Published Aug 4, 2022 5:00 PM
Elk calls are one of the most important tools for hunters, especially in archery season. There is nothing like hearing aspen and pine-covered ridges come alive with loud bugles as the September sun teases the landscape to life. If your 2022 plan is to create some sounds of your own—sounds that hopefully earn you an encounter with a ready-to-breed bull—you need good elk calls in your pack.
One of the biggest mistakes elk hunters make is purchasing a slug of elk calls in the last town they hit before heading up on the mountain, and then trying to perfect their talk-like-an-elk game before hitting camp. It won’t work. Get the best elk calls—from bugle tubes to reed-style calls to diaphragms—and start learning to talk elk now.
Things To Consider Before Buying an Elk Call
For most product categories, I encourage people to do as much research as possible before buying. Elk calls are different because you never know what elk call will sound the best for you until you try it. Of course, you want quality calls, and the manufacturers listed below make some of the best calls available, but the sounds made by them differ from call to call and from caller to caller.
For instance, I know an elk ninja—a guy that has won multiple competitions and is lethal at bringing bulls bowhunting-close in the woods—and he sounds awful on a diaphragm call that I can make sing. On the flip side, I can’t bugle to save my life on the call he uses to dominate the woods and stage.
Get a bunch of elk calls and start playing. You’ll need a quality bugle tube, and I recommend staying away from stretchable tubes (too loud) and those with reeds covering the mouthpiece. You’re calling elk, not playing the flute in the high school band. The Hoochie Mama is a must, and you’ll want to try several different bite-and-blow open-reed style calls. Record yourself calling with your calls, and listen to your friends when they tell you, “Man, that one sounded good.” Over the years, you’ll develop a solid arsenal that you will use to bring elk close.
Best Elk Bugle Tube
Why It Made the Cut: This bugle is ultra-durable, and it sings. I’ve used it in the western mountains for the past two years and have called in and harvested multiple bulls. This tube works with all diaphragm calls and will help you achieve those custom notes you want to create. It projects great sound from high top-end screaming bugles to low, guttural moans and groans.
- 1 1/2-inch mouth opening
- 21 3/8-inches long
- Weighs less than 12 ounces
- Works well with all diaphragm calls
- Creates even airflow
- Includes camo cover and lanyard
A small and compact bugle tube covered in Sitka Gore Optifade Concealment Subalpine, this call sounds as good as it looks. The 1 1/2-inch mouth opening allows you to get a good seal around the outside of your mouth so you can channel your air into the bugle tube and create more realistic tones. The internal section of the mouthpiece is tapered to ensure perfect backpressure to help you hit the right tones and hold high notes steadily for an extended amount of time. This bugle tube allows you to talk realistic bull elk talk and stay away from those flute-style notes public-land bulls hear all the time.
Best Beginner Elk Call
Why It Made the Cut: This is the one call you can pull out of the pack without ever having practiced with it and sound like an actual cow elk. There is no more straightforward call to operate on the market, and the sounds and tones produced are authentic. I have finished multiple bulls — brought them in those last few yards—by reaching into my pocket and pushing the Hoochie’s bulb down.
- 100 percent freezeproof
- Priced right
- Light and durable
- Consistent and accurate sounds
- Fool-proof operation
- Tunable barrel
- Can go off at the wrong time
This hold-in-your-hand elk call produces fantastic cow elk talk; you can’t screw it up. All the call requires is for you to extend the barrel to the cow sound you’re trying to create (they are labeled on the barrel) and slowly depress the bulb (bellow) downward. You can cup your free hand around the barrel of the call to customize sounds, but this call rings as accurate as any I’ve ever used. A simple push is all it takes to create the perfect cow elk sound every time, and this call is an anxiety reliever for the beginner worried about screwing up.
Best Reed-Style Cow Call
Why It Made the Cut: Practice this call in your truck on the way to work, in the garage when you get home, and then take it to the elk woods, and you’ll know why. The nasal, sexy-sounding call produces remarkable cow talk, especially estrus whines that drive September and October bulls crazy.
- Super compact
- Band around reed
- Easy to operate
- Made for the elk rut
- Produces loud or soft calls
- Nasal estrous sounds
- Color makes it easy to find when dropped
Phelps knows how to make elk calls, and this reed-style cow call is an excellent example of their dedication to helping hunters bring bulls in close. Machined from cast acrylic rod and laser engraved with the Phelps logo, this call looks as good as it sounds. With a bit of practice to figure out how much pressure you must put on the reed to create different pitches and tones, you’ll quickly know how to sound like a ready-to-breed cow elk.
Best Elk Diaphragm Combo Pack
Why It Made the Cut: These are three of the best bull reeds I have ever blown, and the Black Magic is responsible for my being able to put a few elk backstraps on the grill over the years. All three calls produce great bull sounds, and the Black Magic and Reaper can also make some cow talk.
- Quality latex
- Priced right
- Come in case
- Cover a variety of elk sounds
- Incredibly realistic
- Latex stretched to match the purpose of each call
- Tape can break down in calls’ back ends
A priced-right three-pack, these calls will create real bull and cow sounds. The Black Magic-my favorite—requires very little air to get crisp, clean bugles and quality cow talk. The Reaper is capable of ultra-aggressive bugles, and you can create estrus cow sounds with it, but that will take some serious practice. The Spellbound is made with double latex stretched to make raspy herd bull sounds.
Best Overall Elk Call
Why It Made the Cut: With this call, a hunter can sound like a mature bull or produce any cow sound imaginable.
- 90-day warranty
- Made in USA
- Quality latex
- Jason Phelps’ personal favorite
- Versatile cow/bull call
- Built to exact specs and standards
- Great for the competition stage or the woods
- Beginners may struggle mastering it
Designed and used on the stage and in the woods by elk master Jason Phelps, the Phelps Signature AMP Diaphragm Elk Call produces quality bull and cow tones. You won’t find better latex, and each call is built to quality-control specifications. This call is the perfect option for the hunter that doesn’t want to tote a variety of diaphragm calls around the woods, and this one call will do it all.
I live in and hunt the West, and I’ve field-proven every call mentioned above. All have been responsible for calling in multiple bull elk, but as noted earlier, the calls that sound and work best for me may not be for you. You’ll have to invest some money and get some calls to find out which ones work best for you.
Q: What are the easiest elk calls to use?
The Primos Hoochie Mama is the easiest elk call to use because all you have to do is push the bulb. Several bite-and-blow reed-style calls can be mastered quickly also.
Q: How far away can you hear an elk call?
The distance at which you can hear an elk call depends on the call. If it’s soft cow talk, a few hundred yards is max, but if a bull is ripping on clear, crisp mountain morning, you can hear him several thousand yards away.
Q: How do I choose a diaphragm elk call?
Choose a diaphragm elk call by looking at the calls made by a quality diaphragm maker, and consider the reeds and latex. Easier-to-blow diaphragm calls will typically have a latex thickness of .003-inch. More advanced, typically harder-to-master diaphragms will have a thickness of .005-inch.
Q: What time of day to elk bugle the most?
The best time of day to elk bugle the most depends on the time of year. During early September, when the days are hot, mornings and evenings are best. During peak rut, which is smack in the middle of September, bulls can and often will bugle vigorously throughout the day.
Few experiences in hunting are as intoxicating as calling a bull elk into bow range. Do it once, and you’ll be hooked for life. However, the public-land elk woods are crowded, and if you’re hunting open-to-anyone land, especially in an area that sells over-the-counter elk tags, your elk talk needs to be above average or you’re going to struggle. Learn how to master the locator bugle—a simple bugle with no significant beginning or finish—which is what elk use to see who’s around. After you master the Locator Bugle, search online for videos of live cow elk calls, and mimic those sounds on a diaphragm-style call.