It sounds wild. A high-pitched whistle, a screech, like tires squealing, followed by a move up the scale a couple of octaves and a slide back down, and finishes with a series of low, guttural grunts.
It is is a bull elk talking . . . to cows, other bulls and even to hunters.Elk do communicate and there are some hunters who can get in on conversations. Sometimes the comments are unmistakable. Other times they go ignored, maybe because the accent is unmistakably not elk.
Calling elk, good calling, anyway, is difficult. It's like learning to speak a second language well by listening to someone speak it from a distance. The secret to good communications, though, is not so much what you say as how and when you say it.
The best time to talk to bull elk is in the fall, while they are going through the rut, or mating season. According to game officials, elk are in the rut now and will still be in it come Oct. 3 - the opening of the general elk hunt.
There are several types of elk callers on the market. The most popular is a small diaphragm - single, double or triple reed - about the size of a silver dollar that is placed on the tongue. Callers blow across the diaphragm to create the whistle. They then whistle into a hose, called a "grunt tube," that is about the same length as an elk's windpipe, to mimic the call of a bull elk as closely as possible.
According to Mike Loder, an assistant manger at Gart Brothers, the single reed is easier to use, but has a higher pitch that imitates the younger, smaller bulls. With the single, he said, it is difficult to create the grunting sounds bull elk make.
The double reed, he continued, is the most popular and can make a wider range of whistles, from the higher calls of the younger bulls to the lower sounds of the older bulls.
The triple is a larger volume call and produces more closely the sounds of a trophy elk - deep, low and guttural.
The diaphragms range in cost from $3.50 to $6.50. A "grunt tube" costs about $5.
There are also calls with tubes and reeds together, and calls that look like flutes that require the cupping of the hand over the end to control the sound.
And there are cow calls. Any of the diaphragms will work. There are also plastic folders that use a vibrating rubber band to make the sound.
The secret as Loder and Steve Woolstenhulme, a professional hunting guide, agree, is in learning to speak the elk's language.
Bulls whistle and grunt, while cows sort of meow like a cat.
Loder said there are several videos and cassette tapes on the market to teach elk calling. The best, he said, are those produced by the various call manufacturers.
Both men, however, feel that the best way to learn to call elk is to go into the field, listen to them talk and then imitate it as best you can.
Most of the calling is done by hunters trying to locate and lure elk.
Hunters familiar with calling, explained Woolstenhulme, can actually tell the size of an elk by his call.
They know, too, how to best answer.
"You wouldn't, for example, want to make the call of a big, mature bull to a smaller bull. He may think his beaten before he even answers. You sound too gruff and aggressive and you may scare a smaller bull off.
"Sometimes, too, a cow call will work as well as anything."
During the peak of the rut, when the bulls are most aggressive, there are other actions that go along with calling in a big bull.
Like . . . "Breaking branches or rubbing a stick against a tree or some brush, like a big bull rubbing its antlers. Sometimes, the more aggressive you are the better. Thrashing about you can get a big bull worked up for a fight and get them to come right into you.
"You can make a lot of noise. That's not what will scare elk off. It's your scent. You've got to check the wind (direction) all the time. Once elk get your scent, they're gone.
"When the elk are at the peak of the rut, even a novice can call in a bull. Other times, though, the better you can call the better response you're going to have. The secret is to listen to the elk and then practice."
The most successful hunters, added Woolstenhulme, are the ones that will scout out an area. And take the time to hear what elk have to say.