Editor’s Note: Wayne Carlton, host of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s “Elk Country Journal” TV show, has hunted and guided for elk for more than 32 years. Carlton’s the father of the diaphragm elk call and a member of Hunter’s Specialties’ Pro Hunt Staff. We’ve asked Carlton to give us his best tips for hunting elk.
Locate the area in each state that produces the most big bull elk to find big elk to hunt. Check the Boone and Crockett (B&C) and Pope and Young (P&Y) records to learn the states and the counties in those states that historically have produced the largest elk. Too, learn which counties have most-recently produced record bull elk. Due to habitat changes, the more current your information about bull elk, the better your odds are for finding them. Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho and trophy units in Colorado all have produced big elk.
Scout the area you’ve chosen to hunt. If you don’t have a good guide who knows where the elk wallows are, and where the elk like to feed and bed, you’ll spend an enormous amount of time trying to find elk to hunt. In most of the arid states like New Mexico and Arizona, the quickest way to scout for elk is to first locate the water holes, water tanks and ponds, which are stationary and generally rather small. The elk must concentrate at those watering places, unlike the elk along streams running the entire lengths of canyons. Historically numbers of big elk have come from arid states.
Hunt elk in their beds. During the early morning, elk will move from their feeding spots to their bedding areas with their cows. Late in the afternoon, they’ll move out of their bedding regions toward their grazing places. Normally, you won’t be able to call a big bull elk to you. The only way you can use calls effectively to get a big bull to you is to get extremely close to him. You’ve got to hunt him where he’ll spend most of his daylight hours, and that’s in his bedding area.
Know what calls to use when you get in close to big bulls. One of my favorite calls is the challenge bugle of a young bull. The lost cow call or aggressive cow call are two other calls you need in your calling repertoire. Don’t just learn how to give one call, but have many different calls you can use to talk to that bull elk. Learn the different types of bugles. You don’t just want to use a fluty type of bugle. Also, learn to do a screaming bugle call, which will aggravate the bull you’re trying to take and make him come in to you. You want to challenge that bull and let him know that you’ve come into his bedding area to date his girlfriends.
Have patience, especially in the early part of the season. This past season in 2006, I guided a hunter to a bull that scored 320 B&C on public land in Colorado. On the first day of the season, we took the bull at our first spot, but not until 11:45 am. We sat in the area I’d chosen to call from for 45 minutes and never heard an elk, even after I’d gone through a series of calls. Finally, we heard one cow call back. I went through a series of bugles, using a Hunter’s Specialties Mac Daddy and some of my diaphragm calls. Then I gave a long dramatic cow call, really dragging it out. After sitting in that one spot and calling for 50 minutes, I finally heard the bull give one grunt. That grunt told me the bull was in the area, but that he wouldn’t come to where I was calling.
We closed the distance to him from about 200 yards, and within 10 minutes, the bull came walking to us with half a spruce tree hanging in his antlers. My bowhunter took this 6x7 bull elk when the elk was 17-yards away from him. We hunted in the bedding area, we were patient enough to wait until the bull let us know where he was, we got close to him, and he finally came to us.