I love calling elk and it’s something I look forward to every fall. And while there is a time and place to emit some sweet cow talk and draw a lovesick bull in close, there is also a time to leave the calls in the pack and go creep around the woods in search of call-shy elk. This tactic has added to my elk success greatly over the years, and it can add to yours as well. For this article I spoke with four very successful elk gurus and picked their spot-and-stalk style brains. Read carefully. Take their advice seriously. Then pull the sneak on the bull of your dreams this fall.
Jason Matzinger, Host/Producer of “Into High Country TV”, Montana
Jason Matzinger focuses his efforts in areas known to hold elk, huntings during prime morning and evening hours when the elk are talking back and forth on their own.
“I have killed mostly all of my bulls by ambushing them while moving in totally silent,” said Matzinger. “By hunting during prime time – morning and evening – I can close the gap and slip in while the herd is totally at ease. Calling your way in will only keep the entire herd looking in your direction, making it much harder to move in undetected.”
Matzinger notes that he does use varying cow calls to locate elk before daylight and right after the sun slips below the horizon, but once they start talking, he shuts up and uses this time to cover ground. He spends a lot of his time on pressured public ground and says that calling during daylight hours typically only alerts elk to the hunter’s presence and puts the hunter at a severe disadvantage.
“Yes, bulls may respond to your calls,” said Matzinger, “but don’t let that fool you into thinking they are coming. Bulls will often do this just to keep tabs on you while moving away.
Fred Waymire, Hardcore Elk Hunter, Idaho
My buddy Fred Waymire is an absolute killer on all critters, but I would say elk is where he really excels. Waymire kills an elk nearly every year, and you can almost always count on it being a good mature bull.
“One of the best ways to kill a bull is to have a buddy stay back and call just enough to keep a bull bugling while the other guy moves in,” said Waymire. However, Waymire, like many elk hunters, often hunts alone. During his solo hunts Waymire likes to shadow the herd as they move toward their breeding grounds. By moving along with the herd at a safe distance, Waymire can play the wind and often observe elk activity. Because he’s always within striking distance, he waits for an opportunity like a bull raking a tree, splashing in a wallow or chasing a young challenger away from the cows.
“It’s hard to know what’s right or wrong as every situation is different,” Waymire said. “But if you keep the wind right and shadow them as close as possible, the herd bull will often slip up and give you a shot.”
Ben Guttormson, Head of Development and Marketing/National Sales Manager, ASAT Camouflage
Over the years Guttormson and I have had many conversations about hunting of all kinds. I usually harass him about his off-the-wall tactics, but one thing is for sure: It’s hard to argue with his results.
For instance, Guttormson uses the sun to his advantage. “Elk are usually the most active in the early morning and evenings,” he told me. Oftentimes when he is hunting an area he knows holds elk, he will hunt into that area with the sun at his back. If need be, he will make a loop to put the sun at his back even if it takes him miles out of the way.
“Elk don’t have sunglasses or a hat brim like we do, so they have a hard time looking directly into the sun,” he explained.
Guttormson is also a shadow nut. He has told me many stories about how he has slipped right up on elk in open terrain simply by using cast shadows to his advantage. “I know these tips can’t be applied to every situation, but in the right terrain and under the right circumstances, they can be deadly,” he said.
Jason Hegg, Hardcore Elk Hunter, Montana
In talking with Hegg, it soon became clear that he attributes most of his success on big bulls to his patience. He says he has learned to thoroughly assess the situation when he locates a bull before he ever goes after him.
“Things will usually look much different when you get across the drainage to where the elk are,” Hegg noted. “Once I determine my main approach I will look for obstacles, cliffs, patches of timber or small draws that will help keep me hidden during my stalk.”
Hegg also finds places during his stalk where he can periodically check on the elk.
“If it doesn’t feel right, I will back out and rethink my angle,” he said. “There is no reason to rush the situation if what once looked like a slam dunk is starting to look like a blown stalk. If the animal has moved or the wind has changed, stop and rethink the situation. I would rather miss my opportunity by being too careful than rushing in and blowing a bull out of the area.