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Interview - Jason Phelps of Phelps Game Calls - Pacific Northwest Bowhunting

As a life-long fanatic of calling game into bow range, I’m always on the lookout for new calls to put to the test each season.  This year will be no different, and I’m excited to try a new elk call produced by Jason Phelps of Phelps Game Calls.

Phelps lives in the small town of PeEll, Washington – the heart of classic SW Washington Roosevelt elk country.  Jason is somewhat new to the call-making business but he’s no rookie in the field, especially when it comes to coaxing fickle Roosevelt elk into bow range.  He is true craftsman and his attention to detail will have you reaching for your wallet in a hurry.  Recently I had the chance to talk with Jason about his business, passion game calling, and a new venture, Primetime Outdoors.

PNB: Tell me about your roots in the outdoors and how you got started hunting?

I have lived in the small town of PeEll, Washington for the majority of my life.  There wasn’t a lot to do here for entertainment.  My friends and I spent most of our summers fishing or wandering through the woods trying to track down elk or deer.  I guess it was in my blood at an early age.  I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

 My family has always had a rich tradition when it comes to hunting.  My family has hunted the hills around home for as long as I can remember.  Like many others hunters, I owe my dad for showing me and teaching me about the outdoors.  Without him who knows if my passion for hunting would have grown to where it is now.

PNB: What are your favorite species to hunt?

My favorite animals to hunt would have to be Elk and Mule Deer.  There is nothing better than hearing a bull elk rip off a bugle on a cool crisp September morning.  I love the challenge of drawing up a plan, getting close and then calling a bull elk in to range.  There is just something about being able to “trick” nature that has always intrigued me.  Not to mention that elk are pretty good eating!

I love the sheer physical challenge of hunting high country mule deer.  I love everything about looking at maps in the off season, loading up a pack, hiking thousands of feet up a mountain, setting up a spike camp all in an effort to find a mature trophy mule deer.

PNB:  How did you get into the call-making business?

To be honest it was something to play around with in the off-season.  I was always thinking about hunting, so I asked myself what better hobby than making calls?  I wanted to make the most realistic and easy to use cow call available.  I didn’t want to put it on the market until I felt it was better than every other call available.  After months of buying, making and modifying tone boards I settled on a board that to me made perfect cow vocals.  I then started tracking down wood sources and within a few months I started marking and marketing my first elk calls.  

PNB: What differentiates your calls from the big name brands out there?

I feel there are a few things that differentiate my calls from the others.  I make each call by hand which allows me to insure that the quality of each call is up to my standards.  I hand tune each call that leaves my shop to make sure they sound good when the customers receive them (Don’t worry I clean them off with alcohol afterwards).  My calls are extremely easy to make cow elk talk.  When you are in the heat of the moment with a big bull you want to be able to make the right sound with little effort.  Also, what other elk call company can you get the exact wood or color of camo-laminate that you want?

PNB: I have to agree with you, Jason – there is nothing more frustrating than messing up when your next sound can make or break a call-in commit by a weary bull.  After trying your call I was impressed with the volume control I was able to achieve with little effort.

What message do you have for potential customers?

My calls will not guarantee that you will call an elk into range.  What I do guarantee is that if you are not happy with the call for any reason I will buy the call back from you.

I take pride in my work and want everyone to be happy with the purchase.  I get more enjoyment out of the pictures I receive from my customers than the little bit of money that I make off of my calls.

PNB:  Wow, can’t argue with a ‘no lose’ deal like that!  What was your first experience calling game and what made it special?

My first experience of calling in an elk was in my junior year in high school.  I had just bought a Primos Terminator bugle and some mouth reeds.  It was the day before archery season opened up here in Washington and my dad, dad’s cousin, my girlfriend and I were out scouting (I had only hunted rifle up to this point and had already bought my rifle tag for the year).  We spotted a herd of elk and I decided I was going to try and call the bull in.  I snuck down to a landing which overlooked the clear cut that the elk were in.  I let out my best challenge bugle and got an instant response. Then I saw the bull start making his way out of the timber.  I continued to throw estrus whines and some bugles at him.  Before we knew it he was 30 yards away and still closing.  The bull was bugling in our face and tearing the heck out of a little jack-fir.  The next thing I heard was my Dad’s cousin yelling at the elk.  He decided that the bull had gotten close enough and it was time to scare him off.  I was pumped – I had just called in my first elk!

I then started asking myself why I didn’t bow hunt; it seemed like it would be easy.To follow up, the next year I got a PSE Marauder bow (Cabela’s special) for Christmas and I was going to be a mighty bowhunter the next year.  Well I had no trouble calling bulls into range.  The problem I had was like many converted rifle hunters, I shot the bow a few times and thought I was ready for the woods.  When it came down to crunch time I hadn’t practiced enough.  To make a long story short I missed 6 bulls that first year (didn’t draw blood thank God).  I ended up killing a cow in the late season.  Needless to say, that next season I shot up a couple targets and put in the time to make good on my next opportunity.

PNB: Tell me about the most exciting “call in” you were part of.

It was a Sunday and my buddy Trevor and I were in an area that we had been seeing elk.

I let out a locate bugle and got an instant response down in the draw. We worked our way down the road and got the wind in our favor, let out some soft cow calling and heard nothing.  We waited, called again, and nothing.  I bugled again – still nothing.  As so often happens, he just shut up and was nowhere to be seen.

So we walked back out the road and by the time we walked for 5 minutes the whole place had fogged in. We then spooked another herd probably 100 yards off the road.  We decided to take a break and wait for the fog to lift.  About 1.5 hours into “guess the range of that tree” Trevor said that we hadn’t walked all that way in to this area to sit around.  We loaded up and off we went in the fog.

Not more than 5 minutes from where we had been sitting, I let out another “locator” bugle and instantly got a response.  It came from an area I was real familiar with.  We checked the wind and drew up the game plan.  This bull continued to bugle which made it nice for us to get ahead of him without bumping him.  As we crept through the thick timber Trevor spotted a cow only 70 yards away.  We re-checked the wind and I backed up, upwind of Trevor hoping that the bull would try to get wind on me and end up in his lap.

Little did I know this was going to work too well.  I let out an aggressive bugle followed by some estrus cow calling.  Next thing I see was antler tines coming through the trees at 12 yards, and he was only 7 yards from Trevor and neither of us have drawn.  In fact, I didn’t even have an arrow knocked as I was focused on my duties as the caller.  He had come in completely silent.  From my position all I could see was his antler when he stopped and he was staring a hole right through the tree I was behind the whole time.  Out of the corner of my eye I could see Trevor peeking from beneath the bill of his hat at the bull.  I had a feeling he was going to bust us so I decided I might as well try and nock an arrow.

Finally, the bull took a step and I could see Trevor lifting his bow to draw and thought for sure it was over.  I had also drawn, and the bull stopped with his vitals completely exposed.  I let the arrow fly and watched the pocket right behind the shoulder swallow the arrow!

The bull whirled and bounded off and we heard a loud crash within about 4 seconds.  Still, we decided to wait because we lost sight of the bull.  We quietly went and looked for my arrow.  Nothing.  So we started slowly tracking the bull and found him piled up in an old Hemlock root wad a short distance later – a nice 5×5.

PNB: Sounds like an exciting day for sure!  What is the largest bull killed by way of your calls?

To my knowledge, the biggest bull is a 360” Montana bull taken by John Davis.

PNB: That is a gorgeous bull for sure.  Do you have any calling tips to offer?

I have called in a lot of Roosevelt bulls over the past decade.  Get the wind right, get in tight and give the herd bull no choice but to defend his harem.  When in tight (less than 100 yards) I usually lead off with an estrus whine followed by a challenge bugle.  This has been the best tactic that I have found.

Also, I am very aggressive in my calling.  When I say inside 100 yards, I mean as close as you can get.  I have blown a few setups trying to get too close but I feel that this is better than not getting close enough and having no chance of calling the bull in. Most of the time I am closer to the bull than some of his cows are.  This gives him two choices – leave without some of his cows or come in to the call to retrieve his cow.  Getting a bull to commit to the call is what results in shot opportunities.  Also practice calling as much as possible.  You don’t have to be a world champion elk caller but practice will give you confidence in your calling, which is key when working a bull in close.

PNB:  Are there specific advantages of “open reed” calls?

The main advantage of open reed calls is the ability to sound like multiple elk depending on where you position your mouth and how much pressure is applied to the call.  I also feel that the quality of sound from an open reed call is better than the bite reed style.  I place a green band on my calls.  When pressure is applied it changes the tone giving the call a more nasal/estrus sound that bulls love!

PNB: Do you do custom orders?

Yes, I can make calls out of almost every type of wood.  If the customer wants the call longer, shorter, tuned differently I will do everything I can to accommodate the customer.

PNB: How can people buy/order your calls?

People can call me directly at 360.402.2617 or email me at  I also advertise and am a site sponsor on www.hunting-washington.comjphelps” is my user name.

I will be working on a web page in the future.  Right now, in an effort to keep the prices as low as possible I do not have a web site.

PNB: Changing topics for a moment, in an earlier conversation we had you mentioned Primetime Outdoors.  What’s the story there?

Yeah, Primetime Outdoors is based in southwest Washington and is a group of ordinary hunters who are trying to show that anyone can be successful if they are willing to put in the hard work. Our team has a deep passion for hunting and the outdoors.  We hunt DIY out west on publicly accessible lands. Any hunter can buy over the counter tags and partake in hunts similar to ours.  We like to hang our hats on the fact that this is “real hunting” that can be done by anyone.

We want to bring a dose of realism to the world of hunting television and show our adventures as well as the accomplishments in the field.  Our success is not measured by the size of the antlers, but by mornings on the mountain, the time spent with friends and family, and the nights spent under the stars.  All of our animals are considered trophies.

You can’t be consitently successful unless you spend every possible minute you have GETTIN AFTER IT.

Primetime Outdoors will be releasing our debut hunting DVD “Gettin After It” in the Spring of 2011.  The majority of our hunts take place in Washington with three additional mule deer hunts from Montana.  Check out Primetime Outdoor’s Facebook page to see the DVD trailer.  We expect to have a website up and running by the middle of March.

PNB: Well that sounds pretty exciting, Jason.  You’ve been busy, and I like the focus of Primetime – I think you’re promoting the right values at a time that we need it most.  I’ll be sure to order a copy of the DVD when it’s ready.

Thank you for taking the time to share a bit about yourself, your call business and Primetime Outdoors.  I am looking forward to working up some elk magic with your calls this fall on hunts in Washington and Oregon.  Best of luck and thanks again!