Calling North American Moose
Story and Photos by Wayne Kubat, Alaska Master Guide,
Alaska Remote Guide Service
Moose calling for me is a broad hunting strategy in which I use various sound effects, vocalizations and sometimes even visual effects to attract or approach moose. I don’t limit myself only to the use of bull grunts and cow calls, and if a bull won’t come to me, I’ll go to him. Experience has taught me three main concepts.
First, Moose calling is easy, and anybody can do it. Even young kids can do incredibly good cow calls with just a little bit of practice, and anybody can break sticks and rake brush.
Second, it works – and not only during the peak of rut. Moose calling can increase your chance for success in almost every hunting situation from late August into October, and even beyond.
Finally, you must be patient. Best results will be realized when you believe that it will work and are willing to wait.
This is important. Please use extreme caution whenever you call. A rut-crazed bull can be dangerous and can cover ground very fast. Brown and black bears can come into calls expecting lunch, and you might even call in other hunters. Be alert and prepared whenever you call.
When calling, I use three basic sounds: “brush thrashing”, “bull grunts”, and “cow calls”. Depending on the time of year and the current status of the rut, I use these sounds alone or in combination to try to imitate various moose behaviors. I call for 20 to 40 minutes at a time, at 3 to 5 hour intervals, and usually from a spot that is two to three hundred yards removed from my main lookout location. During these 20 to 40 minute sessions, I brush thrash and/or use bull grunts and cow calls for two to three minutes, then I glass the area thoroughly with binoculars; then listen and wait for five to ten minutes before calling again. I repeat this sequence continually throughout each session.
Brush thrashing sounds can be made several different ways. Try to find a dead spruce and break some branches off to produce a loud cracking sound. Chopping dry timber with an ax or using large dry limbs, ax handles, old shoulder blades or other similar items to thrash brush will also work well.
When bulls challenge each other, when they move around in a group of moose while trying to win cows, and when they respond to calls, they usually do so while making short, deep grunts at 2 to 3 second intervals. Bull grunts range from hiccups to explosive coughing sounds, but a deep, “short U” or “Ugh”!!, “Ugh”!! sound, is probably the easiest to make when trying to imitate a bull.
If you were to wake up in an ugly mood, and decide to pick a fight with some guy on the street, you could call him any of several different names and probably get the results you are looking for. A similar situation exists when trying to call a bull in rut. Try to make your calls to sound as perfect as possible, but just being some what close will usually do.
Cow calls can vary in length from 2 seconds up to almost a minute, are usually higher in pitch than bull grunts and can be made using an “e” “r” or “errr” sound. Start off low and carry the “r” for what ever length you want the call to be. Gradually raise the pitch in the middle of the call, and then lower the pitch again while tapering the call off at the end. Waver the tone on your longer calls. Pinching your nose and “cupping your hands over your mouth”, will produce a nasal effect that will make both “bull grunts” and “cow calls” sound better.
In addition to brush thrashing, bull grunts and cow calls, also try other noises that fit the area you are hunting. When near lakes, ponds, rivers, or wet swamps, you can pour water from any container, into the water to sound like another moose urinating. Make sounds that a moose would when moving through that terrain.
After bulls first strip their velvet, their antlers are white and can easily be seen from great distances. When they shake their head and flash their antlers, they are making an aggressive visual statement that probably means much the same as when people angrily shake their fists at each other during rush hour traffic. Waving or flashing something white or light colored, such as scapulas, light colored clothing, or even white garbage bags can actually serve as a very useful visual aid when trying to attract or approach moose.
Visual Flashing displays, mixed with a few short, explosive bull grunts and some thrashing, can be extra convincing, and can prompt a pretty angry and fast response from a rutting bull, so be sure that your weapon is ready, and maybe even have a tree nearby to hide behind or even climb, just in case the bull you provoke isn’t legal or of the trophy quality you are looking for. Always wear some bright red or orange when doing this and use extreme caution so that you avoid being mistaken for a bull and getting shot!
Site Choice and Calling Strategies
When considering hunting areas, try to pick locations with good visibility that overlook swamps and mixed areas of birch, and willow. Choose a glassing area or lookout and decide on a few calling spots that are 200 to 300 yards distant and in different directions from your lookout. Look for calling spots that are close to major game trails, rub poles, scent pits or any area with fresh beds, tracks and droppings.
Natural drainages, especially those with beaver dams and ponds are excellent choices, because moose love water and also feed on pond weeds and grasses.
Early Season Calling Strategies (late August through about the 7-10th of September)
The moose mating cycle, or rut, starts slowly in late August when bulls start rubbing their new antlers against small trees and brush to scrape off the velvet. Most of my calling routines at this time consist almost entirely of brush thrashing to imitate this sound. Though the peak of the rut, defined as the period of time when most of the actual breeding takes place, is still a month away, bulls start to pay more attention to cows, and begin to engage in rutting behavior other than breeding, such as thrashing brush and sparring with other bulls.
Continuous all day calling isn’t necessary. Moose can exactly pinpoint your location and will investigate on their own time schedule, whether you are calling then or not. Start calling at daybreak, but first thoroughly glass the surrounding area before proceeding to your calling location.
By September 1st, most big bulls have completely stripped their velvet and are starting to become a bit ornery, so add short deep grunts to your brush thrashing sounds, especially during the first and last calling session of each day. During the first 7 to 10 days of September, bulls start to move around quite a bit. Big bulls hear especially well, because their antler mass helps to draw in sound and thrashing alone will bring in bulls throughout most hunting seasons. If you doubt whether your moose vocalizations sound good enough, be willing to at least try some thrashing! Early season bulls respond slowly and out of curiosity about future competition, more so than with an urgency to fight other bulls or to win cows, so at this time especially, additional patience is required.
An important exception to using only brush thrashing and bull grunts on early season hunts is that one or two 20 to 30 second cow calls at the very front of the first calling session each morning, and at the very end of the last one each evening, seems to increase a bull’s curiosity, and can help alert a distant bull to your presence. With proper wind conditions, and with the use of a megaphone, long, loud cow calls can easily be heard from two miles away.
Mid and Late Season Strategies (about September 7th – October 10th)
Starting as early as the 7th to 10th of September, moose become quite active, and calling starts to work pretty well. Bulls and cows start to group up, even though most cows won’t be in heat yet. From late evening through until early or mid morning, both sexes can be quite vocal. Bulls will grunt, thrash brush, and engage in sparring matches with each other, and cows will make short moans from 2 to 8 seconds in length. From now until about October 10th when the main rut ends, add short cow calls in groups of 2 to 3 at a time, to morning and evening sessions. Try to sound like a group of moose, both cows and bulls, by moving back and forth within a one hundred foot or so area, while thrashing brush and making bull grunts and cow calls.
Gradually increase the intensity and length of your calling routines as the season progresses. Switching back and forth between bull grunts and cow calls, and also adding some brush thrashing will bring moose back around, again and again!
After October 10th
Mid- and late-season calling strategies can also work well even after the main rut ends, especially in areas of Alaska with a low bull to cow ratio. The estrus cycle of cow moose is about 27 days, and cows that weren’t bred during the main rut will come in heat again between about mid October to early November. Young bulls tend to be especially responsive to calling at this time. Even when the rut is completely over, brush sounds and bull grunts can still help when trying to approach a bull that has become aware of your presence, but don’t expect much success in getting them to come to you.
Most response to my calling efforts, even during the peak of rut, takes four to twelve hours, and sometimes a day or two. Why? Because moose are most active at night, and when you call at first light, they have already bedded down or are ready to. When they are close, or “rut crazy”, they may respond fast, but otherwise, will usually investigate during their mid day feeding period, or later that evening. Most results from mid day or evening calling sessions will be realized at last light or even the next morning.
After deciding to call in a given area, make a commitment to watch that area continuously throughout the day, and take shifts if necessary to do so. Moose generally move less during the day, but can feed or move at any time. With this strategy, we now achieve nearly half of our success during mid-day, and often at high noon. Since camp sites are chosen close to good glassing and calling areas, much of that success now occurs near camp.
This aspect alone can save countless hours of labor intensive meat packing. Hunting partners and groups can greatly increase their opportunity and effectiveness by developing a hunting strategy that will keep at least one person on watch over favorite calling and glassing areas during all daylight hours.
1. I prefer to watch from different locations than I call from, because extended glassing requires
stretching, moving around to keep warm, and periodic “nature calls.” These activities make noise and saturate an area with human scent.
As mentioned before, an approaching bull can precisely pinpoint your calling location, even if your last call was several hours ago. He will generally approach that location from downwind. If he is focused on that spot, you are less likely to be detected while watching or stalking him from somewhere else. You will also have more time to judge him and to formulate a shooting strategy.
#2. Consider using an observer in your “lookout” while calling. Such an observer can spot distant bulls shaking their antlers and thrashing brush in response to your calls, and can alert you to their presence with hand signals. A bull with cows may not come, but by knowing where he is, you can go to him.
You could play the aggressor and set up a stalk from his downwind side, or wait for him to bed down before trying to approach. Bulls that won’t come to calls immediately because they are with active cows may respond a day or so later, when that cow is no longer in heat.
#3. If you are on an extended hunt and plan to spend most of the day hunting away from camp, at least do some early calling nearby before you leave and then again after you return. Watch these calling locations closely whenever you are in the area. Many hunters have stories about seeing and/or shooting a bull close to camp, but never make the connection that some noise that they made while in camp, such as pounding in tent stakes or chopping firewood, probably had something to do with that bull being there.
#4. If a bull is fleeing, try a long cow call. You have nothing to lose and may be amazed at its overall effectiveness.
Lone bulls will usually respond to the prospect of some possible romance about as readily as to prospects of a good fight, and brush thrashing and bull grunts will usually stop a traveling bull and will often bring them in close. These sounds are also very effective at relaxing an alert or cautious animal that you have surprised, or that has surprised you, but if the bull continues to flee or to move away, then try some long cow calls. A long, loud and wavering cow call, up to a minute long, has been my very most successful technique at stopping and or turning a fleeing bull. Unless a bull has definitely smelled us, this call has been over 90% successful, and has even stopped and brought back many bulls that have been shot at and missed.
#5. When trying to approach or attract a bull accompanied by or pursuing cows, bull grunts and thrashing are generally a safer choice than cow calls, because cows can lead a bull away if they think another cow might be competing with them. If the bull leaves anyway, don’t rule out some calls and thrashing in that general area later in the day. He could very well come back that evening.
#6. If you botch a chance on a good bull during one hunting season, consider spending a little extra effort looking for him in the same area during the next season. Moose, like many other animals, are very consistent in their seasonal movements from year to year.
Good Luck and Happy Hunting!
Wayne Kubat is an Alaska Master Guide and owner of Alaska Remote Guide Service. Wayne has published two video presentations that detail these techniques, Love, Thunder and Bull in Alaska, and Love, Thunder and Bull 2 in Alaska (see cover image at right) with additional footage and more technique information. Wayne also markets a fiberglass megaphone that can be used to amplify moose calls, for brush thrashing and more.