Editor’s Note: Ralph Ramos from Las Cruces, New Mexico, who has been wearing Mossy Oak for 25 years, has been a member of the Mossy Oak ProStaff for the last 8 years. An elk guide, Ramos teaches a different form of elk calling - aggressive calling that’s had proven success. This week we’ll learn how to get ready for elk season, and why Ramos calls the way he calls.
I believe using the X Zone is the best way to put an elk in front of a hunter. As soon as we locate an elk and hear him bugling, chuckling or growling, I like to move in quickly to get within 150 yards of a bugling bull. Once I get there, I’ll set my hunter up. If he's a right-handed shooter, I’ll have him kneel on his right knee to have 180 degrees where he can take the shot. I’ll back away from my hunter. If the bull keeps growling, chuckling or bugling, I’ll back off 65 to 75 yards from the hunter.
Before the bull comes in, he’ll try to wind me - usually moving to my left or to my right. If the bull comes to my left, I move to the right. I’ll move about 50 yards off to my right before I call again. I’ll have my hunter set-up in the middle of an imaginary X. I’ll move and call behind him to get the elk to walk in front of him. When the bull goes to the left, if he can’t smell me, he’ll usually go to the right and try to smell me - bugling, growling or chuckling. Then I’ll move over to my left to use my calling to pull the bull right in to my hunter. I mainly use cow and calf calls when I'm using the X Zone tactic.
Once the bull has bugled three times, if he hangs-up and won’t move any farther, that bull is demanding that the cow come to him. When a bull bugles and becomes demanding, the cows normally will go to him. When I see the bull isn’t going to budge, I’ll change my calling and give him what I call a spike bull call. I want to sound like a little wimpy bull, but I also continue to give my cow and calf calls. The bull will start growling, because he's aggravated that the cow won’t come and see him. Once the bull starts bugling and growling aggressively, I’ll use my bugle tube to growl back at him. The bull then thinks I'm talking to the same cows. I want him to believe there's a big bull in the same herd with the cows, the calves and the spike bull he’s heard earlier. Usually, when I give him that big bull call, he’ll come right on in to my hunter. Generally, when I start talking to the bull like I'm another big bull that’s moved in with his herd of cows, calves and small spike bulls, this time is when my hunter will get the shot - usually at no more than 18-20 yards.
I'm often asked why I use a combination of cow and calf calls. Elk are very vocal animals. I believe that the cow/calf calls or even multiple different cow calls are much more effective to drag a bull in front of my hunter than giving a single cow call. If there are two or three cows together, I believe the bull thinks he has a better chance of finding a sweetheart than if there’s only one cow. I try to sound like several different cows and calves. If that doesn’t suck a bull in, the last card I play is the big bull call, to make the bull coming in think that another bull also has heard these cows calling. I want to create the illusion of a small herd of elk. When a bull starts bugling that’s close to cows, the cows will come to him. So, if he's been standing in one spot bugling, and the cows haven’t moved to him, he’ll get nervous. Then when he hears the young bull bugle, he's kind of irritated that the young bull will keep the cows from coming to him. Finally, when he hears a bigger bull growl and bugle, he's really fired-up and comes to do battle and try to win the cows.
I really believe that you have to play these kinds of mind games, especially with older and bigger bull elk. Most often, the hunters who take the bigger and better bulls are the hunters and callers who can get inside the brains of bull elk. First, they grab his attention. Next, they get that bull to start trying to find the cows. Then they aggravate him with a spike bull bugle and growl. If that doesn’t bring the big bull in, they’ll give him a big bull growl and chuckle. He's almost always going to come over to see what bull has moved into his backyard trying to pick up his lady friends. When I growl instead of bugle, I'm telling this other bull I'm in control of these ladies (cows), and if he wants to get them, he’ll have to come and deal with me. I guess I love the mind games that I play with bull elk as much as anything.
I have a Facebook page titled Ramos Hunts and Video Productions. Go there and see some of my videos and photos of the elk we harvest every year. You can contact me at 575-642-3219, and I’ll make recommendations about where hunters can put in to possibly get tags.