September 01, 2023
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I vividly remember attending a calling seminar by elk hunting legend Wayne Carlton when I was around 14 years old. Carlton put on one of the most entertaining seminars I have ever heard. After the show, I talked my dad into buying us one of Carlton’s new Fight’n Cow calls.
A couple of months later, on the opening day of Idaho’s archery elk season, after an uneventful morning, my dad and I were sitting high on a ridge, eating a sandwich and wondering what to do next. Finally, after some coaxing, Dad decided to try the new cow call. He assured me that every elk on the mountain would run the other way from the dreadful whining noise the call produced. After a short cadence of calls, though, he was proven wrong and I was blown away. You had to be there to believe it, but that mid-morning quietness was shattered by bulls bugling and coming to us from multiple directions. Over that season, we called in numerous bulls and got several shot opportunities using our newfound tool.
To my mind, the elk had never heard those noises from anything other than an elk, so when they heard it, they came to see an elk. As you can imagine, the initial effectiveness wore off over time, and they became like other elk calls – effective if used properly, but no longer the sure thing we experienced that first season.
Calls Have Comes a Long Way
Beyond the fighting cow and similar estrus-type calls, there has been a significant advancement in all elk calls, including diaphragms and grunt tubes. We as humans can imitate the sounds of live elk better than ever before, and new and existing companies are pushing the envelope and improving their offerings season after season. Here are some of the latest and best calls for your 2023 hunt.
Classic Call Companies
Rocky Mountain Game Calls has been in the game, producing quality elk calls, for a very long time, and that’s still the case today.
The Bull Basher Bugle Tube is a hybrid bugle with a molded body and aluminum mouthpiece. The aluminum mouthpiece allows for high pitches, and the helical “spitter” in the mouthpiece helps with airflow and makes controlling volume easier. Couple this with a throat design that provides optimal back-pressure and you can easily create a full range of bugles, chuckles and grunts. The best part is you get all this in a bugle only 18 inches in length.
The Steve Chappell 3 Pack Signature Series of diaphragms is a tremendous set of all-around calls that is very user-friendly and can make the full range of calls, from cow/calf mews to bugles from satellites and herd bulls. Made with the company’s successful GTP frame, these diaphragms will surely be a hit with serious elk hunters and beginners alike.
Rounding out Rocky Mountain Game Calls is the Voo Doo cow call. This external call is made with an acrylic barrel with vented holes to create ultra-realistic cow and calf sounds, and the ever-important estrus sounds for which this type of call is known.
Primos is another company that has been on top of the game call industry for many years, and for good reason: they make great stuff.
If you are looking for a compact bugle that’s super easy to operate, look no further than the Bullet Bugle Elk Call. This bugle uses the patented support shelf mouthpiece that lets you attach the famous snap-on blue reeds Primos perfected years ago. This system is highly user-friendly and perfect for those who struggle to use a diaphragm call to bugle, but still want to make great elk sounds.
The Top Pin is an excellent diaphragm in the Primos line. The sentry plate is set at the perfect angle for producing cow, calf and small bull sounds, and the single latex reed is very thin and easy to use.
Primos’s newest external reed cow call is the Tramplifier Open Reed. This open, single-reed call creates clear, high-pitched cow and calf noises and estrus sounds thanks to the acrylic barrel and soundboard. Available in long- and short-range models for locating or using in tight cover for that final call-in.
Years ago, Wayne Carlton sold his original company, Carlton Calls, to Hunter Specialties. Later in life, Wayne and his son Marc started Native by Carlton. They have a wealth of elk-hunting and call-making knowledge that goes into every Native call the manufacture.
New for 2023 is the Hunters Tube with Acrylic Mouthpiece. Many guys testing multiple bugle tubes say his bugle has exceptional back-pressure, which allows you to create the guttural groans and deep bugles that real elk make. Couple that with the acrylic mouthpiece that puts your lips in the perfect position for bugling, and you indeed have a bugle capable of making ideal elk sounds.
The new Yellow V3 Elk Diaphragms come in three sizes to ensure a model for everyone and three weights of latex to accommodate newcomers and the most seasoned elk callers. This call should be perfect for making the biggest bugles and soft cow and calf sounds, so you won't need to change diaphragms in the field constantly.
New to the Game
I won’t say Phelps is a “new” company, but they haven’t been around as long as the above companies. However, they have been a strong player in the call industry for quite some time now, producing top-notch calls worthy of consideration.
This year’s newest addition is the Unleashed V2 Bugle Tube. At 12.5 ounces and 20 inches long, the V2 is smaller than the original Unleashed tube. Still, it delivers impressive volume and tremendous back pressure, allowing you to make the full spectrum of bugles, chuckles and grunts. This bugle comes with the EZ bugler and flared mouthpiece, so you can use the tube whether you can blow a diaphragm call or not. Another great feature is the full neoprene cover that looks good but, more importantly, keeps the bugle from making noise when clanked against your other equipment or brush.
The Phelps Signature AMP Elk Diaphragm is an excellent call for the experienced caller. This call isn’t quite as sensitive or easy to blow as some of the other Phelps calls, but when used by someone who knows how to use a diaphragm call, it can make fantastic elk sounds. I strongly recommend this call when you want to step up your game.
One of the more unique elk calls made in the past couple of years is the EZ SUK’R. This call is perfect for those who want to make subtle cow and calf noises but struggle to use diaphragm calls. This call can be used entirely hands-free and make cow sounds while you inhale on the call. It sounds a little strange saying that, but soon after you get your hands, or should I say mouth, on one, you will quickly see how easy this call is to use.
Born and Raised Call Company
If you don’t know who Born and Raised is, you likely don’t spend much time watching hunting videos online. The crew at Born and Raised get after the elk and have a good time doing it. A few years ago, they started making their line of game calls and are doing great with this venture.
They have been working hard perfecting their bugle tubes and have hit a home run with The Bomb Bugle Tube. This tube is 21 inches long, but incredibly weighs just 8.2 ounces. Still, the tube has thicker side walls for increased volume, and the Bomb Bass chamber creates low-end sounds that travel deep into the canyons to locate far-off bulls.
A new favorite diaphragm of mine has the perfect name: September. If you are a beginner, you might buy a different call in their lineup. If you are experienced, though, this call can make some of the loudest, most aggressive bugles possible due to its tighter stretch. You can also make most cow noises as well.
The easy-to-use Soundbite is an excellent open-reed call for users of all skill levels. This acrylic-bodied call has a J-Frame soundboard that’s easy to use, but also allows users to tune the sound to their personal preferences. Each call comes with three reeds and an extra band as well.
The newest manufacturer in this round-up is Slayer Calls. They may be a new company, but they aren’t strangers to calling and have brought plenty of experience and put it to work.
The ArchAngel Acrylic Elk Call is a big tube that means business. It only weighs 10.7 ounces, but packs a big punch when making loud elk sounds. The acrylic mouthpiece delivers smooth sounds to the large tube, producing a great final result.
The Endure (Green) diaphragm is made for intermediate or more advanced callers who want a call more tailored toward making a wide array of bugles, grunts and chuckles.
If you struggle to blow a mouth diaphragm, the Enchantress Push Elk Call is for you. By applying different pressure levels, you can make every elk sound there is. You can even screw it onto their tube for bugling in big bulls.