Elk Calling Tips & Tactics

August 04, 2021 | Pnuma Outdoors

Elk Calling Tips & Tactics From A World Elk Calling Champion

Author: Jermaine Hodge

Welcome to the Pnuma blog, my name is Jermaine Hodge, I am the 2019 Men's division World Elk Calling Champion and co-owner of Colorado High Altitude Hunters LLC. I am a US soldier, family man, and avid outdoorsmen. I wanted to share a few tips about elk hunting that have helped me be successful early in my hunting career. I will also provide you some newer strategies that I have picked up along the way that has aided me and my team in the woods. Like many hunters, I didn’t start hunting elk at an early age. I moved to Colorado in 2004, and this is when I truly fell in love with hunting, especial elk hunting.


I learned many lessons after my first elk hunting experience; having proper gear, being in physical shape, which wasn’t a problem for an active wrestler like me, and having good archery equipment. These were just some of the things I realized I needed to have to be successful; however, getting the elk in close was the area I needed to work on the most. The tips I will provide you are the ones that worked best for me.

Use Open Reeds: Click for video. 

If you have a hard time using a mouth diaphragm, try an open Reed elk call. I began with open Reed Elk calls and found they were easier to master than the mouth diaphragm. I still use open reeds today with great success! Phelps Game Calls make a great product for elk and other types of game to “bring’em in close”!!! When it’s hard to get the elk talking, I found out early that open reeds were the game changer I was looking for. I used to wear a duck hunting lanyard with five different elk open reeds attached to it. I wore this lanyard around my neck and would find a strategic location in the woods to position myself and use each in a calling sequence. Each of the reeds had their own unique sound and tone, they were different in size and shape, and some were made by different companies. This early strategy made me sound like a small group of cows talking to each other. This not only brought elk in, but many hunters too! When I got to experience real elk communication between me and live animals, I was hooked! I knew I had to do more research and continue to improve upon my new-found skills.

Use a Built-In Reed Bugle TubeClick for video. 

If you can't use a mouth diaphragm yet, another option is to try a bugle tube with a built-in reed. Open reeds give you good cow sounds, but to get a basic bull sound, these built-in reed devices can create the sounds needed to locate bull elk in the woods. One of the first tubes I used was the Terminator, by Primos and now Phelps has one called the EZE Bugler. This built-in reed tube helped me locate some of the first bulls I ever had the chance to harvest and get a real sense of where elk were in the woods and where they were going. After using the Terminator to locate the elk, I would use my open reeds to bring them in closer. When I started calling elk, I had to rely on these devises to communicate with elk. At this time in my early elk hunting career, I still could not use the mouth diaphragms that I use today. I had to really relied on these beginner calls to give me the best chance to be successfully.   

Practicing Sounding Like Elk: Click for video. 

To be good at anything you must practice! I spent 30 minutes a day practicing my elk calls in order to sound the best I could in the woods. When I first began using calls, I practiced sounding like an elk or the elk talking to each other in a variety of scenarios. I did not practice for elk calling competitions. I would find the opportunity to practice whenever and where ever, at home alone, in the back yard, to and from work, I drove my family crazy. I also watched a lot of YouTube videos, podcasts, and TV shows on elk hunting. I used these resources to try and mimic the sounds elk were making, not the hunters. When I first began learning and practicing elk calls, I would try to find the best examples of the sounds, and figure out what they meant. I began to question the purpose of the sounds, and how some sounds related to others. When I began to relate elk sounds to human conversation or phrases, things really began to make more sense to me. More recently, I have watched professionals like Dirk Durham and Corey Jacobson on YouTube. To fine-tune my calls I try to emulate their bull and cow elk sounds and conversations. Now-a-days, more and more people are filming their elk hunts. This has created a plethora of useful hunting footage to the public free of charge. There is so much free hunting content on the web today that within a matter of minutes/seconds, you can be watching an intense elk hunt in Montana or Wyoming, hearing stellar hunters communicating with elk in the woods, challenging, and doing their best to bring them in closer. These videos also aid in learning from other people’s mistakes and failures. In this tip, I challenge you to do your research and watch film! Just like any great athlete, you have to use film to see the good and bad to learn how to become a better hunter.

Master Basics Elk Sounds: Click for video. 

Master the basics of calling elk. When I started learning how to use mouth diaphragms, I had to first learn how to make basic cow sounds. I quickly realized that the root of all elk sounds was a traditional cow call (mew - eeoooooo). What I mean is, bull elk chuckles are basically quick repetitive cow mews. Bull location calls are elongated cow mews. Calf calls are hi-pitched and shorter cow mews. With this said, I realized, if I wanted to be a good elk caller, I had to master the Cow mew! I would suggest, don’t move too fast, work hard at one call and focus on that call until you feel it’s perfect. Then practice it again and again! Continue to do this until you’re ready to move onto the next sound. Basic calls will get them in close year in and year out.

The one sound I love using is calf sounds, I have killed more bulls using calf sounds than any other. Calf sounds pull groups of elk right in. I can’t tell you how many times when using a calf call that a group of cows has come into me and then sure enough, I watch a herd bull or other nice satellite bull(s) follows the cows right in too! There is nothing more annoying to bulls, when their female companions decide to leave him to check on a lost calf.  Of course, he, the bull(s) are going to follow the cows to reign them back in. I love watching a good friend of mine, Joel Turner use this same strategy, he is one of the best at calling bulls in with just calf sounds.

Advanced Elk Sounds: Click for video. 

After you have mastered the basic elk sounds, cow mews, calf chirp, and a locate bugle, I would then begin working on more challenging calls, ones that people struggle the most with. I wish I, had done this earlier in my career as it would have helped me kill more herd bulls or nice satellites. Some of the hardest elk sounds to make are, chuckles, grunts, lip balls, barks and estrus screams. Like basic elk calls, these more advanced sounds originate from the basic calls you have already mastered. Once more, these more advanced calls also tend to have more voice, emotion and expression within them. Like humans, we mostly do not talk at a monotone level of speech. We use voice inflection when we talk to make valid points, express our love, anger and frustration, elk are no different! The more difficult forms of elk talk stems from these same principles. Adding emotion to your basic calls the way elk do changes the game to what you're saying or trying to get another elk to say back. That’s why so many advanced elk hunters use these advanced calls within their call sequence to attempt to manipulate elk acting a certain way. In most cases, these more advanced calls are used to respond to an elk and what he is already saying to you or the other elk around him. Like basic elk calls, I had to study what all the sounds meant, how they should be used, and what worked and did not work for me when in the woods. When you can make every sound both a Cow and Bull elk uses and you know the language, meaning, and how to use the sound to talk back and forth with them, you will be able to consistently bring elk in and get them close.

Spend Time in the Woods:

Even if you’re unsuccessful in drawing an elk tag, don't make it an excuse to not get in the woods during the month of September or October. Go with your hunting buddies and support them by carrying a camera, calling for them and hopefully packing out meat! Get out and see if you can find and call elk in for your buddies. Listen to them and mimic their sounds. This will up your game and confidence. There are so many more things to be learned when out in the woods. Being in the woods will teach you something new every time you’re out. I still am learning after 14 out of 15 successful years of elk hunting. A quote that I live by is, “You don't know unless you go!" What this means to me is, the elk might just be right over the next hill or ridge, so let's go see. Have fun out there and may we all have success in the woods!


If you have any questions please fill free to ask me anything about elk hunting.

You can also find me on:

Instagram: @jermainehodge_colorado

Instagram:  @colorado_hah

Facebook: Jermaine Hodge 

Facebook: Colorado High Altitude Hunters, LLC

My Big Game Education Website: