What are the Elk Sounds and Vocalizations Mean for a Hunter

By Shaggy Outdoor Team

August 9, 2023

Turn Up Your Volume to Get the Best Sound

The Rocky Mountain Elk in Arizona is one of the most vocal animals I've hunted. These animals don't just talk one time a year, they can be heard communicating anytime you're in the wilderness. 

The Bugle of a Rutting Bull is the most anticipated vocalization for hunters every fall. The bugle can be heard for miles but is primarily only heard in September and early October during the rut.

The constant chatter of chips made by a herd of elk can be heard echoing through the timber. But what are the typical sounds and what are those sounds called? The typical sounds you hear are the chirp, lone calf, cow in estrus, bark, bugle, and chuckle. 

The team at Shaggy Outdoors enjoys listening to elk and with our combined years of hunting this beautiful animal and countless more hours scouting them for hunts we've decided to others a brief overview of what they might be hearing.

If you are heading out to the mountains this year we've got a great blog to read, "The 7 Keys to Elk Hunting Success"! We cover several topics that will put you on track to a great Elk Hunt and put some meat in the freezer. 

Let's get you up to speed on the sounds you may encounter from elk while trekking through the mountains. Get your binoculars ready to see the elk better once you have heard their location. 

Bugle of a Male Bull Elk

When watching this bull you can see he's hot on the trail of a cow. This bull is letting everyone know that he is here and ready to breed. Cows will sometimes battle when multiple ladies are in heat at the same time for the attention of the best bull.  

When a bull bugles they are expressing their dominance and want cows in heat to know who is the dominant bull in the area. They are expressing their dominance and when you have several bulls of similar age and size together you may see these beasts battle for a single cow or the whole harem. 

For hunters hunting early season during the rut, the bugle is the sound you listen for to locate bulls in your area. The tone and pitch of the sounds will vary for each bull and bulls in the area will recognize each other's tone. 

One sound you hear at the end of the bugle is the chuckle. The Chuckle is that grunting sound you hear at the end of a loud bugle. Bulls can chuckle without blowing a loud bugle, the sound is used to inform other bulls of their dominance. 

As a hunter, once you hear the bugle of a bull you believe to be mature, you will want to use your calls to get and keep their attention. We cover elk calls, the types, and when each should be used in our other blog. 

Elk Cow Sounds and Vocalization

The remainder of the sounds you will hear in the woods typically come from the cows and calf. Bulls will also chirp when communicating with the herd, but you are most likely to hear the cows and calves. 

As you can hear in our introduction video, there is a herd of cows and calves roaming the hillside in Arizona. You are able to hear the calf and cows talking. The primary issue heard in this video is the separation between the moms and babies.

The communication going on in this video is the chirp. Made by all elk and is often heard when there is a group of elk together. The chirp sounds typically are an expression of content. No issues are found and everyone is generally happy.  

This trip took place in late June and the video was taken near Big Lake, Arizona. The yearlings were born probably anywhere between 1 and 4 weeks before this video was taken. The vocalization of the babies is evident as they are generally concerned with the potential danger and separation from their mothers. 

In this elk video, the predominant sound heard is that of the bull elk bugling with the chuckle at the end. However, if you listen closely you can hear the sound of grunts, barks, and mews from other elk around the bull. 

The "bark" of an elk is mostly used as a warning for other elk in the area. This is a means to warn others that there is something concerning in the area. 

What can be attributed to the Bark? The elk could have winded you, seen you, or seen another predator. 

When you hear elk barking expect they will be tightening up their group and hightailing it out of that area. 

This Elk Cow Estrus video is older but a great video for learning the different sounds. Thanks to Paul Schlosser for posting this video 14+ years ago. The sounds of elk don't change so I don't have to provide an "updated" video. Listen to the different tones compared to the other videos

The Cow Estrus sound is a vocalization made by a cow elk when she is ready to breed. She has a window and needs to let the bull know it's time. Bulls will typically be following close behind cows and use their sense of smell to know when things are ready. But, sometimes they need to be told. 

Hunters during the rut should listen for this sound. If a lone cow is making this sound you better be ready for some action because she is doing the work for you. 

Listen to this lost calf elk. You can hear the pitch is different than a mature cow. The tone has a squeaking sound. 

Hunters should listen for the lost calf. When a calf is calling like this one in the video the mom will be looking for its baby. 

During the rut, the bulls will push off the calves to make the cows go into heat. If you hear the sounds of a calf you could have a mother cow come in looking for the calf. If that happens, you may have a bull on her tail trying to push her off the calf. 

Final Thoughts on the Sounds of Elk and their Vocalization

When you're out on your hunt use all of your senses. Don't just count on your eyes for visual, the success of your hunt could be because you used your hearing or your smell.

I enjoy the sounds of elk. The chirping of a herd can keep me engaged for hours. 

Yes, I love the bugle of the bulls in late September and you better believe I'll be out listening to them even if I don't have a hunt this season. 

Get outdoors and take a listen. I guarantee you will enjoy it, but don't get in the way of that bull during the rut, you could have a negative encounter.