Call of the Wild

Call of the Wild

As a lifelong archery elk hunter, Willi Schmidt has mastered the art of bugling. He’s also learned when it’s best to slip in silent. Here are his secrets to help you call in a herd bull.

Willi Schmidt can still recall the bitter disappointment and borderline resentment that overcame him when, as a middle school student in Fort Collins, Colorado, his father refused to pull him out of class during fall archery elk and muzzleloader season. 

To be clear, Schmidt is quick to recognize that he owes every ounce of his hunting heritage to his father, John Schmidt, a wildlife biologist who placed such a high value on education that a mid-career pivot led him to a teaching position at Colorado State University. Eventually, the politics of academia prompted the elder Schmidt’s migration into the field of conservation, first with Ducks Unlimited and later with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

There is nothing quite like hearing elk echo throughout the mountains. No other animal in North America sounds quite like it. 

But Willi Schmidt, who co-hosts the Sportsman Channel’s popular hunting program “Pure Hunting,” hasn’t forgotten about the hunts he missed out on as a teenager. That’s due in part to his father’s willingness to regale his son with stories of adventure from elk camp, including his mesmerizing descriptions of bugling in a herd bull flanked by cows just as the rut built to full froth.

“There’s nothing I enjoy more than archery elk hunting. It’s my greatest passion,” Schmidt said. “And I’m conscious of the fact that my obsession is partly due to having lived vicariously through my father all those years in middle school and high school, when he’d come home and tell me stories about bugling elk and calling them in. This was before bugling tubes and diaphragm calls, so we’d go to Rocky Mountain National Park to listen to the elk bugle and learn how to mimic their calls. It just resonated with me.”

After college, Schmidt finally began dedicating a week each fall to the pursuit of archery elk, and he hasn’t missed a season since.

“When I heard that first elk bugle in the woods, it just grabbed me. It captivated my thoughts and imagination. The fact that you can try to call them in, learning about what they are doing during the rut, and to be that close to such an amazing animal just solidified all of my passion for hunting. I didn’t kill my first bull elk with a bow until 15 years later. I had lots of close encounters, and while I wasn’t always able to take an entire week off, that first hunt and all of my father’s stories are what kept bringing me back.”

Schmidt recommends that you watch how-to-videos with bugling and diaphragm products during the off-season to make sure you are prepared to draw those elk in for the shot.

For archery elk hunters, getting into bow range is a big enough challenge, so Schmidt recommends that hunters sharpen their bugling chops during the off-season so their skills are pitch perfect when it comes time to head into the field to harvest a herd bull. Most manufacturers pair how-to videos with their bugling and diaphragm products, and Schmidt recommends hunters familiarize themselves with the nuances of a call, particularly as elk evolve due to apex predators and as hunting pressure on public land increases.

“I learned from my dad on the basics. A lot of people think elk don’t respond to calls the same way they used to because predation and hunting pressures are higher. Everyone is out there with a bugling tube trying to do the same thing. But it’s still as easy as it was back when I was learning to at least get something to reply. I practice year-round and listen to a lot of bugling recordings. I think what really helped fine-tune my ability to call in elk was learning what calls to make when, and knowing when not to make any noise. You also have to be able to read what the elk are trying to say. I’m not saying I’m some elk whisperer, but half the time a bull is trying to call you to him because he has a harem of cow elk out there and he thinks you’re one of them. A lot of hunters expect a big bull to just saunter up, but when he’s haremed up and has all the cows in his corner, he’s got no reason to leave.

Would you leave 20 girlfriends to go find one when another bull might slide in and take your place?”

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