As gray light turns into daylight, you send out an exploratory cow call and immediately get a response. Yup, a bull bugles in front of you several hundred yards head, perhaps somewhere around 400 yards away. After checking the wind, you know you must cut that distance and move toward the bull at a good pace, observant and vigilant in case there are more elk in the area, but as quickly as possible.
The thick cover you’re in gives way to a more open terrain with less cover and good visibility in most directions. After cutting the distance in half, you settle in front of some back cover and issue out another cow call. The bull answers out front again, but closer this time, perhaps 150 yards. You cautiously wait before cutting the distance again and before making the move, you see movement, then a set of antlers above a group of young saplings. He comes into view at about 120 yards out. He continues to move slowly and then stops 80 yards out and looks around in your general direction. As you slowly nock an arrow, the bull turns around and walks away in the direction he came from. He disappears into the trees and you see the antlers slowly meander away.
Perplexed…..you know he didn’t see you and he came in excited, then just left. You cow call in desperation and as you prepare to move, you see the antlers appear again moving back towards you. As you settle in again, in front of good cover, he appears at the edge of the small opening and continues toward you. At 80 yards, he stops AGAIN, in the EXACT same spot, looking and scanning the area in your general direction. After what seems like minutes he turns around and reverses course AGAIN. The scene is repeated a third time, before the bull just leaves.
From the bulls perspective, he has heard a cow, and has pinpointed the general location. He enters an area where visibility is good, yet no visible cow. The bull may even bugle, but after not SEEING anything, he knows something is wrong and eventually leaves. When you called him in a second and even third time, he is comfortable coming back to the location that he knows is safe, but again, not seeing the cow that he heard, time to leave.
So what can you do different?
#1 – Don’t setup in the same location that you last called from – Once you call and you determine that the bull is coming in, you want to SILENTLY move forward about 40 yards and then about 20 yards downwind. Silently, because the bull will be listening for other elk and will pinpoint any noise. Now, that 80 yard hang-up can become a 40 yard shot.
**Same concept in a two person setup…always move your shooter up 30 to 40 and 20 yards downwind. Then the caller can “work” the bull past the shooter.
#2 – Try to use thicker cover or terrain for your setup – If possible, use the cover in the environment so that the bull has to come into range in order to see the bull or cow he is looking for. You can also use dips or rises in terrain to do the same thing.
#3 – Use a decoy – you can either hang a decoy before you move up or use a decoy like the Ultimate Predator that mounts on the front of your bow with a shoot through window (it can also be hung from a tree or wrapped on one as well). The first option, places the bulls concentration on something behind you, but reassures him to come in. Generally giving you a broadside shot.
The second option places the bulls attention on you with the decoy, also reassuring him. If the bull decides to come in, it may be direct at first. Then, best case scenario, he will circle to scent-check also giving you a broadside shot.
#4 – If you didn’t do any of the above and the bull does hang up, all is not lost. After not seeing what he should see, he will get nervous and walk off. He may even leave and come back to calls to the exact spot as before. This is where you need to go silent and let him walk off. Once he does, silently and quickly move up close to the last location he was standing, on the downwind side. The bull felt safe up to this point and can be called back to it. Once in position, use your grunt tube to throw your cow calls back behind you, where you came from and get ready. Bulls have gone down to this move more than once!
Using these tactics, you may just find yourself with a golden opportunity instead of an “almost” story back at camp. Understand the bulls behavior and do the things necessary to make the bull comfortable enough to get in your killing range. From there, it’s all about closing the deal!