By Lee Harrison
Elk calling during the rut is one of the most exhilarating things on this planet. When 700-pound animals scream at each other and you’re in the mix of things, it’ll make your heart jump out of your chest. However, it doesn’t always happen this way. Sudden silence can quickly take the wind out of your sails.
Sometimes, what seemed like a bugle-fest that was sure to end in a shot opportunity suddenly goes cold. Bow hunting has no shortage of challenges. So being one step ahead of the bull you are pursuing is crucial.
Here are 3 signs a bull is going to hang up and how you can alter your plan of attack:
1. The Silent Treatment
On occasion, bulls that already have a harem of cows will play it safe. They’ll stay silent or round up the herd and move them into the next basin. When a bull has cows, he may not be eager to risk losing them. If you extend a challenge and don’t receive a rebuttal from the bull, chances are you’re getting the silent treatment.
To combat this, you may want to put the diaphragm and bugle tube away. Continuing to call can cause him to pick up and move. Slipping in silently and watching his next move is your best opportunity at staying in the game. When you get in close, cow calls can help produce a shot opportunity as the bull looks to round up his harem.
2. An Unfavorable Position
Another sign that a bull is going to hang up is one that you can actually determine before ever making a sound. Having the high ground on a bull can intimidate them. You will often hear of bulls circling the caller. They do this to gain the wind advantage – and in some cases, to get the high ground on their opponent.
If you begin your calling sequence on a herd bull that is in the bottom of a draw while you are standing on top of a hill, chances are he will not commit. Bulls want to spend the least amount of energy possible during the rut, so charging up a hill to fight off a rival bull, even a satellite, is a low-odds game. You can easily correct this by losing some elevation and getting on the bull’s level.
3. Breeding Competition
Lastly, a herd bull that is being bombarded by satellite bulls can be difficult to call in. When rival satellites are pressuring a herd bull, he’ll be very reluctant to lose sight of his cows. When he’s busy fending off other bulls, don’t expect him to come charging over for a fight.
One way to approach this situation is by staying silent and trying to slip in while he’s busy keeping his harem together. This can be challenging due to the number of eyes you have to avoid. Try staying on the outskirts of the herd and waiting for your target bull to make his way by your position while he patrols the perimeter.
Another option is to employ raking into your calling. When a bull hears the sound of another bull raking their antlers on trees, he’ll often display his dominance by raking in return. When he does, it provides a great opportunity to move ahead. When his head is down raking a tree, you can get away with almost anything – even running into a shooting position if possible.
If you can catch a bull raking a tree, approach his position quickly, and then stop when he does. Raking sessions can last minutes at a time. With a little luck and some maneuvering, you might just be able to catch him during his rake and arrow your dream bull.
Bow hunting for elk is a challenge and that’s why we love it. Calling situations rarely go as planned. But hopefully, by paying attention to the bull’s position and situation, you can even the odds a bit. You always have better odds when you team up, too. In fact, this is one of the reasons why LOH Outfitters always has more guides than hunters on our hunts. We do the work so you can focus on the target. This is another benefit of guided hunts.