Today we have Steve Chappell from Elk Camp TV with us talking about all things elk hunting.
Locke: "To kick things off, Steve, I would love to hear more about Elk Camp TV and your background. As far as I know, you're currently in season five or have just wrapped up season five. Can you give us some more insights into that?"
Mike: "Steve, could you start by telling us about your younger years and how you developed a passion for elk hunting? It would be great to hear how this passion eventually led to Elk Camp TV and your outfitter business."
Steve Chappell: "Thank you for asking. I consider myself very fortunate and blessed to have grown up in a hunting family in rural Colorado. From a very young age, about five years old, my dad took me along on his mule deer hunts, which sparked my passion for hunting. I often joke that I was raised as a hunter because I received a BB gun at seven or eight years old, pellets at nine, a shotgun at 12 or 13, and my first big game rifle the first year I was able to hunt. My dad and granddad would take me up into the high mountains of southern Colorado where we would pack in and hunt elk every fall. These experiences helped shape my love for the outdoors and hunting."
"I'm grateful to have been raised as a hunter, and I've always had a passion for it. However, my love for elk calling really took off in the early nineties when guys like Wayne Carlton and Will Primos were making a name for themselves in the field. I'll never forget the first time I called in and shot an elk with a bow back in 1995. From that moment on, I was hooked. I knew that calling elk was my calling, and it changed my life."
"I'll admit that I'm a bit of a one-trick pony. My focus is primarily on elk hunting, and that's where my passion lies. Around the same time that I got into elk calling, I also developed an interest in videography. I remember purchasing what I considered to be my first high-quality camera, a Canon XL one, in the mid-nineties. From then on, I was able to combine my love for elk hunting with my passion for video production."
"I'm not sure if your listeners remember, but the Canon XL one was a pretty cool-looking camera back in the day. From there, I started making VHS videos, including Bugling Frenzy, which came out in 1999 or 2000, and then moved on to the Extreme Bull series. However, as technology advanced and everything went digital in recent years, I had to make a decision about whether to continue with video production. For me, the video aspect is an integral part of the hunting experience, and it's not just about calling in and killing an elk, but also capturing the entire experience on video."
"That's why I'm so grateful for Elk Camp and the opportunity to work with you guys at SKRE. It was a long road to get here, but I'm glad it happened. I actually stumbled upon your booth at the Western Hunting Expo in 2019, and was impressed by your camo and booth setup. I didn't even know about you guys, but I struck up a conversation, and that's how this opportunity came about."
Locke: "I just wanted to share a quick anecdote that struck me, Steve. I actually grew up in a small town in Mississippi, and my neighbor a few doors down was Ronnie "Cuss" Strickland, who is now the CEO of Mossy Oak. At the time, he managed the local sporting goods store and was good friends with Will Primos. Will was touring all around Mississippi, selling diaphragm turkey calls out of fish bowls. Growing up in Mississippi, we were mainly focused on church and sports, and our hunting was limited to deer, turkey, duck, and small game. The idea of elk hunting in the mountains felt like a far-off dream."
"It's funny you mention Will Primos because he was actually a hometown hero for me growing up in Mississippi. I remember following him closely and seeing him at all the local sporting events. He even worked with the guy at our local sporting goods store. So when he came out with his own hunting movie, it was a big deal for us boys who loved hunting. A few years later, he really got into elk hunting and started developing his own line of elk calls. Hearing you mention his name brought back a lot of memories for me."
"Up until recently, my knowledge of elk hunting was primarily based on Will Primos' elk hunting footage in his Truth series. Even now, at 41 years old, my first elk hunting experience was just this past September. So it's really cool to see how things have come full circle for me in terms of my exposure to elk hunting and how it all ties together."
Steve Chappell: "I completely agree that Will Primos and others like him set the standard for videoing elk hunts. Will, in particular, had a huge impact on my career and gave me the opportunity to do what I do now. When I was young, I sent him a VHS tape of some of my hunts and call-ins. That fall, he invited me to come up and meet him and his team in Douglas Pass, Colorado. I ended up spending about a decade with those guys, going on hunts and even appearing in a couple of the Truth videos with Will."
"Will Primos is the one who really set me on my path and inspired me to pursue my passion for hunting and videography. I still have a deep appreciation and love for him and everything he's done for the hunting community."
Locke: "I agree, it's really cool how everything ties together. Even though you're not involved in elk hunting outside of working with SKRE and their clientele, it's still an important part of the hunting community. I can definitely relate to how watching hunting videos like Will Primos' elk hunts sparked my own dreams of one day going out west and experiencing it for myself. It's funny how watching these videos of turkey and deer hunting can lead to discovering new passions and interests in other types of hunting. Overall, it's just really cool how the hunting community is all interconnected and how one person's inspiration can impact so many others."
Mike: "That's a great point. Unless you grew up in the west, like Steve did and grew up hunting elk, then watching guys like Will Primos really helped popularize elk hunting and gave many people their first glimpse into this amazing sport. It's incredible how many people have been inspired to try elk hunting because of guys like Will Primos."
"Interestingly enough, it seems like Louisiana guys have a particular affinity for elk hunting. Perhaps it's the challenge of pursuing an animal that's not native to their home state or the allure of the rugged, mountainous terrain. Regardless of the reason, it's clear that elk hunting has captured the hearts and imaginations of hunters across the country."
"It's interesting how many Louisiana guys you meet in the middle of the wilderness in Colorado, who are passionate about elk hunting. As a fellow southern boy, I can definitely relate to the impact that Will Primos had on the hunting community, and my own memories of watching his elk hunting videos. He really helped popularize elk hunting and inspired countless hunters to pursue this incredible sport. It's amazing how hunting can bring people together from all walks of life, regardless of where they come from or their background."
Locke: "You're absolutely right, Will Primos had a huge impact on the hunting community, not just in terms of elk hunting but also turkey hunting. He was one of the first guys to really showcase spring turkey hunting on television, DVD, VHS, and other media formats. The way they presented it on their yearly series of VHS and then DVD was pioneering for the time. Similarly, they had a big impact on whitetail deer hunting, showcasing it in a way that had never been done before."
"Overall, I feel like they had a similar effect on spring turkey hunting as a sport and as a culture within the hunting community as they did with elk hunting. Will Primos was definitely a pioneer in the industry and has left a lasting impact on the hunting world."
Elk Hunting Experiences
Mike: "Let's jump right into elk hunting. I remember when I was a kid, I was with my brothers scouting for deer when I saw my first absolutely giant bull elk. It wasn't my first time seeing an elk, but it was definitely the moment that caught the elk bug. I never forgot that moment, and it sparked my love for elk hunting."
"Steve, was there a specific moment for you where you knew you were all in on elk hunting? Even though you consider yourself more of a mule deer guy, you've been on some great elk hunts and have had the fortune of taking some tremendous bulls. Was there a specific event that solidified your love for elk hunting?"
Steve Chappell: In 1995, my dad and I applied for an elk tag in Arizona. He applied for unit 23 early rifle hunt, and unbelievably, he drew the tag as a non-resident on his very first try. I remember telling him the news, and he was lukewarm about it, thinking that because he drew it the first time, it probably wasn't a great hunt. But I knew that he had just hit the lottery.
"We arrived two days early and it was pouring rain all night. The hunt started on Friday, and we were there in the dark on Wednesday, ready to go. Despite the rainy weather, we were both excited and eager to start the hunt. And from that moment on, I was hooked on elk hunting. It was an incredible experience and one that solidified my love for elk hunting and the pursuit of these magnificent animals."
"During that hunt in 1995, we couldn't even step out of the trailer until about 9 o'clock due to the rain. But when we finally stepped out, we heard mature bulls bugling all around us. My dad couldn't believe it, and I knew it was going to be a phenomenal experience. That hunt was the moment where I said to myself, "I have got to do this for the rest of my life." No matter what changes I need to make, I'm going to be in the elk woods every year pursuing these magnificent animals."
"At the time, I was guiding with my dad in southern Colorado, but that hunt in Arizona really gave me the urge to establish something there. And in 2000, I did just that. That hunt with my dad in 1995 was unforgettable. He was able to take down a 350 bull on the first afternoon of the hunt, a great bull for him at the time. We were used to smaller Colorado bulls, but that hunt really shaped my future and solidified my love for elk hunting."
Mike: "I can only imagine how incredible it must have been to witness those trophy elk hunts in Utah during the late 90s and early 2000s. I remember talking to a buddy who had drawn a limited entry tag here in Utah and he was holding out for a 400 inch bull. It was a crazy time. However, I do understand the need for more opportunity and the subsequent increase in tags."
"It's easy to forget just how impressive a mature 350 inch bull can be. Although there are still some incredible bulls taken each year, it's important to appreciate the hard work and dedication it takes to harvest any mature bull, regardless of the size."
"I can't speak for other states, but it's definitely been a trend here in Utah where trophy quality has declined in recent years. However, there are still some great bulls taken each year, but it's not at the same level as it was during the late '90s and early 2000's. It's important to remember that hunting is not just about harvesting a trophy animal, but also about the overall experience and enjoying the outdoors. Regardless of the size of the bull, there is still plenty of enjoyment to be had in the pursuit of elk hunting."
Steve Chappell: "I would say so, Mike. Definitely, there's a great bull here and there, but you're right, a 350 bull is such a solid bull. It has no real visible weaknesses. And to be honest, I would be hard-pressed to want to hunt with someone that would scoff at a 350 bull. I feel like, in the last decade or so, the overall trophy quality in many of the Arizona units has declined a little bit. I also feel like the consistent, good hard-running activity isn't as common as it used to be. It used to be a common sight to have them bugling until 8:30 in the morning in Arizona. That just doesn't seem to be the case anymore, at least for me anyway. In the afternoons, I remember back in the day, you could go out and have bulls bugling by 4:30 and be chasing bugles and calling at them. But now, you're lucky sometimes to get a bugle before darkness. So it has become a little more challenging, and you have to work a little harder for the encounters."
Mike: "Do you think that hunting has caused animals to become smarter? Or do you think that they have evolved to be more cautious over time? Some people suggest that hunters may be over-calling, but I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the matter."
Steve Chappell: "I don't want to give animals too much credit and anthropomorphize them, but I do believe that they can learn and adapt. With the increasing popularity of calling, more and more people bring their friends and family to hunt, which can put more pressure on the animals. I might be partly responsible for that, as I've shown it a lot in my videos. As a result, hunting has become more challenging, and you have to be at the top of your game to get good results these days."
Calling on the Hunt
Mike: "Let's talk about calling. I remember listening to one of your previous podcasts earlier this year, where you were recognized as one of the leading experts on the subject, Steve. For our listeners who are new to elk hunting and planning their first trip out west, could you share some insights about calling? When is the best time to call, and when should you avoid it? What are some things that you've learned from decades of pursuing these animals?"
Steve Chappell: "Thanks, Mike. When it comes to calling, one of the biggest things I've learned is to use my feet more than my calls. I like to get within 150 yards of an elk before I start calling. I call it being "aggressively stealthy." Once I'm in that range, I'm careful about my first call. If I start with a loud and harsh sound, it can spook the elk more than attract them, so I try to start with a softer, more subtle sound and gradually build up the intensity from there."
"That's where calling comes in. During the off-season, I focus on mastering the control of my calls. While it's important to be able to call loudly when needed, I also aim to control the volume and tone and make softer, more subtle calls when I'm close to the elk. I'm always conscious of the wind, which is crucial in elk hunting. If the bull catches your scent, he'll likely flee before responding to your call. I spend a lot of time positioning myself to take advantage of the wind before making a call. I advise hunters to be both aggressive and patient, to think carefully before making a call. Once you blow your call, the elk know you're there, and everything changes."
Mike: "Got it. What about bugles? I've heard some hunters use them when they're in close range. Do you ever use a bugle in those situations?"
Steve Chappell: "I have a specific approach when it comes to calling herd bulls. I use an aggressive bugle to get their attention. For satellite bulls, I use a cow call. I used to believe that bugling at a herd bull would cause him to round up his cows and leave, but I've found that it's all about distance and the fight or flight response. To get a herd bull to come to a call, I get as close to him as possible. If I can get within 75 yards of him and his cows and use a lip ball bugle or a display bugle, I can often get his attention and draw him in."
"When I blow that bugle, I'm not asking a question. I'm making a statement. I want to flirt with the bull's cows and punch him in the nose at the same time. I put a lot of emotion into the call, and I believe that's what draws the bull in. He knows I'm challenging him and he wants to protect his cows. It's not a question of whether he'll come over or not, he bristles up and heads my way looking to kick me out of his territory."
Locke: "That's really interesting. I had a guide on my elk hunt this year, and he shared a lot of the same strategies that you're discussing. As a seasoned turkey hunter, I've noticed some interesting parallels. Just like with an older tom that has been hunted for several seasons and has become wary of calls, an older bull elk that has been hunted and fought with other bulls is less likely to be fooled by novice calling tactics. When you get in close to a smarter turkey, a lot of the same strategies that work for elk hunting can work in that scenario too."
Mike: "Steve, when you refer to calling a mature bull, can you clarify whether you punch him in the nose with a large, mature bugle or with a weaker, more satellite-like bugle?"
Steve Chappell: "That's a great question. In the last four years, I've changed my approach and now I bugle at the bulls as aggressively and loudly as possible. This tactic has proven effective, especially when hunting big mature bulls in Arizona and Utah. I want to communicate to the bull that I'm a significant threat to him and his herd, capable of stealing his cows right out from under him. Therefore, I try to come across as big and aggressive as possible to make sure he takes me seriously. However, even when I bugle as aggressively as I can, I know I can't overpower a bull out in the woods. They are incredibly powerful and maneuverable, as I'm sure you know. But still, I want to convey the message that I mean business when I blow that call at him."
Mike: "Let's talk about hunting for a moment. I know you do a lot of hunting in Arizona, where the elk units are much better managed than in Colorado. The opportunities for hunting are much better in Arizona as you can't simply buy an elk tag every year like you can in Colorado. The same goes for Utah and Nevada, and most parts of New Mexico. Would you say there are significant differences between hunting elk in areas that are heavily pressured, such as Colorado, versus hunting elk in less pressured areas like Arizona?"
Steve Chappell: "Yes, I believe there are significant differences. Personally, if I were hunting in southern Colorado in the mountains like I used to before I started hunting and guiding in Arizona, I would probably rely more on cow calling, especially when targeting satellite bulls. However, my approach would still be the same: aggressive and stealthy, trying to get as close as possible to the elk. I find that a call is much more effective when the elk is close by because they are typically on a routine and moving with the wind. This holds true whether I'm hunting in Arizona or elsewhere."
"Elk are usually on a routine either moving to or from their bedding areas to feed and drink water in the evenings. As a hunter, it's important to understand that you're interrupting their schedule, and the more convenient you can make it for them to divert a little bit from their path, the more likely you are to call them in. This is especially true if you're calling from a distance of half to three-quarters of a mile away. Although I mentioned earlier that I bugle aggressively, I don't want hunters to think that I'm always using this tactic. In fact, 80 to 90% of the time, I'm more of a lover than a fighter, using cow calls instead of bugles. I only resort to bugling when I'm in a unique situation and in the right position to call in a herd bull."
Mike: "That's right. If you're hunting younger bulls in Colorado and you let out a big dominant bull bugle, the younger bull will either round up his cows or vacate the area entirely. It's an interesting approach, and many of my hunting buddies and guide friends share similar tactics. The key is to move in as close as possible to the elk. In fact, I recently had a great podcast with Randy Omer, and he shared a story about a hunt with his son in Arizona. On the last day of the hunt, they moved in close to a herd bull and managed to call him in."
"Yes, that was in Arizona. Randy Omer shared a great story about how they moved in within 30 yards of a herd bull on the last day of their hunt and managed to call him in. I agree that the general consensus among hunters is to get as close as possible to the elk before calling. It's just too difficult to bring in a bull from half a mile away. Although you may hear the occasional story of someone successfully calling in a bull from a distance, it's more of an exception than the norm."
Steve Chappell: "I completely agree. I'm glad you had Randy on the podcast, and I'm definitely going to give that episode a listen. Randy is one of the best out there, with a proven track record of taking down giant bulls and bucks in Arizona. Not only is he an accomplished hunter, but he's also a great person. I'm sure it was an excellent conversation."
Favorite State to Hunt In
Mike: "Do you have a favorite state to hunt in, Steve? Or is your preference for Arizona a general consensus?"
Steve Chappell: "Yeah, I love Arizona. The great thing for me is that I get to be in Arizona for that archery season in the early rifle or muzzle loader season. So I'm, you know, I'm, I'm in the woods of Arizona for approximately about a month, and then I go to Colorado, I guide with my dad there on our private land there in southwest Colorado. And we have a pretty unique situation there. You know, obviously we're hunting wild free-ranging elk, but these elk are incredibly vocal and I mean, I've heard 'em bugling in December, it's incredible. But during all those rifle hunts in Colorado when we're guiding these elk are very vocal. They're really herded up. And I think that creates, you know, that herd environment where they're, where they're more talkative. But I've noticed even the cows in Colorado in our place are very, very talkative, very different from the Arizona cows, which are kind of mutes."
"Guiding with my dad in Colorado in the early nineties gave me the opportunity to develop my ear for elk tone and sounds. Hearing so many elk all the time really got me into calling, and I feel like that's where I truly developed my calling skills. The unique situation of being in Arizona for about a month and then in Colorado for about two months allows me to experience both states' elk sounds, which is pretty cool. I love it and wouldn't change it for the world."
Locke: "As a newbie, I'm curious to know about the differences in elk hunting between different popular elk states, especially for someone like myself who has only experienced elk hunting in one place, such as northern Utah. Can you break down some of the differences in hunting elk in other popular locations like Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado?"
Steve Chappell: "The differences in elk hunting between different popular elk states are primarily based on the terrain and habitat you're hunting in. For example, in many places in Utah, some places in Arizona, and some places in Colorado, glassing is a popular tactic. The country in Utah is generally more rugged than in Arizona, and hunters tend to glass and kill elk that way more than they do with calling. Therefore, hunters need to adapt to the type of habitat they're hunting in and use the appropriate tactics."
"As someone who loves to call, I tend to pick areas and units in Arizona where I can call, preferably those with more thick, flat terrain where I can get in tight and cut the distance to call the bulls. However, it's essential to note that if you're in terrain where glassing is a more effective tactic, having good optics and using a tripod has its advantages. Therefore, it's crucial to adapt to the terrain and use the appropriate tactics."
Mike: "It's an advantage to have a piece of land like the ranch I guide on in Colorado because it's not open to public land hunters who could over call and educate the elk. On public land in Colorado, the elk tend to be less vocal. This is a common observation among many people who hunt private ranches. With fewer hunters, there's less likelihood of over calling and educating the elk. There are probably a lot of hunters who cannot call effectively, and as a result, they end up educating the elk."
Steve Chappell: "Although our Colorado place is fairly small and has neighboring properties and the Southern Ute Indian Reservation around us, the elk are still very vocal. However, we have to be cautious not to be overly aggressive and push the elk off our property. If we do, it could be a few days before they come back, and then they're subject to being called at and hunted by our neighbors. During early September, I've noticed hunters with archery tags near us who are calling a lot, indicating that the elk are getting called at. Nevertheless, the elk remain very vocal, which is fantastic for us."
Mike: "Locke and I recently had an interesting conversation about Whitetail hunting. I asked him which six or seven days he would choose to hunt Whitetail if he was only allotted that amount of time. He quickly responded with a specific day during the rut, saying that he has killed more big bucks on that day than any other. This highlights the importance of timing your hunt during the rut."
"Let me pose the same question to you. If you were given an additional seven days to hunt elk, which seven days would you consider prime hunting days? I understand that there are many factors that could affect the answer, such as fluctuations and maybe even unknown variables like moon phases. However, with your decades of experience, what would you say are the best seven days to hunt elk in the western region?"
Steve Chappell: "Mike, based on my experience hunting in Arizona, I would recommend the period from September 24th until the end of the month as the prime time for hunting elk. However, I must say that the two best rutting days that I have ever experienced in Arizona were October 1st and October 3rd in different years. Nevertheless, if I had to choose a consecutive seven-day period, I would pick September 24th through the end of the month."
Mike: "That's really interesting. I remember years ago, my brothers and I were scouting for elk, and I believe it was during the week you mentioned, and the elk were incredibly active. They were wound up, and we even witnessed a couple of bulls locking horns and engaging in an all-out brawl. It was truly a spectacular sight. I agree with you completely on the timing of the hunt."
Steve Chappell: "I'm really hoping to draw an archery tag for the hunt in Arizona this year, which runs from September 15th to the 28th. This timeframe includes a lot of that prime hunting time, including a little bit of pre-rut when it's possible to call in a big bull before he gets too territorial. I'm really excited about the prospect of drawing an archery tag in Arizona, but if I don't, I'll definitely try to team up with someone who has a great archery tag and have a lot of fun hunting with them."
Whitetail and Elk Hunting
Locke: "You raised an interesting point there, and it reminded me of my years of obsession with hunting whitetail. You mentioned the pre-rut period with bulls, and I see a parallel with the whitetail world. When discussing the rut and hunting tactics, it's common to refer to the "peak rut" in the whitetail world. However, it's often overlooked that all these animals have different stages of the rut, and the peak rut isn't always the best time to hunt whitetails. That's because during the peak rut, bucks are typically locked down with a doe and less likely to respond to calls or decoys."
"During the peak rut, bucks are more difficult to hunt because they are usually locked down with a doe and won't move very far until they've bred her. This can be particularly challenging in the Midwest, where you might find yourself in wide open fields that leave you vulnerable to being spotted by the deer. In my experience, I prefer to hunt during the pre-rut phase, which typically occurs in November in the Midwest, December in the mid-south, or January in the deep south, depending on where you're hunting and what the deer density and age structure are like. Although the dynamic pieces can vary, there's always a small window of time where the biggest, most mature bucks are most susceptible to different tactics."
"Finding that sweet spot in the field, where the biggest, most mature bucks are most susceptible to different tactics, is crucial. Sometimes, they're cruising and active, which can be advantageous, but they may not be call-responsive. Conversely, during peak rut, bucks are often focused on breeding and may not be as responsive to calls or decoys. Watching a buck chase a doe or a herd bull work his cows is fascinating, but it's not the ideal time to hunt them. They can be difficult to kill, especially if you're not using a rifle or if you're not shooting from a long distance away. In those situations, no matter how skilled you are at calling or hunting, you're not the real thing, and the animals are less likely to fall for your tactics."
"When a whitetail buck is chasing a doe, he's at her mercy, and your success in hunting him depends entirely on whether or not she brings him by your location. If she doesn't, you're out of luck because he's unlikely to respond to calls and won't bed down. Even though he's visible, he's still very difficult to kill. That's why, as a whitetail hunter, I'm interested in the parallel you drew earlier. The sweet spot for hunting a whitetail buck is the one or two days when he is desperately seeking and is responsive to calls. During this period, he is on his feet and not with a receptive doe, making him vulnerable to your tactics. You become the "receptive doe" in his world, and that makes you extremely dangerous to him."
"You bring up an excellent point, and I'm curious to hear your thoughts on this. In the whitetail world, there is also a post-rut phase that can be fruitful for hunting. In areas with a good deer buck-to-doe ratio, bucks will continue seeking those final receptive does even after the peak rut has passed. Do you see a similar late-season opportunity in the elk woods? Is there a chance to strike that same magic that you find during the pre-rut phase?"
Steve Chappell: "You make an excellent point, and it applies to elk hunting as well. While I prefer the last week of September because it tends to offer more action for callers, it's important to note that during this time, you may have more success with satellite bulls since the herd bulls are often locked down with their cows. This is similar to the behavior of whitetail bucks during peak rut. However, during the last week of September, the tactic I mentioned earlier, bugling, can be effective for calling in herd bulls. But for those big herd bulls, the sweet spot for calling them in is usually between the 8th and 10th of September until around the 15th when they are still interested but not yet cowed up. At this point, you may be able to lure them in with a cow call or even a bugle since they are territorial and curious about potential challengers."
"On the other hand, I have also noticed that during the muzzle loader or early rifle hunt in early October, there may be big bulls that are not with cows, but they are still interested and actively searching for cows. During this time, instead of bugling, I am able to call and attract them. In fact, I can recall a great encounter I had in 2019 with a massive bull in Arizona. I called him out into a wide open meadow, and when I saw him, I was shocked that he did not have any cows with him, given his size. However, he responded to my cow call and came straight towards me in the meadow."
Mike: "It seems to me that even with mule deer, the older age class of animals that have been around for a while are content to let the satellite bulls or less mature bucks court the does, knowing they're not ready. Once the does are ready, the mature bucks move in fast and dominate. However, it's interesting to note that this behavior happens even in late September. You mentioned September 24th as a date. Do you think that by that time, most of the mature bulls are locked into a sizable harem, or are they still on the move?"
Steve Chappell: "It's definitely interesting to observe this behavior in mature bulls, although there are exceptions to the rule. Sometimes, a mature bull may not have the same energy and aggression he had when he was in his prime at five and a half to eight and a half years old. As a result, he may let a younger, more aggressive bull run the cows and keep them gathered up while he hangs back and waits for a cow in heat. However, he'll be nearby and ready to step in at the right moment. It's important to note that the bull running the cows is not always the biggest antler bull in the area, and encountering this kind of bull is always a possibility."
"A bull's behavior and personality play a significant role in their interactions during the mating season. In my experience, each bull has its own unique personality, just like people. Some bulls are fighters and more aggressive, which can result in broken antlers. However, most bulls tend to avoid conflict and are more focused on finding love during the mating season. As a hunter, I try to capitalize on this behavior and not just focus on the bull controlling the cows. There are many beautiful big satellite bulls out there that are also worth pursuing. So, it's not just about the biggest and most dominant bull."
Locke: "As part of this conversation, I find myself constantly comparing turkey hunting and elk hunting, particularly because of the similarities in calling and spot-and-stalk tactics. However, there is one key difference between the two that is worth noting. Unlike in the whitetail world or with rutting animals, in the case of turkeys (even though they are not in rut), a common strategy is to call to the hens in order to kill a mature tom that is hared up with them. Experienced turkey hunters have learned to use this technique successfully."
"It's possible that the differences between birds and hoofed animals are simply due to the design of different species. I'm not aware of any proven strategy for calling a female deer or elk in a breeding cycle. In turkey hunting, however, calling to the hens can be an effective way to kill a mature tom with a harem of females. If you're a skilled turkey hunter, you can provoke the lead hen and she will come check you out, bringing the tom with her. This is an interesting aspect of the conversation that I have never explored in relation to elk hunting. I don't know if there's a way to manipulate a cow in the same way."
Strategies for Calling Cows During Breeding Season
Steve Chappell: "There is actually a technique for calling cows during the breeding season, and it involves using a calf call. A calf call is not intimidating to the lead cow or the bull, but it can still be effective because elk are social animals and cows are protective of their young. However, some people make the mistake of using a mature sounding call instead of a calf call, which can push the harem away and cause them to take the bull with them. Like bugling at the wrong time or distance, calling at the wrong time with the wrong sound can also push the harem away. I'm still working on perfecting my calf calling because if done correctly, it can cause the cows to come over and bring the bull along. This is another parallel between turkey hunting and elk hunting."
Mike: Interesting. "So is it like a calf in distress a little bit? Like, I mean, does it sound like a specific type of calf call?"
Steve Chappell: "It's interesting, I actually learned about how protective cows can be. One evening, I was with a hunter in Arizona and we were watching a water source. It got dark and some elk came in right before we were about to leave, and we ended up getting pinned down. Normally, I try to avoid getting trapped like that, but we were stuck. We sat there for 10 or 15 minutes, not knowing what to do. Finally, I had an idea. I decided to howl like a coyote, and do an aggressive coyote call. To my surprise, instead of the elk leaving, two or three cows became aggressive towards me and started coming closer. I think there's something to be said for using a calf in distress call to get their attention, but I also think that just using regular contact calf calls to say "hey, I'm over here" can be effective as well."
Locke: "That's an interesting point you made, not just about calf calling, but also about the situation you found yourself in. As a whitetail hunter, one of the biggest challenges, especially for private land hunters with food plots or common areas with set tree stands that are hunted frequently, is trying to avoid a mature doe figuring out the location of your stand. Once she knows, she'll bust you every time, and even check the spot before she enters the area. For example, if she busts you in your tree stand in a food plot, she'll associate that area with danger and avoid it in the future."
"Tree stands positioned inside a food plot can be a problem if a doe identifies you in the stand. She'll stand at the edge of the plot and check out that tree stand every time she comes back to the area. If you're in the stand, she'll stand there until she sees or smells you. That's why you want to avoid getting busted at all costs. It's interesting because I've heard of people trying different tactics in that situation, where you're hunting from one of those types of stands and you have deer in front of you. You don't want to alert them to the fact that you're in the stand or give away your position."
"One tactic I've heard of is having someone drive up to the food plot in a truck and scare the deer off before you get out of the stand, so as not to scare them off from the area. However, deer are used to vehicles and don't associate it with the tree stand location, so it's not a foolproof solution. Another tactic I've heard is using predator sounds or even manufacturing an alert snort to scare the deer off without blowing your spot for the rest of the season. They don't know where the sound came from, but they know something's not right and will leave the area. It's a cool way to get out of a pin-down situation without ruining your chances for the rest of the season."
Steve Chappell: "I completely agree, Locke. I'm very careful not to spook elk, even on public land. Especially the cows, they're the ones that will give you away for sure. Sometimes I get so frustrated with elk, I just want to blow them up because they can pin you down. If I'm with a hunter and a cameraman, I always try to talk to them beforehand and say, if we get pinned down with a cow looking at us, we absolutely can't move. Every time we move and catch her interest again, she'll stare at us for another five or ten minutes, keeping us pinned down. They don't wear watches, time means nothing to them, and they'll sit there until they figure it out or decide nothing's wrong. I go to great lengths not to spook elk. Interestingly, after we finally got out of that spot that evening, we encountered a rattlesnake on the road walking back to the truck. So it was a pretty eventful evening."
Locke: "It's really interesting to consider the hunter-prey relationship we have with the animals we hunt. For them, it's literally life or death their whole lives. And as you pointed out, they don't wear watches or have anywhere to be, so they'll sit there and scrutinize their surroundings until they feel safe. For us, it's easy to lose sight of what's going on in their world as they encounter us versus what's going on in our world as we encounter them. We have to remember that with all deer, elk, and big game animals, it's a one-sense kind of thing. They sense you in one way, and that's it. It's nature's way of protecting them. As hunters, we have to be conscious of our decisions and actions and how they may affect the animals. Keeping this in mind can make us better hunters and lead to more successful hunts."
Steve Chappell: "It's really crazy to think about what it must be like to have to sneak up on a drink of water just to survive. As hunters, we have to remember that the exit strategy of our hunt is just as important as our game plan. We have to think it all the way through, especially if we're sitting in a blind, watching water, or even calling to the animals. At the end of a morning hunt when the elk stop bugling, I want to leave the area without impacting it too much. I don't want to talk loudly or make a lot of noise as I'm walking away. I want those elk to have zero idea of what just happened so that I have a chance to work with them again when I'm back on them. By being conscious of our impact on the animals and their environment, we can be better hunters and increase our chances of success."
Mike: "The predator-prey relationship is always at play, especially with ungulates like deer and elk. Here in the west, where we have a higher population of mountain lions and out of control coyotes, the predator management isn't what it used to be. These animals are constantly on guard and it's a 24/7, 365-day battle for survival. It's their innate sense of survival, and we have to keep that in mind as hunters. I had an interesting conversation with Randy Omer about this and asked him how close he gets before he's close enough. He immediately answered, "Remember that Locke, 60 yards?" He believes that you can get away with being 20, 30, or 40 yards closer, but 60 yards is a good rule of thumb to avoid spooking the animals. As hunters, we have to remember that we're entering their world and have to be respectful of that."
"Randy Omer actually corrected me, it was 40 times that he could get away with being closer, not 20 or 30. But he emphasized that 60 yards is a good rule of thumb to avoid spooking the animals, because they're always on guard due to the predator-prey relationship. If they hesitate, they're done for. As hunters, we have to find ways to mitigate this and be respectful of their survival instincts. This is especially important when hunting older animals that have survived years of hunting and are more sophisticated. We have to keep in mind that we're entering their world and have to adapt our tactics accordingly."
"It's amazing how some of these mature animals can live as long as they do, being preyed upon 24/7, and running the gauntlet of multiple hunting seasons. They deserve credit for surviving and becoming incredibly hard to kill. As hunters, we have to adapt our tactics and equipment to their survival instincts and abilities. It's not just about having better optics, bows, or rifles. It's about respecting their world and learning how to approach and engage them in a way that increases our chances of success while minimizing their stress and impact. This is true for all animals, from elk to mule deer to antelope."
Locke: "It's interesting to think about how we would react if we had to live like these animals, constantly on guard and sneaking up to every drink of water. It's hard to imagine what it would be like to have to live with that level of threat all the time. But maybe we can relate it to our own lives by considering how we would react if we knew there was a legitimate chance that someone would try to kill us every time we went into our kitchen. That's a pretty intense thought, but it puts into perspective the kind of pressure these animals are under all the time. As hunters, we have to be mindful of that and approach them with respect and consideration for their survival instincts."
Mike: "Yes, it's a constant battle for survival out in the wild, and predators like mountain lions have honed their skills to take advantage of these natural water sources. And for the prey, approaching a water source can be a dangerous task, as they have to balance their need for water with the risk of being attacked. So, as hunters, we need to be mindful of this and factor it into our hunting strategies. It's not just about finding the animals, but also understanding their behavior and the challenges they face in their daily lives."
Locke: "Absolutely, and it's a testament to the adaptability and resilience of these animals. They have evolved and learned to survive in some of the harshest environments and against some of the most formidable predators. As hunters, it's important for us to have that appreciation and respect for the animals we pursue and to do everything we can to ensure their continued existence and conservation."
Mike: "And it's not just the mule deer, but other big game animals as well. These older age class animals have learned to adapt to their environment and to the hunting pressure. They become incredibly elusive and elusive animals are difficult to hunt. And as you mentioned, they often become nocturnal, which makes it even more challenging for hunters. And to add to that, their breeding desires may decrease with age, making it less likely for them to be lured out of hiding by calls or scents. So it's really a testament to their survival instincts and their ability to adapt to changing environments and threats."
Steve Chappell: "It's amazing how perceptive these animals are and how quickly they can switch from relaxed and curious to on high alert. I think that's why it's so important for hunters to be as still and quiet as possible when they're in the field. Any sudden movement or noise can instantly ruin a hunt. And to your point about predators and water sources, it is surprising that they don't take advantage of that more often. But I think it goes back to the fact that these animals have evolved over time to be incredibly cautious and wary of their surroundings. They know that water is a critical resource and they've learned to be very careful when approaching it."
"It's important to remember that we are in their territory, and we have to play by their rules if we want to be successful in the hunt. These animals are constantly on alert, and even the slightest disturbance can send them running. It's all about being as stealthy and cautious as possible, and doing everything in our power to not spook them. It's definitely a challenge, but that's part of what makes hunting so rewarding - the pursuit of a mature animal that has outsmarted so many other hunters before you."
Locke: "I've heard of the fight or flight response in humans, and it seems like it can be applied to deer and elk as well. When faced with a potential threat, their natural response is always flight, as opposed to fighting. It's their way of surviving in the wild, and we as hunters need to be aware of that and adjust our approach accordingly. It's important to understand the psychology of these animals and how they react to different stimuli, whether it's a potential predator or a hunter in their territory. By doing so, we can increase our chances of success and have a greater appreciation for the animals we pursue."
"It's important to be aware of their natural instincts and reactions to potential threats, such as our presence as hunters. We have to understand that their entire lives revolve around this predator-prey relationship and their survival depends on their ability to recognize and avoid danger. As hunters, it's our responsibility to respect and understand this dynamic and do our best to minimize our impact on their natural behaviors and environment."
Steve Chappell: "Well, it's clear that the challenge of outsmarting these incredibly cautious animals is what draws you to the sport, and that feeling of satisfaction when you do succeed is what keeps you coming back. It's certainly a unique and exciting experience, and it's no wonder why so many hunters are passionate about it."
Locke: "I believe that the same can be said for hunting any animal that involves calling tactics. When you're able to manipulate the situation and keep up the charade long enough to be successful, there's an inherent feeling of accomplishment. This feeling of achievement is also one of the driving forces behind people who focus on archery hunting. With archery hunting, the level of success required is a little greater as you need to get much closer to the animal and fool it on another level to kill it at 50 or 60 yards, as opposed to taking a longer distance shot."
"Personally, I've pretty much shifted to archery hunting as it offers me plenty of opportunities. It's not that I'm against firearm hunting, but the sense of accomplishment that comes with archery hunting is unparalleled. It's almost a euphoric feeling when you play the game intensely for so long and come out successful. The fact that you have to get up close and personal with the animal, even if you don't take the shot, is a big part of it. You know that the animal walked away and you could have taken the shot, but you succeeded in all the decision-making and hard work that goes into archery hunting. You got close enough to fool the animal, which has only one reaction to your presence. That feeling of accomplishment is truly amazing, and I believe that's what hooks so many people on archery hunting. It's just a different level of excitement when everything comes together perfectly."
Mike: "I agree, Steve, it's interesting how we can think we have everything figured out, but then something unexpected happens. For example, when Locke was able to call in an incredible bull and harvest it, it's easy to think that we've finally figured it all out. However, just as we think we have it all figured out, elk can surprise us with their behavior. It's a cliche, but it's true: elk are where they are. This is in contrast to mule deer and white-tailed deer, which tend to have a core area. We recently had a discussion about this with some friends in a hunting cabin."
"Elk are incredibly different from other deer species. On some of our limited entry units, the elk herds can span 50 miles. We've documented cases where a significantly large herd bull was found on the north end of the unit one day and the very next day, was found on the south end of the unit, 50 miles away. These elk can just pick up and move for no apparent reason. I recall one year when I was hunting in the high country of Colorado, just below 13,000 feet. Across the basin, I noticed a big open screw slide and a few pockets of timber."
"I remember glassing up a bull who was pushing five heads of cows in an open country. Within the span of about 20 minutes, I watched him cover what was probably well over a mile of mountainous terrain. It was like he was on a mission. Elk are fascinating because they can pick up and move unlike deer. You could be in an area teeming with elk one day and the next day, it's completely void of them. This unpredictability makes elk hunting even more fascinating and interesting. The same can be said for hunting any animal. Just when you think you have them figured out, there's always more to learn."
Steve Chappell: "Mike, you're absolutely right. Elk are so rangey, and I think that's their biggest defense against us. They cover so much ground that it can be challenging to track them down. In Arizona, we've seen bulls documented to move over 20 miles during the rut. In fact, we had a very identifiable bull in unit nine that moved into a completely different unit, seven west to the south, and was killed there. That rangeiness makes them very difficult to hunt, but it's also what makes them so cool. They're such physical and rangy animals, which makes it really satisfying when you play the game and beat them at it. Personally, I prefer hunting elk when they're bugling. I like to have action and not focus on just one bull, as they can change locations and even leave the unit entirely."
Mike: "Elk truly are amazing animals. They don't care how rugged the country is, and they'll be in the middle of a snowstorm without any concern. They're tough and hearty animals, which makes them fascinating to hunt. Of course, when it comes to shot placement, you have to hit them well, as they're incredibly tough. But I think that just adds to the magnificence of the animal. It's one of the many things that draws people to elk hunting. And Steve, I must say, you've done a fantastic job with Elk Camp TV. You've really brought the whole experience to life and been successful in showcasing the whole experience of hunting. Hunting isn't just about the kill, it's about the whole experience, and you've captured that perfectly."
"Absolutely, hunting isn't just about the kill. It's about the whole experience, and that's something we often discuss. The fact that elk are vocal just adds to the flavor and magnificence of the whole hunt. It's not just about the pursuit and the kill, but it's also about the sounds, sights, and feelings that come with the experience."
Steve Chappell: "I completely agree. When you're out there hunting, it's important not to put too much pressure on yourself. It's about having fun, enjoying the company of the people you're with, and hunting hard without getting too caught up on scores or anything like that. When you take that approach and just enjoy the experience without added pressure, good things tend to happen. For me, elk hunting and calling is a journey. I never feel like I've arrived and always strive to learn something new from each encounter. Every bull has its own temperament, so you have to approach each one a little differently. Keeping an open mindset and enjoying the journey is key. If you get too caught up in the end result, you can miss out on the experiences and lessons that come with each encounter."
Locke: "As a first-year elk hunter, I can say that it was a difficult and back country experience, but as an outdoors man, it's definitely something everyone should try to experience. Despite not getting a shot at an elk, I came close a couple of times and experienced most of what we've been talking about in terms of their behavior and what to expect when hunting them. It's definitely a passion that all outdoors men should experience. As we wrap up the podcast, I wanted to give you the opportunity to tell us a bit about what's going on with Elk Camp TV and how people can watch and follow along with your journey."
Steve Chappell: "Thanks, Locke. Season five of Elk Camp TV will end in December and will air in the first and second quarters on the Sportsman Channel in Canada. Season six will begin airing in the US on the Sportsman Channel in late June and will continue through December for quarters three and four. Viewers can also catch the show digitally on My Outdoor TV by going to motv.com. Some past episodes are also available on YouTube by searching for Elk Camp TV or Elk Camp Steve Chapel. However, I have a contract with the Sportsman Channel, so they have exclusivity to my episodes for a period of time"
"In Arizona, I have a service called Zero Hunt Fees. It's a program where I help people apply for the draw and select hunts based on their preferences and expectations. Members pay $349 per year, which includes help with the application process and hunt selection. The great thing is that if a member draws a tag, that $349 membership fee covers the cost of their guided hunt, which can cost several thousand dollars. If anyone is interested in learning more, they can visit zerohuntfees.com. We have members who draw every year, and in fact, the archery hunter I hunted with this year was a first-year member who drew and hunted with me in Unit 23 North. We even filmed an episode for Elk Camp TV season six where he harvested a great bull."
Locke: "Yes, it's a great service and I'm glad Mike asked about it. I encourage people to check it out as it's a tremendous membership benefit. No worries about not knowing about it beforehand, I'm always happy to share information about it."
Mike: "Zero Hunt Fees is especially beneficial for non-resident hunters who are coming to the West for the first time and are not familiar with hunting in Arizona. It's a great way to get help with applying for the draw and selecting hunts based on their preferences and expectations. And if they happen to draw a tag, their membership fee covers the cost of a guided hunt, which can be a significant expense for non-residents. Overall, it's a great service for anyone dreaming of their first elk hunt in Arizona."
Steve Chappell: "Yeah, absolutely. I mean, our members have nothing to worry about. We handle everything from helping them navigate the difficulty of the draw process, which can be very intimidating for beginners trying to learn the ropes of getting through that process in Arizona. Not having to worry about scouting or spending money on a trip to come out to Arizona to figure a unit out is a great benefit for those who may not be super experienced elk hunters. Being a Zero Hunt Fees member covers all of that. It's an all-encompassing program, and it's amazing."
"The first thing a member will always say when they draw a tag and we talk on the phone is that they can't believe it's for real. They often don't believe that they've actually drawn the tag. And then the most common question they ask me is, "Okay, so how much do I owe for the guide?" And I say, "Well, nothing. That's why you're a member, right? Because that covers the cost of the guides." It's a fantastic program."
Locke: "That's incredible. I've never heard of a service like that, so that's really cool. Steve, we appreciate you taking the time to be a part of the team and support the brand. I encourage people to check out Elk Camp TV and your service, Zero Hunt Fees. And I want to remind everybody that we definitely want to hear from you regarding the podcast. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you think about the podcast, any topics of conversation, or specific guests that you'd like to see us interview. We've enjoyed this first season of the podcast and appreciate the feedback we've received so far. I want to wish everybody a happy holiday and thank you all for listening. You've been tuning in to the SKRE Country Podcast."