Elk have a very broad spectrum of sounds they make in the wild, and as a good caller you need to be able to replicate those sounds and understand what each sound means. After all, the elk are talking to you. As a caller, you're in the woods to tell them a story, and it is up to you to be convincing with your story telling—whether you're a herd of cows or a challenging bull.
The diaphragm call is the most critical and versatile call in the field. There are many brands of elk calls, but I like the Rocky Mountain Hunting Calls because of their realistic sounds and easy-to-use design—plus, these calls win more World Championships than any other call.
There are two main types of diaphragms: the "tone top" and the "palate plate." The tone top has a plastic top that fits in the roof of your mouth, and the palate plate has a metal top that fits in the roof of your mouth. My suggestion is to purchase both varieties and see which one you like best. If you have a small mouth palate, be sure to check out the Mini Master series. New for 2014 is the tone top Mistress, All American and Rock Star diaphragms. My go-to favorite call for good cow sounds and bugles is the palate plate Remedy.
Mastering the ability to create the cow mew, chirp and cow bugle, and the calf mew, chirp and lost calf sounds, will help convince a bull elk that you are in fact a herd of elk. Repeating one sound over and over again is not as effective when trying to convince a call-wise bull to come in.
The diaphragms' versatility allows you to make cow sounds as well as bull sounds, all in conjunction with a bugle tube. The size and shape your bugle tube has will determine the sound range that your bugle can create. The only bugles I use are the Bully Bull Extreme and Select A Bull.
This bugle seems big, but it actually tucks right in next to my backpack and I don't even notice. The design makes for easy octave changes that are variable and most importantly—realistic—offering me the flexibility to sound like a young bull or an old angry herd bull, all with one bugle.
The bull sounds you want to study most aggressively are the one-, two- and three-note location calls. These can have a chuckle on the ending of them. Love chuckles and fight chuckles, the challenge bugle and the display bugle—you must know the difference and how to replicate each.
For those of you who have a gag reflex and cannot use a diaphragm, the Conqueror Mouthpiece (http://buglingbull.com/shop/125- the-conqueror-mouthpiece/) can be used with your bugle in lieu of a diaphragm. Simply bite and blow to make the bugle sounds. You can still add a vocal growl with the Conqueror, which keeps realistic guttural sounds to your bugle.
Last but not least: The external-reed cow call is a call I keep handy to replicate a variety of cow sounds. It's much easier for me to create high-volume, pleading cow calls with the external reed than with a standard mouth diaphragm. These are also great for those who have a gag reflex.
Learning to replicate elk sounds, and having a comprehensive understanding of what elk sounds mean, will help increase your success in the field. If you're not sure what these sound like, check out Rocky Mountain Hunting Calls Full of Bull elk calling instructional CD.
The best lessons in calling are learned in the field, so get practiced up and call in your dream bull this elk season.