Calls of the wildCalls of the wild
By STARLA POINTER
Of the News-Register
Bryan Langley has one overriding objective when he raises an elk call to his mouth. "I want to sound like the biggest, baddest bull in the forest," he said.
That's what attracts the lady elk, after all. It also gets the attention of other males on the lookout for rivals.
And at an elk-calling competition, being able to sound big and bad - as well as mimic the slightly more gentle calls of cows - pleases the judges.
Both Langley and his son, 10-year-old Bryan, are highly skilled in elk calling. In fact, both placed first in their respective divisions at the Leupold/Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation World Elk Calling Championships earlier this month.
The calling competition was part of the foundation's 25th Annual Elk Camp & Hunting, Fishing and Outdoor Expo in Fort Worth, Texas. The expo coincided with a hunting camp for kids, which was what drew the Langleys to Texas in the first place.
Brayden won a trip to the camp by creating his own hunter safety video. "I made it about being safe and ethical while hunting," Brayden said.
The video, which placed first in a nationwide contest, served double duty. It counted as one of the required projects for his home-school classes.
"Ethical means obeying the laws and only shooting an elk if you have a tag," he explained. "Safe is making sure you treat every gun as if it's loaded, things like that."
The Langleys' elk-calling skills grew out of their enjoyment of bow hunting.
Hunters who use bows rely on calls to bring elk within shooting range. That's not as critical for hunters who use rifles, as rifles have a lot more range.
A native of Willamina, Bryan Langley grew up using a rifle to hunt deer. Not long after graduating from Western Baptist College, he joined his father on a new type of hunt, bow and arrow, for a larger target, elk.
He liked bow hunting right away. "It's more challenging," he said.
He noted it also takes place in better weather. The bow season is in September, which is drier and warmer than the late-fall rifle season.
September also is a good time to hear elks vocalize, because it's rutting season, he said.
Bulls bugle from time to time year-around. So do cows, although they're not generally as vocal as males.
The exception is July, when it's common to hear cows vocalizing with their new calves.
Unlike his father, Brayden grew up bow hunting. In fact, he has been hunting all his life, quite literally.
"He was in his car seat when he started going with me," his dad said.
At 10, Brayden can already manage a 40-pound-draw compound bow, which will take down a deer. He isn't yet quite strong enough for the 50-pound-draw needed for elk, though.
Through the state's mentor hunting program, he is allowed to hunt with his father. He carries his own weapon, but uses his dad's tag.
They're allowed to take one animal, either a male or a female. Usually, they work as a team, with Brayden doing the calling and his dad doing the shooting.
An elk caller needs lots of patience, Brayden said.
"You call a bit, then wait, then call more," he said. "You have to be really quiet between calls."
One of Brayden's proudest trophies is a large rack of antlers mounted on the living room wall. The seven-by-seven rack is from a Roosevelt elk that Brayden called in for his father last year in the Coast Range.
The pair had been hunting for three days without seeing any game. Then, suddenly, they had their choice of two cows and a bull.
After his father felled the bull, Brayden helped with the chores that are part of hunting game. "He got to help quarter it and pack it out of the woods," his dad said, noting the size of the animal meant numerous trips between hunting site and the car.
As usual, the family had the meat butchered and stocked in its freezer.
Brayden likes ground elk burgers. His dad prefers barbecued elk or elk steak, particularly the way his wife, Rhonda, cooks it.
Many hunters call elk only when they're looking for something to shoot. And some callers don't hunt at all.
The Langleys, who are part of Christian Bow Hunters of Northwest Oregon, enjoy doing both.
"Calling takes a lot of practice and persistence," Bryan Langley said. "You don't have to be that good at calling to hunt, but to enter a competition, you need a lot of skills. Competition callers often sound more like elk than elk do."
To perfect their calling, the Langleys talk to other hunters and watch videos of professional callers, who demonstrate calls and talk about the meanings.
"We know the sounds we're going for," said Brayden, who has trained his ear through piano lessons.
Some elk callers use only their voices to imitate the sound of cows and bulls. But most, like the Langleys, use a variety of implements as well.
On a hunting trip, they carry several different calls, much like a fisherman carries a variety of lures.
A push call resembles a bicycle horn, with a bulb you push or squeeze to make cow sounds.
"You use a push call when you know cows are coming," Brayden said. "It's a way to tell them that other cows are around."
More commonly used are reed calls, small devices made of latex or metal that fit into the roof of the caller's mouth. The caller forces air over the reed to produce the designed noise.
"I like reeds," Brayden said. "You can do different sounds," he said, demonstrating high and medium pitches, then louder and softer calls.
Another advantage of reed calls, his dad said, is that they free a hunter's hands for aiming and firing. It does take some practice to learn to use them effectively, varying the sounds, though.
Reeds come in a variety of sizes and configurations. Bryan Langley likes those that can be bent to better fit the hunter's palette.
The Langleys also use "grunt tubes" - latex tubes through which a caller can recreate the grunting of a bull. Sometimes they use even simpler technique, such as raking a stick across a tree to simulate the sound of an elk rubbing its antlers against branches.
Callers also use devices to increase the volume of their sounds, so they can be heard by elk hundreds of yards away. He and his son use megaphones made from fat plastic baseball bats covered with camouflage material.
That's realistic, Bryan Langley said.
"Elk are big animals, with big lungs," he said. "They're loud."
For a calling competition, contestants need to demonstrate a variety of sounds and techniques. They have 30 to 60 seconds to mimic both cows and bulls.
In addition to making whistles, growls and groans, some callers also imitate the distinctive "glunking" of a bull - a popping, swallowing sound bulls use while rounding up their cows.
Seven to nine judges are hidden behind a screen so they can't see the contestants. The judges rate the calls, much like judges hand out scores in a figure skating competition.
Callers go through preliminary rounds first, then the top scorers advance to the finals.
At 10, Brayden already is an experienced competitor. He first entered a calling contest at age 4 - at the Nazarene Church on the Hill's annual Sportsman Show.
His dad recalled, "Brayden and his sisters all entered. His sister, Kara, beat him that time."'
Kara now is 12 and retired from calling. Brayden also has two other sisters, Bryanna, 14, and Myriah, 2.
Brayden remembers that first competition, too.
"I was pretty nervous," he said. "I just went up there and called."
He's become less nervous and more skilled in the years since. Like his dad, he has won, placed or shown in numerous contests.
When he was 8, he placed second in the 2007 Oregon calling competition. Earlier this year, he won the youth division at the state contest, held Feb. 28 in Lincoln City.
"It's friendly competition," Brayden said. "We see a lot of the same people and get to talk to them about things like glunking and growling."