Calls can bring game to you

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Somewhere between archery season and rifle season, the bull elk sought by hunters throughout Colorado will go into the rutting season, and he will begin to gather his harem of cow elk with which he will mate.

It's during this time period that a good elk call can make the difference between going home empty-handed and bagging a trophy.

Chad Stephenson, owner of Outdoor Connections sporting goods in Craig, has an entire display devoted to calling in an elk, with calls ranging from the simplest reeds to elaborate reed and grunt-tube systems. The secret, he said, is to determine what you are trying to achieve with your call.

"The main use for a bull bugle is to locate the animals," Stephenson said. "The cow calls are for bringing the bulls in to you."

Stephenson said bulls see another bull bugling as a challenge to their dominance.
An elk will challenge a spike-bull call but may be intimidated by a bull's bugle that sounds bigger than his own.

Lonnie Vanatta of Steamboat Springs has been hunting for 35 years and guiding for 21. He said elk calls work best when the animals are in rut, between Sept. 10 and mid-October, and are especially effective for archery and muzzle-loader seasons.

Knowing when to call and when to remain silent is a big part of calling in a bull, Vanatta said.

"A common mistake is overcalling," Vanatta said. "Too loud or too much calling will drive them off. You want to arouse their curiosity."

Vanatta said it takes time to learn the calls, and he recommends practicing at home before hunting season.

Once the elk is located, and you have moved into position, use a cow call to attract the bull.

When guiding a hunt, Vanatta will sometimes put a hunter about 80 yards in front of the person calling in case the animal gets wise and stops short.

Experienced hunters have a variety of calls, from a lovesick call, to a cow that has lost her calf.

There are calls for antelope and deer, and many of the same rules apply.

Another technique used by hunters is the antler rattle. Using old antlers clicking together, curious bucks will venture into the area out of curiosity thinking two bucks are fighting.

Vanatta said this is beneficial at the right time of year, and works best with whitetail deer.

Another technique Vanatta uses to bring in the bull that final 100 yards, is to rake a tree with a branch or a stick. The bull will think another bull is rubbing a tree and might close the distance out of curiosity.

Sporting goods stores that sell elk calls have various tapes, discs and videos for training the hunter how to correctly call for big game. Names of calls range from the "hoochie-mama," and "hot lips," to the "estrus whine cow call." Storeowners will discuss the differences and demonstrate the calls for hunters.

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