Elk are not stupid.
We say this to immediately dispel the idea that hunting them is in any way particularly easy.
Elk are also not the strong silent type. They make a whole range of vocalizations, to the extent of having quite a complex language.
There are bursts of communication, and significant pauses. Some of the types of Elk vocalization of which we’re aware include:
- ‘chirps’ – a kind of background gum-bumping between groups.
- ‘mews’ – which, confusingly, can be used for both threats and submission, sparring or location of others.
- ‘barks’ – an elk warning klaxon indicating danger, and as such, the hunter’s nightmare.
- ‘bugles’ – signs of dominance, which also double as ‘Where are you?’ calls
- ‘chuckles’ – a series of grunts that follow a bugle, which adds a note of dominance to the bugle, so the combination vocalization is something like ‘Where are you, Dipstick?’
All of which combine to tell us two things.
Firstly, if you’re going to go and hunt elk, you need to learn some of their language of vocalization for use in the wild.
And secondly, you’re going to need some elk calls to help you make the vocalizations.
Specifically, you’re going to need cow elk calls, because they’re relentlessly effective at getting the elk you want where you want them, allowing you to have a successful hunt.
Here’s our breakdown of the best cow elk calls on the market, so you never have to buy blind.
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Best Cow Elk Calls - Comparison Table
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Best Cow Elk Calls - Reviews
Primos has been a leading name in the call market for decades, and the Terminator Elk System Call is the evolution of its Original Can call.
There are a couple of special features in the Terminator system that push it to the top of our list.
Firstly, the call system features a ‘Resonator’ end, which allows hunters to replicate the elk’s voice chamber. That means you get more accurate nasal elk tones than would otherwise be possible.
Secondly, Primos has patented a ‘support shelf’ mouthpiece, taking the hassle out of cow calls with this system and reducing the amount of air pressure you need to reproduce those sounds.
The patents don’t stop there – the system comes with a blue ‘snap on’ reed, which should give you perfect tension and tones reliably throughout the lifetime of the call.
This kind of design, which keeps the hunter in mind at all times and meets their practical needs, is one of the main reasons the Terminator system marches to the top of our list.
Another handy design feature in the Terminator system is a protective cap that also serves as a storage unit for extra snap on reeds - just in case you need them.
Primos is known and trusted for the build quality and reputation of its calls. It has a long history of putting hunting calls that work in the hands of hunters, and helping them achieve the hunts they want.
The Terminator is no exception to that rule, building innovation that works for hunters into every element of the system.
It’s rare that diaphragm calls make it onto lists of best products, because compared to some other types of call, they take dedication and practice to use effectively.
The Hunters Specialities Carlton’s Alumni Calls are special enough to buck the trend.
Each of the four calls in the pack produces a different range of sound.
The Hunters Specialities have aluminum frames, which mean they’re relatively easy to tune, giving you a range of sounds and effects out of each call. You simply pick the reed that works for the sounds or vocalizations you’re trying to make.
For beginners, the red single reed call produces cow/calf and young bull sounds. The ‘Super Blue Double Reed’ produces cow calls, but you can also use it for mid-to-long-range bugles. ‘The Herd Bull Triple Reed’ takes you down the spectrum for deep, nasal cow calls.
And if that doesn’t give you enough options, there’s a cow and calf-specific call to help you out too.
You’re never going to be able to pick up a set of diaphragm calls and take them straight out to call elk. Like any musical instrument, they need practice before you can use them to their best effect.
But the aluminium frames, use of latex in their build and their easy tuning options mean the Alumni are seriously worth considering as part of your elk hunting kit.
One of the most notable things about elk vocalizations is that communication is rarely just one to one. There’s usually a degree of ‘herd talk’ either in the background or, in the absence of bugling or other specific vocalizations, the foreground.
‘Herd talk’ can make the difference between a hunter sounding like a group of elk and attracting other elk to them, and sounding like a predator trying to blend in.
Elk hunting without herd talk is like starting a conversation with a stranger, but without using the letter ‘E.’
The Primos Hoochie Pack Call comes into its own when it comes to helping hunters produce herd talk.
Using two microphones, one in each hand, even solo hunters can create believable back-and-forth herd talk to lull target elk into a sense of recognition, and out of any sense of danger.
Lightweight and relatively easy to use, the Hoochie Pack Call has impressed hunters with the realism of the cow and calf sounds it can produce, with some users claiming they had whole ‘conversations’ with cow elks, and others luring bull elks to within 200 yards with the cow elk call.
The price point of the Hoochie Pack Call certainly works in the set’s favor, but some users have also questioned the build quality of the two microphones when used in rough terrain or over time.
As a relatively simple and unfussy way of generating herd talk though, the Hoochie Pack Call scores highly.
As an alternative to the tuneable Hunters Specialties diaphragm calls, the Rocky Mountain Elk 101 3-pack gives you a spectacular range of call-options.
Developed for Rocky Mountain by world champion callers Rockie and Corey Jacobsen, the 3-pack is designed to help you cover all your elk calling needs. Certainly if you want a set of effective cow elk diaphragm calls, Rockie and Corey have you covered.
The 3-pack includes a C1 All-Star call, which you can use to make a wide range of cow and calf vocalizations and those all-important herd talk effects like chirps and mews.
The C2 Contender tone top diaphragm adds a variety of bull calls and tones to your calling repertoire, so you’re not searching for an extra piece of equipment to communicate with bull elks if your ‘conversation’ with the elks you’re hunting suddenly changes tone.
Whether, if challenged, you prefer to make aggressive or passive bull vocalizations will depend on the situation at the time, but either way, the C2 allows you to produce those sounds.
Meanwhile the C4 Champ call helps to round out your cow elk calling with small-to-medium cow, calf and bull sounds. You can also use the C4 call to produce the more nasal cow elk sounds that would otherwise be noticeably missing from the natural soundscape.
Diaphragm calls are always going to divide hunters. Having a set designed by Rockie and Corey Jacobsen though means you can expect results beyond the norm.
Using cow elk calls at a distance is all well and good, but there’s a crucial gap between getting elk quite close to you in any terrain and getting them within effective hunting distance.
It’s the same as the distance between flirting across a crowded room, and dimming the lights and putting your sexy music on.
Primos makes calls that cover most aspects of the hunting process, and the IMAKA DA BULLCRAZY call exists to help you seal the deal.
It comes with a mouthpiece that allows you to do standard calling, or to specifically improve your close-calling, and users talk about the IMAKA DA BULLCRAZY call like it’s Viagra, warning would-be hunters to be ready for it to do everything it claims to do (make bulls crazy) and more.
The call is single-reed, but comes with an elastic band to allow hunters to simply press a button and ‘dial in’ the tone they want, meaning the notes can be modulated as needed.
Users report the IMAKA DA BULLCRAZY is extremely effective in its close-range capacity, getting both bulls and cows close enough to take the shot that makes for a successful hunt. As such, it earns its place on our list by bringing elk reliably into the kill-zone.
Best Cow Elk Calls - Buyers Guide
Cow elk are responsible for a lot of the vocalizations of any herd – they communicate with each other, with their calves and of course with the bulls, everything from the sort of ‘watercooler chat’ of elk life to warnings, reassurances and of course would-be mating talk.
There’s a high degree of ‘herd talk’ in any elk herd, and cow elk calls allow you to reassure the herd that you’re not there to do them harm, but are a non-threatening member or members of a herd.
To do that though, versatility is the key.
Cow elk calls are your way into the conversation of the herd. Any call or set of calls that allows you to have a bigger and broader conversation can only be to your benefit when you get out in the wild.
So buy calls that allow you to make the widest range of cow elk vocalizations, whether you’re communicating with cows, calves or bulls or all at once.
Ease of use is another key factor.
No hunter worth the name wants their hunt to be too easy, but neither do you want to be searching for the right call and trying to remember how to use its sixteen-step reed system when you’re trying to respond to elk vocalizations.
That’s like using a phrase book that’s in the top inside pocket of your rucksack. It causes delay, and while delays are part of elk communication, if the delays are too long, they make the elk suspicious. And if the elk get suspicious, your hunt goes wrong.
Buy calls that are easy for you to use, or that are worth learning how to use instinctively before you go out on your hunt. Getting the elk where you want them to be depends on fluent communication and tone. Buy calls that help you achieve that easily.
Expand your vocabulary.
Versatility is a must-have in your cow elk calls, but don’t be afraid to experiment and step outside your usual comfort zone. What’s to stop you adding bull calls to your hunting kit? What’s to stop you adding diaphragm calls? Close-up calls as well as distance calls?
Try out everything that feels like it might add a new dimension to your ability to communicate with the elk and guide them where you need them to be so you can successfully hunt them.
Some might not work for you, others will become your favorite calls of all time. Experiment, try them out, and build your communication arsenal with the same care as you’d build your ballistic or your bow collection.
Put The Time In
No call or number of calls is going to help you successfully hunt elk if you don’t put the time in to understanding the meanings of their various vocalizations out in the wild. Elk are rarely an animal you’ll hunt successfully on your first trip, for the reason we pointed out at the start of this list – they’re really not stupid.
To hunt them successfully, you need to understand the sounds they make, and the meanings of those sounds. Only when you’ve done that will you really have a grasp of the calls that will work best for the elk you’re hunting.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there one all-purpose cow elk call that I can just grab and go?
No cow elk hunt is going to do all the work for you. You need to know what the vocalizations are and what they mean if you’re going to hunt elk.
Once you know that, the call or calls you instinctively grab will be a matter of experience. That means there’s no one single grab and go solution – the cow elk call that works best for you depends on you, how well you make certain sounds, what your aims are and so on.
So sadly, no, there’s no single solution.
Are diaphragm calls worth the effort?
Again, this very much depends on the amount of effort you’re willing to devote to practicing vocalizations with them, and whether you start getting the results that justify the practice time.
Generally, the more practice you put into diaphragm calls, the more effective they become, because you learn new instincts when using them.
No diaphragm call is ever likely to bag you an elk in your first few hunts, but getting new, perhaps tuneable, diaphragm calls when you’re already experienced with what they do could well bring you quick results and so prove themselves worthwhile.
Is there no simpler way to attract elk?
There are some higher-tech devices coming onto the market which mimic elk vocalizations, but as yet, while they certainly take the hard work out of forming the vocalizations yourself, they’re relatively unsophisticated.
They’re like elk-hunting versions of Siri – they can allow you to respond intelligently if they understand the meaning of the vocalization you’ve heard. But they’re not flexible in the moment, as a human caller and hunter would be. Perhaps in years to come, every hunter will go equipped with an elk translation and response unit.
For now though, the diversity of cow elk calls on the market reflects the complexity of the vocalization-language, and if you want to successfully hunt elk, you need to both know what sounds to make, and use a range of calls to help you make them.