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Mountain Music: Why elk bugles are the soundtrack to September

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Posted at 12:16 PM, Sep 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-13 20:44:42-04

HELENA — If you are an archery elk hunter, this time of the year the mountains are filled with music to your years. While many of us like being in the woods in September, the elk might like it a little more.

“Being here in early September, we’re kind of in the beginning of the overall, what’s referred to as a rut, the initiation of the breeding period," FWP Game Management Bureau Chief Brian Wakeling told MTN. "You’ll certainly start to kind of get engaged, but it really starts to develop and threw later September and then pretty much starts to wane after that.”

That’s right, love is in the air. The exact times are hard to nail down, but generally, from September to early October, elk bulls compete to breed with as many cow elk as possible. And that bugle is a vital calling card.

“What bulls are trying to do is trying get a harem of cows together. They’ll have a herd they have, and they’ll refer to them as a harem, they’ll [the bulls] keep them, what they try to do is they want to have enough that they area able to get their genes into the next generation of the population. But at the same time they’re also trying to defend that against all the other bulls that might be also interested in participating," said Wakeling. "So what you wind up with is a real, kid of defensive posture, and a lot of times you’ll hear that calling back and forth. And they’ll be challenging to one another. Some of the younger bulls behave differently with a call because if you’re younger they are still feeling the testosterone, and they are still getting fascinated by the whole opportunity, but they also know that they’ve butt’s kicked by the bigger bulls a time or two. So they may bugle, but they don’t come into a bugle because they think it’s a bigger bull because they are afraid that they are going to be beat up. On the other hand you may have a couple of really dominant bulls and they’ll start bugling and can be real aggressive and they will come into a call and they will get into some sparring matches in the process of trying to do that. It’s a real interesting dynamic and fun to watch if you have the opportunity.”

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For hunters, cat-fishing a bull with a bugle is one of the best ways to trick a big bruiser into getting close enough for a successful bow shot. But tricking these love-struck ungulates isn’t a guarantee.

"For people who are trying to, hunters for instance who are trying to interact with the animal using, cows also have a vocalization they call it a cow call, it kid of sounds more like a mew," added Wakeling. "So you can use that vocalization to get a bull to come closer to you and you get that response as a hunter as you are trying to reel that bull in. Sometimes you can frighten them off, sometimes you get them to challenge you, sometimes they just slip around you trying to figure things out. So it’s not a guarantee if I whistle just right I’m going to have something crawl into my lap.”

And if you would like to be involved in the way we manage elk in the future, Brian reminded me you still have a chance to speak up.

I’d also like to remind everybody that we’re still in the process of taking comment on our next elk plan," said Wakeling. "And our elk plan, we’ve been working on it for almost two years now. We’re concluding the public meetings, there are still about nine public meetings that yet to be held within our region two. On September 26th, we’re going to have a statewide question and answer. You go the opportunity to log in by September 25th to make sure you can get on virtually through the zoom link to be able to ask questions of the statewide presenters. And then we’re also taking comments on that through October 15th so we’ll gather all that for FWP WILD email address and we’ll use all that to draft the first round of what its going to look like."