top of page

Elk Hunting | How To Choose The Best Elk Call

It is closing in on what western hunters might consider "The Most Wonderful Time of The Year", Early elk Season. It is the time where preparation meets action. Some of us may have waited years to

finally go on this "hunt of a lifetime". Elk hunting in the rut, in our opinion is the epitome of the western hunting experience, though at times it may be stressful, overwhelming, and intimidating.

The intimidating factors start from the moment you realize you have drawn that coveted tag and the search begins. We're not talking about the search for that desired bull, which can cause the best of men or women to go mad. We are talking about the search for the best equipment to tote around and assist you for the wonderful anguish we call elk hunting.

Todays sporting goods market is flourishing. There are tools and goodies that you would never think you needed until you see that dreaded add with a link so easily accessible to the the same hand that has control of your wallet. There is one piece of equipment that seems to get us every time we see something new, elk calls. We haven't decided if it is the flashy colors and designs printed on these calls or the thought that "this might be the break through we have been waiting for". In reality we have a problem but also an arsenal of calls. We cannot say that there is a call we have purchased that was the magical break through, but we can say that some have been game changers and made our life a whole lot easier.

Out of all the calls we have collected over the years we have narrowed it down to the calls that work for us. We are not going to tell you what you should or should not use. We only want to share some observations we have made on the road to discovering our preferred items.

1) Choosing a Diaphragm

Think of buying a pair of Shoes. you would not knowingly buy shoes that do not fit. The same applies to diaphragms. you must find the right fit and break them in.

This is where the frustration might be the highest when searching for elk calls. You probably come across many YouTube videos of hunters throwing a diaphragm in their mouth and harmonizing with the biggest, baddest bulls. I promise it is not that easy and even that elk hunter you might idolize had to figure it out too.

every mouth is different. some people have large, wide pallets, while others may have narrow pallets. mouth shape and size as well as other factors like dental restrictions all play a role in the ability to use certain diaphragms. The first one you purchase and try out is hardly the one that is going to work for you so here are some things to think about:

1) Gaging is not in the elk vernacular. If you put a diaphragm in your mouth and your reflexes cause you to gag, that is a sure sign that either the placement of the call is wrong or more than likely means that call does not fit your mouth.

2) The Escape of air around the call instead of directed onto the latex may also be a sign the call does not fit. If you get the call into place and try to blow on the call there should be direct air flow onto the latex reed. you might notice that air is escaping above, or around the call causing a hissing or harsh hacking sound with little to no result of sound from the reed.

3) The transfer test is a great way to figure out the fit and comfort for you. start off by holding the back of the diaphragm with your teeth. without using your hands, transfer the diaphragm from your teeth and into your mouth into the "ready to use position". (meaning you're ready to blow on it) You're looking for ease and comfort, if you feel you can quickly transfer that call into your mouth and it locks into position with ease, you are in good shape. if you get it in your mouth and continuously have to move it with your tongue looking like a cat having trouble with a hairball, something is not right.

I have talked to many people who have tried a couple diaphragms and ran into problems with the fit and assumed that diaphragms just aren't for them. you are not alone if this is you, and I promise there is one for you on the market. It is like the dating world, sometimes its important for you to find what does not work in order to find what is right.

2) Externals

Be aware of how much mobility you have of your hands.

There are many great external calls available for elk hunting. They come in many different varieties and the same goes for the sounds and roles they play while in use. here are a few things to keep in mind if you're thinking of picking up an external call:

1) Stopping a bull: unlike diaphragms, external calls may require more movement of your hands. In situations such as closing in on a bull and calling to keep him interested, its usually just fine to use your hands without being detected. if you're calling for someone else and set back from the hunter positioned to make the shot, you might also have ability to use your hands. Now, lets say you're hunting solo and you just spent the entire morning working a bull and he finally comes in range and steps through your opening. you now have a lot to think about. you should have your bow pulled back by now but that takes away your hands to lift your call to your mouth or squeeze that button to make that bull stop and the shot to be made. when shopping or trying out external calls, think about that scenario and what would work for you.

2) Confidence: This applies to all calls but being that externals are where we lack the most confidence while calling elk, we decided to mention it here. If you cant trust that every time to put that call to your lips, a convincing elk sound will come out it is only going to make it significantly more difficult to do it when the stakes are high. If you have practiced with that call and can pick it up at any time and convince your neighbor you are harboring a wildlife refuge in your home, you might have found your accessory.

3) packability: We have used diaphragms for so long that we can hold one in our teeth and forget that its even there. It may be more difficult to do that with externals and probably not advised. find one that will not disrupt your normal patterns while chasing elk. Can you put it somewhere easy to reach? will it tangle up on your other equipment? will it sound off without being prompted?

3) Bugle Tubes

What are you willing to pack?

Remember, we have a problem. A majority of our compulsive purchases have been bugle tubes. We never used to care about brands or types, we would just buy them because they were new to us and exciting to try. We through a large net and pulled up only a few that we use now. This is not to say some of the old tubes did not serve their purpose at some point, we have just dialed in our styles and utilize what serves us best. Out of all the things we pack around the elk woods this piece of equipment is the largest outside of our packs and weapon we are using so here are some things to consider:

1) are there any moving parts? Some bugle tubes are a solid, hallow hunk of plastic (in some cases metal) that resembles a whiffle ball bat. Some however, have removable mouth pieces, flexible tubes, and other movable parts. If you are comfortable navigating these aspects, the more complex bugle tubes can be dynamic and an extremely useful tool.

2) If you are still apprehensive about diaphragms, then the external mouthpieces are worth a try. a solid bugle tube with no mouthpiece is meant to be paired with a diaphragm call. If you cannot yet use a diaphragm or not quite comfortable with one yet, an external mouthpiece is a great option. These type of tubes often take practice to dial in but are commonly user friendly.

Do not let what is available on the market intimidate you this fall as you prepare for the most exciting time of the year. Sample some calls until you find out what works. It is important to be confident in the tools we use in the outdoors. The key moments we dream of are seldom and our equipment should not be the debilitating factor when getting the job done. Good luck out there!

Exist Outdoors

- Elmer Bothers

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page