You might or might not believe in global warming, but one thing I do know is that during the past several archery elk seasons the weather has been very warm. During these hot spells, elk tend to move earlier and later in the day—mostly after dark. They also travel as little as possible from bedding areas to eat and drink.
It should be obvious to even novice elk hunters that water is a real key to success when the mercury soars. Wallows, creeks, seeps, ponds, lakes, whatever; elk need to drink when it’s hot. Cows and calves tend to congregate around water sources, and when the rut is on that means there’ll be bulls hanging close by. In areas where elk congregate near agricultural fields, you can be sure they’ll be moving to and from these irrigated crops daily. Setting up an ambush along their travel corridors can be deadly.
I’m often asked about how to hunt elk when the weather is hot and how to call—or whether you should even call at all. Here are some thoughts on the topic.
Calling Tricks For Hot Weather
A method that’s worked for me is one I learned from bowhunting legend Norman Pint, inventor of the first cushion/plunger arrow rest. Pint also invented the first “HyperHot” cow elk call, an invention he sold to a commercial call maker for mass production. Today, every company that makes cow calls has some variation of this deadly theme.
Pint created a technique he calls “multiple calling,” which employs the use of multiple cow calls of different makes, trying to sound like a small herd of cows and calves. Our guide suggested using this technique when I was on an elk hunt with my friend Steve Shuster of Pennsylvania.
“When the bulls are hanging up and not being very aggressive, like they do a lot in hot weather, I like to have two or three other people with me and we all call,” our guide said. “We get in the herd’s travel route, spread out and try to imitate a herd of elk, using different makes, models and types of calls. We answer each other and try to sound like a traveling herd. I like to have one person using a ‘HyperHot’ cow call, while the others imitate regular cows or calves. We put the shooter 50 yards or so in front of us and have at it. Everyone needs to be able to call well, and one person has to be the ‘hunt master’ and direct the effort, but this can be an incredibly effective way to call elk to you.”
It worked for Steve. As we squeaked, moaned and wailed at about 10 a.m., a young 5x5 bull just about ran him over trying to get to us. It’s a good thing Steve can shoot his bow well, or we just might have had 600 pounds of psycho bull elk trying to do bad things to us!
What About BIG Bulls?
Randy Ulmer of Arizona has bow-killed as many monster bull elk as anyone I know. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that Randy is one of the world’s best bowhunters, he runs marathons and is also one of the nation’s top competitive 3-D shooters. In a nutshell, Randy can get there, and when he gets the shot, the party is over. Randy told me one of his secrets to successfully hunting truly old, monarch bull elk is to refrain from calling, especially when it’s hot and the elk are hesitant to move.
“Of course, before you can hunt an old bull elk you have to find one, and that’s never easy,” Ulmer told me. “It takes lots of research and scouting, but once I’ve found such a bull, I want to hunt him in a manner that doesn’t allow him to know I’m even on the face of the earth. If I call, he’ll know something is going on. Now, if your goal is to shoot a younger satellite bull, or if you want to have a fun and action-packed hunt, calling is the way to go. But if you really want to get serious about killing the oldest bull in the woods, I think calling might be a mistake.
“Even if you’re the best caller in the world, the 7- to 10-year-old bulls will only come in to a point, then they stop—usually 70-100 yards away—and will not commit,” Ulmer said. “If they don’t see another elk, they get suspicious and slow way down. They’re not stupid. They might just turn tail and sneak right on out of there. I think the bigger bulls can tell the difference between hunters calling and elk calling, and they’re going to sneak in and peek, try to get downwind of you and use all their senses to figure out what’s going on before coming any closer.”
To successfully hunt elk in hot weather you have to keep your cool. Concentrate your efforts near water and shaded slopes that catch the afternoon breeze. Be prepared to hunt long and hard. And when a window of opportunity opens enough to give you a chance, be ready to move fast and take advantage of it. In hot weather, shot opportunities are hard to come by and shouldn’t be wasted.