Five Ways to Get an Elk to Cross the Fence
by Mark Kayser
Could this really be happening again? Not one, but three bulls screaming in a game of hide-and-seek broke the Montana wilderness silence. It’s typically an enticing sound, though this time it only aggravated my hunting partner and me. One bull would rush our calls and then disappear back into the safety of the timbered mesa. Seconds later another would mimic the routine. Every so often we’d catch a glimpse of the herd bull trying to keep the peace among his lady friends. When we did get a bull’s attention, one and only one thing would stop his advance for a sure shot with my bow: a barbed-wire fence. No matter the season or the quarry, I find myself challenged by game that retreats or holds up just across a neighboring property fence. If you find yourself in this barbed-wire predicament while bowhunting elk, then consider these solutions to lure a bull across the border.
Instead of waiting until hunting season to battle the barbwire, get out early and scout. What should you look for? Scout for reasons why elk may want to be on your side of the fence such as food, water and shelter. Next, walk the fence in question and look for areas that provide easier crossing opportunities. Elk typically take the path of least resistance. Look for low spots, terrain that provides a step-stool effect, downed fence or broken posts resulting in sagging wire. Elk quickly find these locations and file them away for future travel ease. You can file them as well for locations to set up for calling or even ambush points for a wait-and-see opportunity nearby.
Turn your back to a fence while calling. Savvy elk oftentimes grow wary from calls that progressively get closer. Do they realize it’s a hunter or are they trying to evade confrontation? You decide, but you can push a bull’s buttons by turning your back and walking away while calling. Make him think he’s missing out on something good. If the bull sounds sheepish, a sexy series of cow mews may ignite a hoofed response. If the bull has an argumentative side, then use bugles as you walk the opposite direction. And if those options fail, combine the two to imitate the sound of a bull that’s snuck into the herd and stolen a cow coming into estrus.
Fake a Fight
Like most males of any species, the sight or sounds of a fight can attract a crowd. To spike the testosterone interest of a lackadaisical bull, fake an elk fight. You can do this easily by employing a series of high-intensity bugles with two different tones to imitate two bulls. Make one a growler and use an extended chuckle on the other. Be creative in your own style. Next, be sure to pack along a set of raghorn shed antlers to duplicate the sounds of a fight. If you don’t want to lug along the extra pounds, look for products that mimic the sound without the weight like the Rattlecage (see more on rattling on page 52). Of course you can always make sounds leading up to the fight, like the raking of antlers on trees, simply by grabbing a big stick and scraping or crashing a nearby tree trunk. After a few minutes, have your bow at the ready and scan for a sneaky or brash bull to cross the fence-line barrier.
Flash Some Tai
l Don’t take this strategy literally. Instead, incorporate a decoy into your hunt. Montana Decoy manufactures the most popular, foldable, lightweight model, but several other companies also market similar options. You can also dress as an elk with the Be The Decoy elk getup. But regardless of your faux elk decision, it can be a critical component to lure a bull across the fence. Look for areas where elk can see your decoy from 100 or more yards in either direction of the fence. Have terrain options available to cloak a possible reposition. Reserved and subtle decoy movement can catch light and direct attention along with soft calls. If elk ignore the decoy, wait until the target looks the other way and then duck out of sight and move it to another location to imitate herd movement.
Come Back Later
Lastly, you can always come back later. If elk don’t want to cross the fence, yet sign reveals they do cross, their reluctance most likely stems from hunting pressure. Allowing the area to rest and giving elk unpressured access can create peace of mind for the herd. Leave the area and provide the elk an opportunity to investigate across-the-fence options without bumping into you or smelling your presence. Make a note of where they’ve been crossing. After a few days you may be able to catch them on the right side of the fence for the chance at an ambush. As you consider all fence-hunting options, be conscientious of the ethics of hunting near property boundaries. An arrow-shot elk can run 100 yards or more even with perfect double-lung placement. This should be your minimum set up distance from any fence. And any animal may escape back to where it just came from if it felt safe there prior to the shot. Lastly, if appropriate, talk with the adjoining property owners. Begin a relationship. Make it clear you are a responsible hunter, and even offer to help with a weekend of chores. If the predicament ever arises that a wounded elk does dash back across the fence, the groundwork will already be laid for a responsible recovery.