but close enough I figured I’d see the animal soon. The elk bugled again, and a few cows chirped back in response. Trying to get its attention, I did my best imitation of a cow elk.

I didn’t have a call and it sounded like crap, but this bull was rutty enough that he roared back. It continued for a few minutes before my terrible cow chirps either spooked him or he moved on to a real cow. Either way, it was the first chance I’d had to be in the midst of bugling elk this year, and it got me excited for my upcoming cow and spike hunts.

Last year, I hunted spike with a good spotting scope and binos. I had a shot on one and saw a few others, but I didn’t close the deal. After this recent bugling session, though, I started to consider bringing a few calls along on the hunt. Here in Utah, our cow and spike elk rifle hunts run during the general season, around October 6-18. The rut is usually done then, but the elk are still active enough that they’re vocal in the early and late hours of the day.

Of course, this means I have to buy a bunch of new toys now. How can I carry a call on the hunt if I don’t trust it completely? Kidding aside, I had absolutely no idea where to start when looking for calls. I’ve never called elk in – or other big game – because that’s just not how I was taught to hunt. I’m content to glass ridges and faces, looking for places elk should be. Calling elk is a new ballgame, but one I’m stoked to try out this hunting season.

With that in mind, I compiled a list of what the hunting community considers the best elk calls available. From asking the pros here on Guidefitter to my hunting buddies, and readings tons of articles, these are the calls that consistently top the list as must-haves.

No matter which brand of elk call you choose, it’s important to master your technique. The more realistic you sound, the better your chances of calling a bull into range.

Primos Hoochie Pack Call

This call showed up consistently in magazine and online articles, as well as in conversations with guides. The draw here is that the Primos Hoochie Pack Call gives you a lightweight option for simulating an entire herd of elk. The call is light enough to carry around your neck, but versatile enough that you can successfully imitate cow or calf elk.

A herd is a more attractive target for bull elk because there’s more opportunity for a mate than just a lone cow. If you know some big bulls are around but can’t glass them, this call might be able to pull them to you.

Rocky Mountain Bugling Bulls Bully Bull

This call was recommended by the guides on Guidefitter, and those are recommendations I take seriously. From what I’ve gathered, these calls are pretty easy to learn to use. They’re meant to be used in conjunction with a diaphragm call and give you the ability to generate a wider range of tones in your bugle.

Obviously, these calls are made to imitate rutting bulls. These are best used when there’s already a fair amount of bugling taking place; adding a new one to the mix adds a new target for the big bull of the herd to come bully.

Trinity Wood Game Calls

Another highly-recommended call from guides and hunting buddies of mine are wooden calls. One person, in response to a question I posted on Guidefitter, said that wooden calls are the most realistic, consistent products for imitating cow elk.

Trinity calls, in particular, come recommended from bowhunting magazines. Bowhunters generally get to hunt the peak of the rut and, by nature of their weapons, get closer and more personal with elk than any rifle hunter usually does. I’ll take their recommended calls any day of the week.

Honorable Mentions

These calls were recommended by users across social media – not necessarily all guides or outfitters. But they’re hunters – and that makes their opinions just as valid.

  • Bugling Bull Game Calls
  • Smith Game Calls Yellow Jacket
  • Primos Power Bugle and Cow Calls
  • Wayne Carlton Calls (Specifically, Carlton’s Long Ranger)

Obviously, there are plenty of other call brands on the market, but these three rose to the top of the pack in all discussions I’ve had on the subject over the past few weeks. I’m still not sure which call I plan on throwing in my pack. To be safe, I better take all three. After all, you can never have enough gear to help outwit wild animals, right?

8 COMMENTS

  • Tyler Miller

    Tyler Miller

    I have played with well over 50 bulls with the Primos HyperLip Single Call. Truth though; I pack at least 5 different cow calls and options for 2 different bull bugle calls. I have found that without question the more "different " of a group of elk that you can sound like the better luck you will have.

  • Robert Terwilliger

    Robert Terwilliger

    No doubt Rocky Mountain Bugling Bulls makes some great bugle tubes and calls. However, Jason Phelps at Phelps Calls is making arguably the best selection / line up of diaphragm calls on the market! Perfecting use of a diaphragm call is about finding the right call that fits your mouth in order to achieve the best sound and they have a great selection. Additionally, Mile High Game Calls here in Colorado also makes a great bugle tube and their "floozy" reed call is second to none! Last comment is carrying several calls both reed and diaphragm is always a great strategy and mix it up. It will enable you to sound like different cows (or bulls) which works well and enables you to "play the tune" a given bull wants to hear!

  • Dwane Dardis

    Dwane Dardis

    Native by Carlton has brought Wayne Carlton's original calls to a whole different level. If you aren't familiar with them yet, don't miss out! These are top-quality open reed Cow Calls as well as the Ripit series Diaphragm reeds with the new, industry changing, Call Armor tape. These reeds are amazing sounding, as well and as the most durable Diaphragm reed I have ever used. Check them out at www.nativebycarlton.com.

  • Lance Bernal

    Lance Bernal

    I second, Rocky Mounting Hunting Calls. The "Trophy Wife" and "Ignite Her Wild" are my go to for open reed calls. My favorite diaphragms are the "Black Magic" and "Fury". Any one of the tubes I'll use.

  • Tyler Andreatta

    Tyler Andreatta

    Phelps calls are the only calls I use now. Tried his calls last year, customer service is off the charts not mention the quality and sound you get is unmatched for me so far. To each their own when it comes to any game call in my opinion but I am Phelps calls fan all the way...and they elk have been too!

  • Michael Kraft

    Michael Kraft

    E.L.K. Calls made in Gardiner Montana work great for me.

  • Robert Massa

    Robert Massa

    Native by Carlton, reeds, exposed reed, excellent calls

  • Mark Reams

    Mark Reams

    Phelps calls are right there with rocky mountain calls! I use both...