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Make the right call for elk

Champion caller shares game plan

Corey Jacobsen, six-time world chamption elk caller, has killed a bull in Idaho every year since 1996. (COURTESY OF COREY JACOBSEN / The Spokesman-Review)
Corey Jacobsen, six-time world chamption elk caller, has killed a bull in Idaho every year since 1996. (COURTESY OF COREY JACOBSEN / The Spokesman-Review)
Roger Phillips

Corey Jacobsen, a six-time world champion elk caller, has killed a bull in Idaho every year since 1996. And he’s willing to share how he does it.

He’s a general contractor from Boise who describes himself as “a normal guy who works 50 hours a week.”

Only 20 percent of Idaho hunters bag an elk during the fall seasons. Jacobsen’s streak is even more odds-defying considering he hunts on public land during general archery hunts and doesn’t use pack animals.

His formula calls for thorough preparation by scouting and knowing his hunting territory, being in good physical condition and mastering a few basic elk calls.

“It’s a year-round commitment,” he said. “It’s not picking up your bow on Aug. 31 and going hunting on Sept. 1.”

Call, stalk, call

Jacobsen uses three basic calls for hunting: a locator bugle, a cow call and an aggressive fighting bugle.

His strategy is a hybrid of traditional calling and spot-and-stalk hunting. He climbs high on ridges and listens for a bull to answer his locator bugle. Once he pinpoints a bull, he quits calling and begins stalking.

“We go to the bull,” he said.

Jacobsen and his partner try to close the gap to between 100 and 125 yards, which he describes as the “red zone” or “in the elk’s bedroom.”

Stalk like a predator

Keep quiet and keep the wind in your favor as you approach the bull.

You’re not just trying to get close to the bull, you’re trying to set up an ambush so the bull will approach within bow range when you resume calling.

Try to find a spot where there are clear shooting lanes yet terrain isn’t so open the bull will be able to see the caller.

Use a range finder to measure several spots where a bull is likely to pass through and memorize those distances.

Set up in front of brush or other cover and let your camouflage do its job. Setting up behind cover limits shooting lanes.

To the second power

After the stalk and setup, it’s time for teamwork.

The caller moves back about 50 yards and the shooter “vanishes from sight and sound.” The caller makes a few mews to imitate a cow elk.

Talkin’ elk smack

If the bull answers, things get wild. Rather than waiting for the bugle to end, the caller abruptly interrupts it.

“We challenge him,” Jacobsen said. “We hit him with a really aggressive, high-pitched call.”

In elk language, they’ve just called the bull a nasty name and insulted its harem as well.

Controlling the situation

Some bulls charge right in.

However, if the bull stays put, a live-action chess game begins as the hunters try to force the bull’s next move.

They will repeat the cow call and again cut off the bull mid-bugle in an effort to provoke a fight.

The goal is to make the bull react to your calls, not the other way around.

If the elk still doesn’t want to play, the next step is raking a tree, which is a way elk show dominance.

“We keep that calling sequence and throw in raking,” Jacobsen said.

Don’t just call like an elk, think like an elk.

Plan for contingencies

If the bull still doesn’t commit, Jacobsen and his partner continue their psychological warfare by posing as two other bulls.

They spread out and start aggressively bugling to each other, ignoring the real bull.

As the conversation between the two hunters gets heated, they move in the direction of the bull, trying to invade its territory and pull it into the fight.

The bull’s curiosity and testosterone may prompt it to head toward one of the callers.

Learning on ground

Not every situation will go by the playbook, Jacobsen said. You will inevitably face challenging situations and make mistakes, but use them as learning experiences for your next hunt.

“There’s no substitute for being out there and having the experience,” he said. “But knowing why something happened makes the learning curve happen a little faster.”

Corey Jacobsen’s elk hunting strategy is spelled out on his Web site:
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