It’s nearly impossible for elk not to communicate during the rut. It’s their evolutionary publicity campaign to aid in procreation. Nevertheless, increased hunting pressure will stall their willingness to move toward strange calls. Sometimes, it’s better just to listen than to converse, and an increasing number of serious elk hunters embrace this philosophy. If the elk in your auditory range won’t turn and charge to you, maybe you should stow the call and scramble to your feet to silently crash the elk party.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you shouldn’t call. In fact, an early-morning bugle or mew can ignite a herd, giving you the clues required to advance toward them. Note the location of the calls and map a downwind course. Keep in mind elk will likely be moving into the wind and advancing higher, especially during morning rush hour. If herd chatter decreases, then another well-timed bugle or mew may spark another round of elk exchange. Don’t continue to add to the conversation if you get a response, though. Instead, use the time to close the distance.
Once you approach the herd’s edge, slow down and advance with caution. Move into a position where the herd is likely to brush your flank or surround you without scenting you. Now stay sharp and look for a chance to arrow the bull as it passes or busies itself with herd containment or a distracted cow. If you think the herd is about to move, then it may be time to consider either repositioning or engaging in another short conversation. If you feel confident the terrain will allow you to retreat and reposition ahead of the herd, make your move. If not, start the talk.
Judge the bull. If it sounds cantankerous and irritated, bugle like a satellite bull to challenge his sovereignty. Raking a tree with a branch could spur him to take anger management courses.
A bull that sounds reserved and deliberately quiet, possibly to keep a harem to himself, may require a softer approach. A mew or a young bull squeal could bring a jealous bull out of the brush and into range. In either instance don’t get carried away. Too much calling in close proximity to the herd could ring alarm bells of a ruse.
Elk vocalize throughout the rut. That’s a guarantee. By co-opting their banter, you have everything you need to crash the party for archery elk success, even if you don’t join the conversation.