Pro secrets for bowhunting early-season elk

Expert tips for bowhunting elk in the early-season, pre-rut period



The key to successful elk calling is not making the perfect sound, but rather making the correct sound at the perfect time. For example, herd talk, such as mews and chirps, is used throughout the year, so it’s a safe choice during the pre-rut. At this time, cows and calves stick together while the bulls seek out cows—give a few chirps and mews, and the bulls are likely to come and investigate.


Location bugles are also a fantastic pre-rut call for finding bulls. I love to bugle in the dark to locate elk, either the night before the hunt or an hour or two before sunrise. I’ll bugle and wait five minutes for a response. If there isn’t one, I move on, looking for bulls that are in the mood to talk.

Once I hear a bull respond with a bugle, I move in as close as possible, wait for first light, then set up a cow decoy and make some light cow calls. That’s it. From then on, I let the bull do the moving.

Calling solo makes for a tough bowhunt, so it’s best to partner up, putting the shooter out front between the caller and the elk. It’s the caller’s job to lure the bull past the shooter, and it’s the shooter’s vital responsibility to remain invisible. This set-up is superb, and a favourite among experienced bowhunters.


If you have to hunt alone, however, call first, then quickly and quietly move 20 or 30 metres closer to the downwind side of your bull, and get ready. With patience, skill and a little luck, you can fill your tag days before rifle season even opens.

Beaumont, Alberta’s Gord Nuttall is a longtime bowhunter.