Hannah Holiday is the Queen of the Elk call

Posted 7/12/18

Hannah Holiday discovered her talent back when she was six as she and her uncle crept around their campsite looking for an elk that wasn’t there. Her uncle and her father had left camp early that …

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Hannah Holiday is the Queen of the Elk call


Hannah Holiday discovered her talent back when she was six as she and her uncle crept around their campsite looking for an elk that wasn’t there.

Her uncle and her father had left camp early that morning hunting for elk, leaving her back at camp, where she practiced her elk calls. Her Dad and his brother were experience bow hunters and callers, using a traditional reed or diaphragm to imitate the noises an elk makes.

“I tried to be like my Dad and use that reed but I failed,” she said. “I choked on the thing and just couldn’t make a sound with it.”

Holiday said she imitated the sounds on her own, using her own high-pitched voice.

“People thought it was kind of funny, a six-year-old making these noises,” she said. “But I knew it worked because I called my Uncle back into camp. I was walking around making the cow call I was working on and my Uncle walks in and said ‘Where’s the elk at?’ And I got real serious.”

Their quiet search didn’t turn anything up, so she felt safe to continue practicing her calls.

“And he said, ‘Goshdarnit, Hannah. It’s you’ That’s when I knew I could make an elk call,” she said.

A family of hunters, they knew a good thing when they heard it.

“When I was a teenager, I’d call for my parents,” she said. “I’d call for all the rest of my family, really.”

This March, the Northglenn resident won the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s World Elk Calling Championships voice division in Salt Lake City. It was the second time she claimed the top voice division honor and just one among the contests she’s won since she was 15.

“There are a ton of callers, but they’re all in different divisions,” she said. “There are professional divisions, and those are for calling companies — who make the calls — and the guides. They have mens’ divisions, womens’, youth, pee-wee. And they come from all over the U.S. and Canada. There are some really great callers out there.”

It’s a pretty new division in the contest, one that mostly had to herself when she started. That’s starting to change, she said.

“People didn’t know that you could voice call, like I do now,” she said. “So when I was in my first contest at 15, that’s when one of my main competitors now was born.”

She likes that it encourages more women to compete and to hunt but she’s not convinced women’s voices offer any advantage when it comes calling.

Most elk callers rely on as reed or a thin diaphragm in their mouth that they blow over like whistle, creating a high-pitched, nasally whine of an elk. Often, they’ll use a bugle to amplify their calls.

It comes down to having a flexible voice and being able to change up the call. She specializes in cow elk calls, designed to lure in curious males.

Using her own voice gives her greater flexibility. Rather than just imitate a single bull bugling for a fight or a lonely cow elk looking for some companionship, she can quickly change her voice over an over, making it sound like an entire herd of cows.

“I can do a lot of cows, a regular cow sound, a cow bark — that’s kind of warning sound,” she said. “I can do the cow estrus — kind of a ‘come hither’ call — and calf sounds. Then I can do a whole herd that’s hanging out. And they need to go check that out.”

She’s spent hours listening to elk calls, recorded and live, and feels pretty confident she understands their rudimentary language. That’s key to being an effective caller, she said.

“I did cross country in high school, so I’d practice when I was running, working on breathing and control and lung capacity.”

She can imitate the sound of bull elk bugling and looking for a fight, but she also has a call few have ever heard. Her studies also led her to come up with unique call, one rarely heard among humans — the cow elk bugle.

“Bull don’t make any of the sounds a cow makes, but you will hear a what we call a cow bugle,” she said. “It has a long drawn out tone but it doesn’t sound anything like what a bull does.”

Variety helps, she said.

“Some bulls want a challenge, so you want that,” she said. “But you want to sound like a slightly smaller bull who has a bunch of cows. It’s very appealing to a bull elk, who thinks he can just come take over.”

Generally, she’s loud enough to make the call on her own but keeps a bugle handy to amplify the calls if she needs a louder sound. It’s become a noted part of her life, with family and friends asking her to demonstrate her skill in the most unique places.

“Back at my wedding in 2014, my Uncles asked me to do a call at the reception,” she said. “So they brought up a microphone so the Bride could do an elk call. So I did an elk call there, and at our honeymoon in Jamaica. I have virtually elk called everywhere I’ve been.”

She and her husband continue the family’s bow hunting tradition and Holiday said he’s in demand as a caller and guide — and as celebrity in the elk calling world.

“We were at an archery story last week and guy walks up and yelled ‘I recognize you!” she said. “And the whole store stopped and looked. I’ve done it for the TSA at the airport and on my airplane.”

She’s also a registered and graduates from the New Mexico State University this summer with a doctorate in nursing. That’s been taking up most of her time, she said.

“I have to finish up my MD residency in Los Cruces, and then I graduate in August,” she said. “I’ll be Doctor Holiday — Doc Holiday — in August. And then, it’ll be hunting season again. So we’re just busy.”


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