It’s safe to say that everything J.C. Navarro sets his mind to he accomplishes – in a big way. After a stellar high school football career, Navarro set his attention to living life eight dangerous seconds at a time. That’s right – Navarro became a bull rider. But that’s not the half of it. In just a few years the scrappy Wyoming cowboy jumped to the sport’s highest-playing field – the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) tour. Unfortunately, a series of injuries sidelined him. Undaunted, Navarro began chasing another dream.
“I was an OK leather worker,” Navarro said of the start of his leather-working career. But like everything else in his life, “OK” just wasn’t good enough. He put his nose to the grindstone, and his artistic skills quickly flourished. Today, Navarro is one of the most respected men in his craft, and his work can be seen on purses, day planners, wallets, belts and chaps around the country.
What does all this have to do elk hunting? Nothing. I just wanted you to see how hard Navarro goes after something he wants. And something he wanted, perhaps more than anything else, was to become an elk hunter.
“I look back at that first year and laugh,” said Navarro. “I didn’t know a thing, but I wanted to learn. I wanted to get better. I went into elk hunting just like everything else in my life – with a serious purpose. I didn’t want to be a good elk hunter. I wanted to be great.”
Mission accomplished. In just five short years Navarro has dropped the string on a number of bulls and called in countless others for many of his hunting buddies (yours truly included). His ability as an elk caller and hunter also earned him a spot on the illustrious Bugling Bulls pro staff.
I’ve bowhunted elk for a number of years and have hunted with some pretty good callers, but no one is quite like Navarro. He has a special gift, and this is his how he uses it:
BW: What’s the most important element to successfully calling elk?
Navarro: This may sound stupid, but sounding like an actual elk. Most calls on the market make excellent elk sounds, but very few hunters take the time to truly master them. When I started, I thought I could call elk. I was wrong. I listened to myself calling on a recording and then listened to actual elk talking on YouTube. I was way off. I really like diaphragm calls because of the range and frequencies they provide, so I started working with them. I would listen to both live elk on YouTube and download top- notch callers like Rocky and Corey Jacobsen. I would listen to these guys call and try to emulate them. There is no magic wand approach to doing this, no certain sound you blow into the call to make a certain noise. It’s all about practice and working with the calls. Pretty soon you’ll make a sound and you’ll just know it’s elky. I practice almost every day.
Another big tip I can give is to record live elk when you’re in the woods hunting. I run into a lot of elk when I’m scouting, and when I do, I start recording them on my phone. I have lots of live elk talk on my phone that I’ve recorded over the years. Record yourself calling and listen to how you sound compared to how real elk sound.
BW: How do you know which type of call a bull wants to hear?
Navarro: You’ve got to get out there and observe elk behavior. I hunt the entire month of September – only coming out of the mountains for a few days at a time – and that’s how I’ve learned. I’ve watched live bulls interact with cows at different stages of the rut. I’ve watched how bulls respond to one another’s bugles at different points during the season. If you’re hunting public-land elk and you want to be successful, you’ve got to spend time on public land watching elk. Also, and this is critical, journal about your experiences. After an encounter, take a minute to jot down what worked and what didn’t. This has helped me a bunch. Just last year I was working a bull for a good buddy. I had the bull talking and he was coming slowly, cautiously. Then, like bulls often do, he hung up. I had used a lot of straight mews and estrous whines when calling to this bull, but what he responded to most were my bugles. I could hear the bull up above us pacing and banging trees around. He would bugle and I would stay quiet, knowing this tactic worked well in the past. But this bull was different. He was bugling constantly on his own. I made the decision, the next time he bugled, to cut him off mid-bugle with a challenge-type bugle of my own. It worked like a charm. The bull charged in to 10 yards, and my buddy hammered him.
BW: Some argue it’s best not to call at all. What are your thoughts on staying quiet?
Navarro: I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place to stay quiet. When I’m hunting by myself I often stay quiet and slip in on elk, but I always use my bugle to locate and keep tabs on them. You’ve got to learn to master a bugle, and not the typical bugle that starts as a low growl, peaks and ends in a series of chuckles. Everyone does that. Every guy I’ve ever hunted with rips that bugle off when I ask them to call. When locating bulls I like a simple crisp locator bugle that starts high and tapers off with no big ending. If I can keep tabs on a bull without spooking him with my calls, I can move in close. When there is a shooter and caller, I will always call. For me, it’s part of the fun. I love working elk in close, and if you take the time and dedicate yourself to becoming a proficient caller, you will too.