Last week we touched on some of the best methods for calling deer, a nice switch from simply sitting and waiting for them to cross your path. Here’s another collection of tips gleaned from some of the best callers in the country on how to lure in a buck using bleats, grunts, and rattling antlers.
Rattle anywhere from one to five minutes. Experiment to see which length of horn-clashing produces best on any given day.
Expect the best results from calling deer when there is little or no wind. Breezes make it hard for deer to hear you. Precipitation also muffles sound and your calls won’t travel as far. Move in close in those conditions. Brisk, high-barometer days with little wind are best of all.
Synthetic antlers can sound very close to real ones. Rattling bags work well also.
Rattling loudly works best just before or after peak breeding. During lockdown most mature bucks are with does. When they’re done with one another is usually close by because almost all females are in estrous at this major period.
If you want to add realism to your rattling sequence, thrash bushes and pound the ground with the antlers or a large stick to imitate an all-out fight between two aggressive, 200 pound-plus bucks.
Early in the season, try sparring. Deer rub and lightly tick their antlers together when they are just sparring. This is more of a social, passive behavior. It works up until ten days or so before the rut. Then it picks up again following the rut. Simply click or tick the antler tips together lightly and rub them gently against each other.
As a general all-around call, use the social buck grunt, sort of a “where are you?” or “I’m here, come on over,” statement. These should be short 1-2 second grunts in a series of 3-4. You want them to sound friendly and social.
The louder and longer you grunt, the more aggressive the call sounds. These are often made accompanying a rattling sequence or as the rut approaches. It’s called the aggravated grunt. It rises in pitch and loudness during the middle, then falls off at the end.
Try to set up where you can see enough territory to spot incoming deer, which often, but not always, come in from downwind.
When possible, hunt with a partner. Have one person set up 15-50 yards in front where you expect the deer to most likely come from and the caller behind him. The caller may get a shot if the deer circles wide and comes in to a safe zone to the side. Most of the time the hunter in front will get the shooting opportunity. A radio telemetry study in Texas showed that half of the deer hunters rattled in, they were unable to see.
Don’t give up during the post-rut, meaning right now in early December. A study by wildlife biologist Mickey Hellickson showed that while fewer bucks came to rattling during the post-rut, a larger percentage of them were older mature bucks than during the pre-rut or peak-breeding periods.
If you want to call in lots of deer, use higher-pitched grunts and bleats. “You can cup the end of the call,” says calling expert Wayne Carlton, “to slightly muffle the sound. You can also point the call away from where you think the deer are, to sound farther away.”
Imitating the doe bleat is the ace in the hole for many callers during the rut. This call is higher in tone than the doe grunt and rises in the middle. It can also be used as a social call between does. It’s deeper than a fawn bleat and can be used in conjunction with several grunts. It sounds something like a sheep call: knee-eeh.
Fawn calls can attract bucks on occasion, partly because they also attract does. Their most common call is the bleat. It’s a high-pitched sound the fawn makes near its mother when it’s hungry or has lost contact with her. It’s technically called a “meow” and works particularly well in the South.
Try to learn to use the fawn distress call also. This is a terrifying sound made by a fawn in danger or pain, or about to be attacked. It sounds like a baby crying and can go on for a long, drawn-out period of loud shrieking squalls and bawls, high-pitched and intense.
“Deer can hear this call from over a quarter-mile away,” says calling authority David Hale. “It’s another good sound for bringing in does, and on occasion, bucks. It’s particularly useful when you need to balance the herd’s sex ratio by harvesting females.” The best chance for calling mature bucks in with this call is during the rut, because bucks think they’ll likely find a doe responding too. Don’t be surprised to call in coyotes with this call, also.
Snorts are of minor importance, since they often signal suspicion and a sense of possible danger. They can however, be used to entice a deer out of nearby cover, or to stop an animal that’s moving away for a better shot.
Calling produces better on some days than others. But the more adept you are with the tactic, the more you can work it into your hunting strategy. And when it works, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of enticing a mature buck or big doe into range with your calling.