Loose Ends: Elk ‘bugling contests of olden days’

Not so long ago Meeker was not only known for its deer and elk population, but for the abundance of local human elk callers. The local school system not only declared a one- or two-day hunting holiday each fall, but the sportsman’s club sponsored a “bugling” contest, as well. Letting school out for a hunting vacation was natural, lending itself to local family schedules as kids were pulled out of school each year to join help fill the family larders. It was a tradition based on necessity.
I didn’t come from a family that hunted and the only exposure I had to the sounds of wildlife were either television documentaries or movies. As a “bugling” novice, the sounds coming from the seven brave elementary schoolers sounded nothing like I imagined. The contestants sounded like rusty door hinges or the extended shriek of a tantrum-throwing toddlers. It was hard to believe that any lovestruck elk would seek out the source of the any of those sounds.
The winner of the yearly contest that fall surprised me as well, for I wasn’t familiar with the art of elk calling. Age and gender didn’t seem to matter, proficiency bugling with the plastic pipe used by many at this contest did. Both male and female elementary entrants ranged in age from six to twelve.
You’d think that 23 years of teaching elementary school in this valley would have offered me the chance to perfect the art of elk-calling. Quite a few students offered to teach me, but as soon as I reminded them that I never intended to be in a high mountain valley with a need for such a skill, they stopped offering. Lucky, as I never could master getting any sound from my brother’s bugle or my daughter’s French horn. I look forward to the day someone reinstates a local elk-calling contest, but not because I want to sign myself up. Elk bugling, human or animal, is truly a seasonal “sound” tradition of the White River Valley.