Anyone who has traveled in
the higher elevations of the
Figure 1 - For 3 weeks we were camped half way down this 35-mile long reservoir.
A couple of years ago, our group decided we would
set up camp along side of the Bob Marshall Wilderness area just south of
Figure 2 - One of the three different types of cow calls we had along.
Toy is what I called it, because it made the trip fun. The people that make it call it a cow call. Cow call you say? Yes cow call. Cow elk that is. We've all heard of duck or crow or fox calls. I can remember reading stories of Indians using birch bark for moose and little wood boxes for turkey. This little doodad I got, was just a piece of folded plastic with a couple of rubber bands on it. For me, it made a wet dismal hunting trip into a unique experience.
About six months before our grand adventure, I read an article about some hunting guides who came up with a gadget that sounds like a cow elk. I sent an order to Cabela's for the call and a book by these same guys that had patented the call. The book goes into detail on how and when to use cow calls plus a lot of information on elk habits. The bull calls are used mainly in the early Fall during the rut (breeding season), but what can you use after the rut? In late October and November hunting season is still on so a cow or calf call is the answer. We brought three different calls along thinking that if one didn't sound quite right, another might do the trick. Some hunters that lived in the area had never heard about the cow calls before. When we tried them out in their camp, they said they've heard that same sound before but mistook it for birds or other animals in the area not thinking it could possibly be elk. While out in elk country, and even at home the book advises a lot of practice. They said the call will work on other game also, so don't be afraid to use it often. As I found out, they knew their stuff!
Figure 3 - Survival tents used on our my first
On this Montana trip, we learned quickly how identify the different tracks left in the wet soil, Moose, bobcat, bear, deer, elk, even mountain lion. We’d visited a camp several miles away one afternoon and the ‘ol wrangler that was feeding the spare horses and taking care of the place mentioned seeing bear tracks in camp that morning. With both black & grizzly are in the area, getting up and walking to the throne in the dark can make a believer out of you. Packing a handgun was a must with a flashlight in hand looking for the facilities. When it's still two hours to sunrise, it’s an eerie feeling when you’re walking on the trail back from doing your duty and all of a sudden the batteries in your flashlight say goodnight, and it gets very, very, dark. We Scandinavians say UFDA!!
Figure 4 - Our home for three weeks was this old school bus made into a camper. The driver seat was removed and a homemade sheet metal wood burner. The smoke stack went straight up through the roof. Two bunk beds in the back and a small couch was a tight fit for 5 hunters & their gear. On the left is a horse trailer used as a kitchen. Everything needed to be covered because of the constant precipitation. Just in case, the wheels had chains installed when it was parked.
I was in charge of armament and ammunition.
Rounding up enough big caliber handguns for 5 guys to carry, just in case, was
one of the first things I did. Loading up 300 rounds of ammo for them posed no
big problem either. I was taking two 50/70 rifles, and the other 4 guys all
were going to carry 30-06’s. So I proceeded to assemble 500rds of
’06 ammo. If that seems like a lot, remember all the guns had to be
sighted in for those Nosler partition bullets for
hunting, and a quantity of Remington Bronze points for sighting in and
practice. Both bullets were 180grain and shot the same place on a target in all
guns. To familiar themselves with the handguns everyone was encouraged to fire
at least 25rds of pistol ammo. I’ll tell you up front none of us
are hand gunners. They all double-checked their rifles also at my range
at home before we left. As it turned out the gun I took as a spare, a 308 Model
The first animal I used the call on was a fair
sized 4X4 mule deer buck. While walking up on a steep ridge with
switchbacks in 4" of new soft snow, I was scanning the countryside and
happened to look back towards my vehicle witch was about 400yds. Away. The deer
was not more than 50feet from the station wagon walking in the opposite
direction. As soon as it heard me call, it turned and looked up straight at me.
Our non-resident tags allowed one deer, and as I hadn't seen any elk, I thought
why not! The only problem was, the gun I was carrying. A 50/70
Figure 5 - Someone hollered “I see something” and everyone bails out of the car. Big animals stand out like a sore thumb in the snowy mountainsides. Driving my old Dodge station wagon up in these high mountain logging trails required chains on the wheels. We had a couple of scoop shovels along that were used a lot.
The most memorable incident for me was while walking down a steep logging trail with a half-inch of wet sloppy snow. Feeling slightly depressed and thoroughly soaked I was blowing the call softly. Just looking side to side up and down the ridges into the thick pole pines not expecting to see much of anything. All of a sudden right on the road just 15 feet in front of me was this 20" creature sitting in the middle of the road and staring into my eyes. At first glance I thought it looked like a Great Horned Owl with its big eyes and long ears and mottled body color of gray and brown mixed almost looked like feathers. The way it was sitting, I couldn't see any legs or feet the way they were tucked in close to its body. I knew it was a bobcat but it had a striking resemblance of an owl. Why the heck was this big cat sitting still staring into my eyes. The cow-call was the reason of course. God only knows what that cat was thinking. Elk sounds weren't new to it I'm sure, but when that sound comes from a two-legged critter that he's probably never seen before, it made him stop and wonder.
Figure 6 - This is similar to what the cat looked like.
It probably was as just puzzled as I was. I'm sure it didn't know that it should be afraid of humans. There I was standing with my big .50 caliber rifle in my arms and a .45 auto on my hip. But there's no way I'm going to shoot an animal I don't intend to eat. I just wanted to enjoy the moment. I would say a good solid 2 minutes passed without any movement at all, from me, or that critter! Oh God I wished I had my Minolta with me. I blew the call a couple more times just to watch the reaction I'd get. Finally the cat got tired of sitting staring at me and stood up turned around and trotted into the some of the thickest cover you can imagine. By the way, the call has a kind of a house cat sound. With a loud heeow instead of meow is how the manufacturers describe it
Using the call on a bull elk
really made my heart race. A moving patch of yellow orange got my attention, in
some thick pole pines. So thick in fact that only about 6" of hide was
visible. That color had to be an elk, but I had to drop to my knees to see
under the pine branches. Then using my 7X35 field glasses, I could focus out
the branches, and focus in and look for any horns. He was only a small
two-year-old spike, but a legal elk, and beggars can't be choosers. Only
part of the head was visible. A pair of binoculars can be used to see through
obstructions that eyes alone can't. He was about 75yds away and slowly walking
towards me as I started to blow on the cow call. I pulled the hammer back on
Figure 7 - You do what you gotta do when the pickup is 5 miles on the other side of the mountain, and no communication. Even with the plastic on the floor it was all three guys could do to slide this bull in. Note his feet sticking out the window.
20% success on elk is the norm for
Figure 8 All hands pitch in.
Figure 9 - This is my modified 1868
While deer hunting in eastern