The Best Elk Calls – a True Story
What it takes to make the best elk calls?
What makes a style of elk calls the best elk calls? Is it accuracy of sound? Could it be variety of sounds? How about reliability? Ease of use or durability? Size and weight can be very important. Do I need to worry about spare parts? Can I sound like many different elk by varying the pitch? Is it volume variable?
There are many contributing factors to what makes one style of call better than another. All these factors add up to a lot of different designs with varying strengths and weaknesses. Open reed, mouth reed, closed reed, tube style calls, and on and on. There are quite a variety of calls designed for Elk. Just as there are so many varying views on what works best. What makes the best Elk calls is a matter of opinion, the most important one being yours.
A bold stance
Our customers overwhelmingly report back to us that our Elk Reel are “the best elk calls out hands down”. Humbly I submit this statement as my qualification. I don’t want to be a self proclaimed expert at anything. My expertise comes from a passion of loving to hunt and fish. If I am an expert, it is by default. The design and evolutionary process here at Reel became all engrossing. Learning became part of my day to day job.
The learning experience has been a reward unto itself. It’s a blessing to be able to spend so much time on a subject I truly love. Calling elk, designing things and especially testing “the best elk calls out” is a dream come true.
So what gives our customers basis for their bold opinion that the Elk Reel style calls are the best elk calls? Where did an Elk Reel even come from? Maybe that is a good place to start with. The answer to that is that it’s not just come out of nowhere. We are now going on elk season 6 with Ben Koelker and Myself (Drew Rouse) hunting with Elk Reels. It’s been quite a fun learning adventure. To explain where the Reel came from I will tell you our story.
We become Elk hunting Addicts
We both cut our teeth on other outdoor pursuits other than Elk hunting. I grew up in Maryland and was obsessed with fishing since birth. My parents didn’t hunt and my mother would not allow me to go. Fishing would have to do. I still love to fish. It’s where our company gets its name and logo. Sight fishing is a deep passion. When I found hunting in my early 20’s it was love at first stalk. I’m still completely obsessed with it.
Ben grew up on a 200 acre farm south of La Crosse Wisconsin. His family has a long tradition of hunting, trapping and fishing in the driftless region of Wisconsin. Ben’s mom has been shooting Deer in the head with her .243 for years. His father has killed dozens and dozens over a lifetime of hunting. It’s a family game up there during gun season. Ben however had gotten away from bowhunting during college in Fort Collins. When I mentioned elk bowhunting to him he had his dad send him out his bow right away.
Ben was living in Colorado working and skiing when we met. We had skied together a bunch. Ben’s brother is a notable snowboarder named Mark. Mark was best friends with my roommate at the time. Another notable snowboarder named Joe. Joe and I had become obsessed with hunting Elk with a bow and arrow. We all hunted elk together starting that fall.
The first season
So the three of us spent the next few years making every mistake in the book. We spooked a lot more elk than we saw I’m sure. I managed to miss a bull that first season, a young 4×4 2.5 year old that Joe and I bumbled into. He was 100 yards from my truck after a 14 mile hike. Go figure we thought. Better to be lucky than good any day! It was just before dark he was feeding just below the hiking trail. We used a push button cow call to stop and call him back in after my first arrow skipped off a branch and over its back.
I had not accounted for the branch halfway in-between the Bull and I. It was just slightly higher than my target and probably saved that elks life. My second arrow was errant as adrenaline had defeated me by then. I was shaking so badly from Elk Fever and I was hopelessly addicted. We spent the rest of the decade chasing Bulls and learning lessons from defeat after defeat after defeat.
Success at last
One fine september day all that learning paid off. I called a nice 5×6 so close I put all my pins on him. The arrow double lunged him at 7 yards. I had called him in by being really quiet with my arsenal of calls. Trying to use them at the low end of their volume range. Open reed calls have mylar reeds with a high startup velocity. I was cupping my hand around them to muffle the sound. I stopped him with two short chirps and he died after taking three steps. As quickly as he had come in it was over. Victory felt so so sweet!
That day I had been only calling really sporadically. I was using the rule of three I had come up with. Only call every third time you think about calling. He must have gotten his ladies taken that morning because that elk charged in like he was mad. We had gotten between the elk and their bedding area and that was another key.
Needless to say i was so hooked on calling it’s all i wanted to do ever since. It’s my favorite way to hunt anything. To call it in is the pinnacle for me. For me to match wits using tactics and skill is something I truly love to do. Elk, Turkeys, Deer etc… If you can call em that’s my favorite way.
I had become a walking elk call rack
I had carried around all the Elk Calls I could find. If they were far off in the way I wanted them to sound. Then they got thrown right in the garbage. If they would make an adequate sound I’d try them out on the Elk.
After testing they’d either stay in my arsenal or get thrown away. Some of them were just impossible to use reliably. I tried almost everything and eventually I settled in with three different open reed calls and two different bugles… As well as a set of 5×5 elk antlers. I’ve alway been a big fan of throwing the kitchen sink at things. Elk calling was no different.
Less is more
However I was carrying so much crap. Up and down, back and forth all over the mountains. There had to be a better way to sound like an elk herd. I wanted one call that would solve all my issues. It would be pocket sized and you’d be able to bugle with it.
I was absolutely fed up with calls that got sticky. Calls that made bad sounds inexplicably. Calls that had silicone reeds that would break easily and cost an arm and a leg. Mouth reeds that disintegrated at best and at worst sounded like a dying rabbit. Calls that worked until bull fever came and adrenaline was through the roof. I knew what I didn’t want to use anymore. I was sick of the compromises.
How the Elk Reel was born
I decided one day that I was going to make a bugle that fit in my pocket. Another hunting buddy was always playing with his calls. But he gave me a good idea to start with but he didn’t know how it would generate sound. He wanted to roll up a tube to use as a bugle tube. However rubber absorbs sound and it was far fetched with no mechanism. I quickly decided it was off base. What we needed was not a tube but a mechanism for making the sound.
Somehow I had skied my way into a part ownership of one of my sponsors. Grace skis which was based in Denver, Colorado. The original owner was teaching me how to be a ski maker and to use a 3D CNC router mill. It was seeing this machine work that gave me the original idea for how to make a mechanism for an elk call. I studied some vocal cord anatomy of humans and elk and went to work with some modeling foam and a dremel tool.
The very first Elk Reel was rather crude and a little oversized. You could bugle with it though. On the first try I got a pretty good note. Immediately I noticed how it would make these sliding accurate sexy cow sounds. I have to admit I got a little lucky with the initial design as far as the sound quality. It was amazing. We took it to a friends house deep on a mountainside with aspen forests, evergreens and a healthy population of Elk.
We went out in the driveway and started to bugle with it and make some loud cow chirps. My friends and I went inside to discuss the way it sounded outside in the woods. Then like it was on que a cow elk was walking down the driveway towards the house. The very first notes played outside had called in an actual elk. We knew we were on to something with that first test. The first Elk Reels had all the working features of the current models and the way it generates sound is exactly the same.
Extensive testing makes the best elk calls
Ben and I backpacked into the wilderness two days before the archery season. We were carrying 6 of the now prototype Elk Calls. We tested them for a few days before the foam they were made of literally fell to pieces. They worked sound quality wise and they didn’t stick or falter but the material they were made from could not stand up to Elk hunting. Durability would dictate we go back to the drawing board.
The CNC became the base of what I would design the call around. I wanted it to be able to be made of a durable easily millable material. One that would optimize sound quality and hold up to an abusive owner. We went with wood and I used my dremel tool to make some new prototypes. They worked. They would last for several hunts now and we began to test them extensively. The calls evolved almost daily that first season.
A public land OTC giant
We would hunt all day and then at dark I’d head home and work on improving the design. Id stay up late, I was exhausted. On sept 10th that first year testing I made a bad shot on a giant public land 7×6 bull. He spun as I shot and I had mistakenly decided to try to let him take a step and squeeze the trigger.
He was behind a small evergreen tree but I could of snuck the arrow past it. Thinking it was a better shot I chose to let him start moving to gain a few more inches of clearance. The momentum he had from his movement made him react to the shot like a whitetail. Big bull elk can do things that you would not think they can.
We had called him in trailing all of his cows to 20 yards and it was supposed to be a moment of glory. It still haunts me to this day. After 3 exhausting days of searching at treeline and in alpine basins Ben and I gave up. The calls worked but I blew it. We kept hunting for a few days but Ben fell and dislocated his shoulder in a snowstorm on a steep mountainside. I took a cow elk the last few days of the season hunting solo. It was bittersweet.
We started an exhaustive patent process that first year though. I spent the next several seasons improving the durability and making small changes. Long drives to denver to make skis became my time to think about the design. It consumed my thoughts… the patent process consumed most of my free time. 2 years passed by during which I was learning a ton about manufacturing and ski making. We called in a lot of elk. I knew how good the calls were becoming. I thought they were the best elk calls I’d ever used.
The fall from Grace
I spent years in the ski industry. My ski career started out at a ski shop in Maryland selling skis and boots. The television blaring ski movies always caught my attention and i decided to move to Colorado after my second winter. I wanted to emulate my new heroes like Seth Morrison and Shane McConkey.
After 12 years in Colorado, 4 torn Acls and numerous other injuries later I finally got a paycheck to ski. Vail resorts hired me to make the snow look better in their marketing campaigns. I ended up with a partnership in the ski company. This was my little dream. I always had told people if i could get paid to ski i could do anything. It took so much hard work and never quitting or listening to people who said I couldn’t or wouldn’t.
A Crazy idea
The little bit of money I made as a professional skier just made me want to do something bigger. That’s why when we thought of a crazy idea to make a better elk call. I thought well why not, no reason I can’t. My experience with skiing, how i didn’t listen to the naysayers and i proved them wrong in the end got me going.
Things took a turn for the worse with Grace skis original owner losing his motivation. The company was never seeming to get any closer to being profitable. I figured a change of scenery would benefit the company. So I decided to move the brand myself to Gypsum Colorado in the summer of 2015 and found a warehouse to convert into a ski factory. I brought in Ben to help and made him a partner.
Things were brewing though with the patent. It was now pending approval and little did I know my time in the ski industry was nearing an end. I was unwilling to admit I was burning out from making skis. We were now on year 5 it was losing it logical appeal. September was coming and all I wanted to do was go Elk hunting.
The start of Reel Game Calls
After the Reel patent initially went pending we made a batch of calls at our ski factory with the CNC router mill and some of our ski finishing machines. I handmade all the little parts with a razor knife. The program to make them was rough so we finished each call by hand with a dremel tool. We gave some out to a bunch of friends and family and elk hunters we knew through our adventures in the ski industry.
When september came i excused myself from the factory. I set out to shoot a public land OTC 6×6 or nothing. Ben went with a buddy who had drawn a limited entry tag to film his hunt. Our friend shot a great 350 class bull he reeled in himself the second week. The first day of season was awesome for me. I nearly filled my tag on a brute of a bull opening morning. I passed lots of small bulls early season.
Public land 6×6
The next few weeks rocketed by and on day 18 of the season I shot a nice bull elk with 6 on both sides. Ben and I had call him in using some soft cow chirps and a few calf vocalizations. After I shot him two more bulls came into to bow range. It was just a magical morning in the rockies.
The initial batch of Elk calls yielded exceptional results. The percentage of hunters who tagged out was staggering. People reported skidding bulls and cows to a stop as they ran towards the caller during the gun seasons. We knew it was definitely an amazing product.
A change of direction to make the best elk calls
Sometimes in life and in business you must take risks. The prospect of making these amazing game calls that we knew were game changing was constantly weighing on us. So after a few months of making skis we decided to stop milling ski cores on the CNC and start milling elk Calls.
We knew pretty quickly that the Reel mechanism produces more than elk vocalizations. We prototyped some turkey calls that first spring. After dropping the hammer on several birds I changed the name of the company from Elk Reel to Reel Game Calls. We began plans for several other varieties of the best game calls. That however is a different subject.
The first year of Reel
The first year we sold calls has flown by. It’s been overwhelmingly successful and exceeded our expectations by a great deal. We have traveled the country meeting hunters who love our calls everywhere we go. As we come into Elk season we are truly living a dream and thank all of our customers, friends and family that have made it all possible. We look forward to seeing the results from this season. We hope that if you’ve bought an Elk Reel that it brings you a monster bull into your wheelhouse this fall!
What makes a Elk Reel style calls the best elk calls?
When we start asking people that have used it if they could only pick one call to take elk hunting which one are you taking. And they all respond “an Elk Reel”. We know we are doing something right. It’s been a fun experience the last 14 months since we decided to stop making skis and focus on the making the best elk calls.
We know thats what they are and we will talk about why. What makes us so confident that we say that blatently. Why has no one ever returned an Elk Reel for a refund?
Let’s run through a head to head comparison with traditional calls
Latex Diaphragm vs Elk Reel
Mouth Reeds are by far one of the more popular types of calls but they are basically throw away. They seem cheap but the replacement costs add up over time. An Elk Reel lasts an incredible amount of time longer. Mouth reeds are great for bugling if you are a master with them. Anyone can produce consistent bugles from an Elk Reel. A master caller will never ever get a bad bugle with an Elk Reel. They are not designed for calling in contests. They were designed for calling in bulls.
Anyone can use an Elk Reel and everyone is more consistent with it. The cow talk sounds better and has more variety of sounds. It’s far more multiple and the volume control is far superior. A lot of guys who have been using diapghrams for years may debate this. They will probably say diapghrams are the best Elk calls. Though if they haven’t tried an Elk Reel yet how valid could their opinion really be?
In the end we believe the Elk Reel just better all around. It never lets you down. Never makes an awful sound. You can’t say that about a diaphragm. No matter what material or method you used to make the frame holding the latex reed. Edge to the Reel…
Open Reed calls
Open reed calls. I wouldn’t invest in a company that was relying on open reed sales. Our calls are superior in every ascpect. Volume control, pitch control, accuracy of tone, ease of use, reliability etc etc. Our 3D reeds and the hinging action of our calls make them simple to play at all pitches and volumes. As long as you know what an elk sounds like you are in serious business. No need to spend years practicing and still get bad sounds. Open reeds have a high start up velocity and the performance at low volume is awful. Edge to the Reel…
Closed Reed calls
Closed Reed calls. Not even fair to compare the two. I wouldn’t pick up a closed reed call instead of the open reed. Sound isn’t as good out of those type of calls. I threw any I ever bought away. They do not belong in the best elk calls conversation. Edge to the Reel…
Tube Style calls
Tube style bugles vs the Elk Reel. The tube style Bugle is most popularized by Primos. They work but not as reliably as I’d like. Bad sounds can happen at random. Less with practice but so what, I don’t like it when my call is unpredictable. Durabilty is an issue with tube style reeds, they are exposed and yes they have a cap to try to protect the reeds.
However Murphy loves the elk woods and his law always bites you at the worst time. I quit carrying them. I hate having to have spare parts for my gear. The best elk calls should be reliable. The design of our Elk Reel protects the reed really well. I bugle with my calls and sometimes I carry a tube. Maybe half of the time anymore.
You can cow call with tube style call but the sound is not perfect and they are touchy. Bad sounds at any second. Edge to the Reel…
Push button calls vs the Elk Reel. Push button calls make one decent elk vocalization. You will sound like the same elk making the same sound repeadtedly. Not ideal at all. Can work, most likely pushing the lead cow and her herd into the next county. Being so bland and unvariable they are definitely not the best elk calls. Elk Reels are like having a whole herd in your fingers. You will be spitting consistent accurate alive sounding variable elk vocalizations. You will sound like you are the elk hunting version of Tupac Shakur. Edge To the Reel…
The best Elk calls
I hope you enjoyed our story and I hope you enjoyed my rundown of the non contest between traditional calls and our Elk Reel. It’s hard to understand how good our calls are until you get to play one. Then when your eyes light up you’ll know you just got one of the worlds best elk calls “hands down”.
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