Finding and Taking Monster Elk with Wayne Carlton

Editor’s Note: Wayne Carlton of Montrose, Colorado, the creator of Carlton’s Calls, part of the Hunter’s Specialties’ fine call line, and host of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s “Elk Country Journal” TV show, has hunted and guided for elk for more than 32 years. In the last few years, he’s taken several monster bull elk. This week, Carlton will tell us his secrets to finding and taking big elk.

In November, 2007, I had a knee operation. I hunted the 2008 archery season for elk, and by the end of the season, I was in a lot of pain from my knee, I was tired, and I didn’t want to walk a lot. On the last day of the archery season, I went to an area in New Mexico that hadn’t been hunted very much. I hadn’t seen much sign in this region in previous months, but the hunting pressure around this spot had moved the elk into this place.

Early in the morning of the last day, I heard an elk bugle twice. Well, it wasn’t really a bugle. He gave two deep pitiful growls, sounding like a big old Brahma bull. So, I told Phillip Vanderpool, my videographer for the hunt, “I’m tired, worn-out and hurting, and we chased elk all day yesterday. I know where there’s a dirt stock tank with water in it, and if that bull’s in that area, he’ll go to that tank. Let’s go check it out.” When we reached the dirt tank, we could tell by the tracks on the ground around the tank that the elk were coming there to drink.

One of the first secrets to taking big elk is to know where the water’s located on the place you’ll be hunting, and where on the property the elk will go to escape hunting pressure. Oftentimes elk will travel 1 mile or as much as 5 miles to find water. So, generally wherever the water’s located, that’s where you’ll find the elk, especially when you’re hunting dry, arid terrain like I was hunting in New Mexico.

After we’d checked out the water hole, we took our tree stands and set-up close to the water by 2:00 pm. We’d sprayed the entire area with Hunter’s Specialties’ Scent-A-Way spray as well as our equipment and ourselves and then parked for the afternoon. I went through a long series of cow calls and bugles to let every elk in the area know there were other elk at this watering hole. Then I put my calls in my pocket and just sat and listened for about 1-1/2-hours. About 3:30 pm, I heard the bull growl again, but I didn’t call back to him. I left my call in my pocket because I wanted to know if the elk would come in or walk off on his own without my having to call to him. About 40-minutes later, the old bull growled again. I could tell he was closer, so I didn’t call to him.

Another secret to calling elk is if the bull’s coming to you, don’t call. Sit still, be quiet, and wait. Finally, at about 6:30 pm, about 30 or 40 minutes before dark, that bull came to that stock tank, and I took him with my bow at 15 yards. From that hunt, I learned that:

  •  patience will take more bulls than fancy calling will;
  •  the elimination of human odor using Scent-A-Way products around my stand and equipment and by constantly spraying myself and the area kept the bull from smelling me when he came in to the stock tank;
  •  the locations of the water tanks is like finding gold because elk need water, especially in dry terrain;
  •  the area with the least amount of hunting pressure is where elk have to be to survive; and
  •  the most important factor to taking elk is being where the elk want to be, when they want to be there.

Although Hunter’s Specialties’ makes fantastic elk calls, both cow and bugle, these calls are 100% more effective if you’re in the area where the elk wants to come, whether you use the calls or not. To effectively use elk calls, know how and when to blow the calls, and most importantly, when not to blow the calls. Remember, I did a lot of calling when I first arrived at the water tank, establishing that both cows and bulls were at that water tank getting water. Every elk within earshot of that water tank knew elk were there. So, I didn’t have to re-convince them. I just had to wait for them to show-up, another secret to successfully taking elk. Wait for the elk to show-up where they should be, when they’re supposed to be there. If you think you’ve waited long enough on a bull, wait 1 or 2 hours longer, and many times that bull will appear.