James McMurray has always hunted public land, and the Louisiana sportsman has had good luck in these areas despite the crowded conditions. One morning in particular was especially memorable.
He was hunting Big Lake Wildlife Management Area in the Tensas Parish on a cold day in January. When he arrived at his chosen spot, hunters were already there. Moving to his second spot, Murray slung his rifle over his shoulder and began walking. In his hands were a pair of rattling horns he’d made from a six-point buck he killed earlier that season.
James had done quite a bit of grunting over the years. Rattling, though, was fairly new to him. “I’d been in the woods about an hour and had rattled two or three times. I’d grunt, rattle some, then wait about 15 minutes. I saw the buck first more than 100 yards away, coming through the timber and thick brush. It was a little after 9 a.m. He was a long way off and the cover was thick.”
Rattling softly now with the deer in sight, he turned to his grunt call more and slowly coaxed the deer in.
“He’d trot a little closer, then look around like he was searching for the bucks. He definitely was coming to the sound of the horns and the grunting.”
James was using his 6mm rifle with 100-grain bullets because he had planned to hunt a more open area with little cover and potentially long shooting opportunities. Since this area was thick, he felt he had to get the deer in for a close clear shot with no brush that might deflect the light bullet.
“When he stepped into a 2- or 3-foot area where his shoulder was exposed, I put the scope on him and made the shot. He didn’t go anywhere. He fell right there.”
In the excitement, McMurray didn’t get a chance to see what size deer he was grunting and rattling in. He knew it was a good buck, but not until he walked up to it did he realize what an amazing animal it was. The deer weighed 220 pounds, had 30 points, and was aged at 4 ½ years. The massive buck beat the previous state record Louisiana non-typical by nearly 30 points at 281 6/8 B&C net and ranks No. 12 in the all-time Boone & Crockett world record book for non-typicals.
Patterning bucks and waiting silently on stand, hour after hour, is the go-to method for most of today’s deer hunters. It’s definitely the most popular way of hunting deer among local hunters in the Shenandoah Valley. But if you’d like to add the potential thrill of a buck racing in toward you, add calling deer to your repertoire of hunting tactics. It’s a lot like calling in spring gobblers, only the quarry is much, much bigger.
Calling, done right, can work pre-rut, peak-breeding, and post-rut. With Virginia’s muzzleloader and bow seasons lasting into early January, there’s plenty of time left to give this tactic a try. Just be careful using it if other hunters are in the area and wear lots of blaze orange.
Over this week and next, we’ll cover some of the most important tips and insights learned from call makers, hunting guides, and calling experts throughout the country that I’ve been fortunate to hunt with.
Get an audio or DVD that includes real deer calls and basic instructions. Many call manufacturers offer recorded instructions on how the basic deer calls sound and how to make them. Listening to actual deer making the various calls they use is invaluable.
Practice, practice, practice. There’s no substitution for it.
If one call doesn’t work in a hunting situation, try another. If a grunt doesn’t produce, try a doe bleat, light sparring with antlers, or all-out loud rattling.
Experiment with several company’s calls to see which work best on deer in your hunting area.
Calling can work both from stands and blinds and also slowly moving through prime deer territory. Concentrate on travel corridors and staging areas early, then switch to doe bedding and feeding spots during the rut.
If you’re moving and calling, don’t waste too much time on one spot. Call, wait 10-20 minutes, and call again. If nothing comes in 25-30 minutes, move to a new area.
After you call, pick up your bow or rifle and be ready. A buck could appear in 10 minutes or 10 seconds.
Besides watching, listen for sounds of approaching deer cracking branches, stepping on leaves, grunting, or raking trees with their antlers.
Move only your eyes or your neck very slowly when necessary as you scan for deer.
Be ready for bucks charging in, trotting, or slinking quietly toward the sound of the calls.
Wear an appropriate camouflage pattern for the season and habitat, topped off with the required blaze orange during firearms seasons.
Don’t overdo it. Make a few calls, then wait at least 5-10 minutes before calling again. You don’t want to sound too eager. You want the buck to stalk you, or rather the deer it thinks it hears.
Your first calls should be on the quiet side, in case you’ve set up close to a bedded deer. Raise the volume the second time to cover a greater area with the sound.
Keep the snort-wheeze reserved for when a mature buck is located, but won’t come the final steps into range.
Next week: More tips for calling in deer.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.