The Best Elk Calls for Beginners

Learning to call elk can be frustrating. For beginners, it’s often difficult to mimic elk sounds in a realistic way. Often, the biggest hurdle to improving your elk calling is finding the right call for you.

There are many types of elk calls for beginners to consider. All of these calls are going to break down into three different categories: diaphragm calls, reed calls, and push calls.

Diaphragm Calls (or mouth calls)

Diaphragm calls (or mouth calls) fit inside your mouth (in the same ways as a diaphragm turkey call). You use your tongue to apply pressure to a piece of latex that you force air over to create bugles and cow-calls.

Diaphragm calls are the hardest to learn but are the most versatile and produce the most realistic elk sounds. Even though it takes some time to learn, my recommendation is to take the time to learn a diaphragm call. It will be worth it.

It’s important to get a diaphragm call that fits your mouth well. I had to try several different brands before I found a call that worked for me. Depending on the shape of your mouth you may also need to try some different calls. I’ve listed some of my suggestions below.

Elk 101 Champ, All-Star, and Contender by Rocky Mountain Hunting Calls

The Elk 101 line of calls from Rocky Mountain Hunting Calls fit my mouth best. These include the Champ, Contender, and All-Star models. They’re designed for a narrower, higher palate.

These calls are designed and tested by Corey Jacobsen, a 9-time world elk calling champion, so you know they’ve got what it takes to sound like an elk.

Steve Chappell Line by Rocky Mountain Hunting Calls

The Steve Chappell line of calls is also designed and tested by a very successful elk caller and hunter. These calls are designed for a lower and wider palate, so if the Elk 101 series doesn’t work for you, this series might.

Maverick and Mini AMP by Phelps Game Calls

Phelps Game Calls also makes quality calls. Their calls are tested and developed by elk hunters like Jason Phelps, Dirk Durham, and Born and Raised Outdoors. Calls on the AMP platform are their most recent. These calls were a little to wide for me, but I’ve heard good things from others. You may want to try the Maverick, and Mini AMP to get a feel for two different sizes.

Grunt Tube

If you’re using a diaphragm call for bugling, you’ll also need a grunt tube. The grunt tube helps magnify your elk bugles and gives them more depth and resonance so they sound much more like the real thing. It also creates back pressure, which makes it a little easier to make the bugling sounds.

I use a Phelps Unleashed grunt tube because that’s what was available at my local sporting goods store. The Bully Bull Extreme grunt tube is a good option from Rocky Mountain Hunting Calls.

Reed Calls

Reed calls functions much like a reed instrument. They use air blown over a reed, or latex, to make cow-calls or bugles. The reed apparatus is attached to a barrel (like a duck call) or a bugle so the sound from the reed is amplified. Reed calls are much easier to use than diaphragm calls because they don’t require as much coordination with airflow and tongue pressure.

To use a reed call, grip the call with your lips and blow air into the call. Each call will have specific directions to make the appropriate tones.

Reed calls are not as versatile as diaphragm calls. A reed call will only make cow-calls or bugles, not both. Additionally, they require you to hold the call with your hands, so they’re not ideal if you need to have a grip on your rifle or bow to prepare for a shot.

If you want an elk call but aren’t ready to use a diaphragm, then a reed call might be a good choice for you. Most hunting call companies make several variations of reed calls. I’ve linked to a few below. The one I’ve used most is the Primos Cow Girl. It’s inexpensive, small, and easy to use for making cow and calf calls.

Some other popular options are the Temptress by Rocky Mountain Game Calls and E-Z-Estrus by Phelps Game Calls.

Reed calls are also designed to imitate bugles. These calls combine a grunt tube and latex reed to make it easier to mimic elk bugles. The best bugle calls are made by Rocky Mountain Hunting calls. You may want to check out their Ultimate Bugling System.

Mechanical Calls

The final category of elk calls is what I refer to as mechanical calls or push calls. They’re as easy as pushing a ‘button’ but they’re also the least versatile and least effective calls. Push calls can only imitate cow-calls.

A push call uses a baffle to push air through a reed and make an elk sound. I don’t like them because they make the same sound every time, which is not realistic. The best example of a push call is the Hoochie Mama. It’s a popular and overused elk call.

I’d recommend using a diaphragm or reed call instead of getting a push call.

Finding the Elk Call That’s Right for You

I recommend that everyone learn to use a diaphragm call. Once you learn how to do it, it can greatly improve your elk hunting. Diaphram calls are small and easy to carry and let you make many different elk sounds with a single call. It may take you some time and trying different elk calls to make it work but you can do it!

For those that don’t have the time to learn how to use a diaphragm call or that just aren’t able to do it, I would recommend a reed call. They’re easy to use and with two reed calls you can mimic both cow-calls and bugles.

Konrad Hafen

Konrad is a natural resource scientist who spends much of his free time hunting, fishing, hiking and backpacking on America's public lands.

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