Let’s Talk Deer. One hunters’ take on calling whitetails.
Things are starting to get hot and steamy in the deer woods and deer are on the move. All too often the last sound a deer hears before it heads to deer heaven is the infamous “MEH”. You know you have used it in the past and there may be a good reason for it, it works. But why does it work? Are deer really vocal? Does rattling work and when is the best time to do it? If you have ever asked these questions, there are so many variances to the answers, but for the most part, every call and sound has a place and a time to be used.
Many writers and hunters will tell you a grunt is a grunt, a rattle is a rattle and a bleat is such. But what do they all really mean? Everyone has had different experiences and the product label may say “Use during peak rut for best results.” The truth is deer make these sounds year round. No matter if it is a bleat, grunt, wheeze, you name it. About the only sound you wouldn’t hear year round is rattling, and that is solely because they lose their antlers through the season.
Rather than give you what each sound is and tell you how to use them, what they mean and basically share with you what every other article can tell you on the internet, I will share with you how I find success calling for each phase of the year.
Early season is probably the least calling I do year-round. Most of the time I have the deer patterned or at the very least know their food source. So my goal during early season is to get them feeding or find them between their bedding and food. As for calling, I may use contact calls. These are small, short and very quiet bleats and grunts. Two or three “behhh” on a bleat tube, softly, will just let other deer in the area know you are a deer and you are also in the area. Outside of this, I don’t often do much calling until late October.
However you break down deer season, I would consider the pre-rut late October through early November. Here, your calling can begin to be more frequent. Grunts will work to call and attract deer, specifically bucks. If you need to bring them in those last few yards to bow range, a grunt call can do that. During the pre-rut, I won’t start calling until the last 90 minutes of the evening or the first 90 minutes of the day. I will grunt every 20 minutes or so, grunting softly for three to five grunts in a sequence.
When grunting won’t draw that buck in the last few steps, I will do what I call, “Tickle the tines”. This is nothing more than just lightly hitting your rattling antlers together. Curiosity will draw in deer of all ages and often times during this time of the year, although I’ve never tried to rattle this way, I’ve often heard mature bucks fighting hard, but very quickly and short. Usually a hard three to five second sequence kind of like a quick push match between two deer. Again, I’ve never tried to mimic that, however I have heard that several times this time of year.
Every hunter’s favorite time of the year, mid-to-late November, also known as the rut. Here is when most of us hunters will get to the tree stand and just crash our rattling antlers, blow on our grunt tubes, flip our estrous bleat cans and just try any and everything to draw in those mature whitetail bucks. Do any of those things work? They sure do, of course each situation is different. Going into a honey hole, rattling, then grunting, then blowing an estrous bleat all at the same time however, might not get you anywhere or maybe it will. I’m betting it probably won’t.
Now, my successes have come from failures. Rattle bags have not brought me as much success as real, large, shed rattling antlers have. When the wind is blowing 15 mph and I try to use the little plastic rattle devices, the deer might need to be in my lap to hear it. If you have never heard two bucks fighting, it’s something to hear. It’s loud, it’s aggressive, it’s an all-out battle to the death. During this time of the year you will find me rattling just that way every 15 to 20 minutes. I will keep my attention down wind and watch for weary bucks trying to get an eye on the fight before committing.
Last year, I rattled in a 142”, 4.5 year old Maryland 8-point buck this way. I know how much he scored because the neighbor shot him a week later with his muzzleloader. I, unfortunately, missed him as my arrow hit a branch at 12 yards that evening. This particular buck taught me so much however, not because he came into my rattling, no, that happens quite a bit. It was when I reviewed the footage of my second angle camera, that was facing me during that hunt. This camera actually caught this buck come in on my first rattling sequence and stand less than 10 yards on the other side of a tree, completely hidden to my eyesight. He stood there in complete silence as I grunted lightly, checked my emails, updated my social media and even rattled again. It wasn’t until I rattled again that he stepped out into the field and I failed at my shot.
What I took from that and what I now do when calling during the rut, is keep my head on a swivel. I will rattle every twenty minutes for roughly 30 seconds at a time. I will go hard and aggressive, sometimes I will change it up and rattle lightly as well. In between rattles I will grunt lightly, with aggressive cuts every now and again. Overall, I am trying to capture the attention of a buck on his feet and attract him over to my area. A buck with one thing on his mind only will often come crashing into your area looking for the fight, so keep an eye out after each sequence.
Up until last year, I would tell you I seldom would call post rut. Occasionally I would grunt here and there to try to draw up curiosity but mostly I would be quiet. Last year on December 4th I shot a mature buck just after he locked horns with another buck. I wasn’t sure if I was going to shoot him so I let him push this other buck around for a little bit and after they locked horns, it attracted two other bucks to the area. This gave me the inclination that rattling post rut, may just be a great tool. I can only guess that these bucks are still seeking those late does coming into estrous and those who are coming into their second cycle of estrous are sparking up these small battle royals. Ultimately, calling with grunts have often been successful for me here, I’ve often had success with my bleat can and now this year I will try adding rattling in my late season calling as well.
Often times “calling deer” isn’t like calling waterfowl or turkeys. Unlike turkey calling, you’re not always saying, “I’m over here, please come join me.” When you call in a deer, it’s usually his curiosity that will get the best of him. Just like if there was a fight at a bar, you may try to get closer to see the action while others may become scared and avoid it at all cost. Of course, there are those who feel the need to join in on the fight as well, and these are the type of “deer” we are looking for when we rattle in the field.
Rather than tell you “how to call” deer, I thought it would be much more beneficial to share my experiences. As a hunter who manages over 2700 acres of property, hunts both public and private land and spends nearly every day and night studying and documenting deer, I am blessed to observe deer in several different habitats and varying environments. There are many variables that will alter the results to calling in deer such as herd population, buck to doe ratio, hunting pressure and more.
Ultimately, experience will provide you with the best results. Hunting in areas with low deer densities, may not offer you the best experience for witnessing deer vocalizations. Not only may this lead you to believe deer are not vocal at all, areas with high deer densities may increase their vocalizations as opposed to other areas. So is it you are not witnessing these “deer calls” or are they just not happening? The only way to truly know is trial and error and finding what works in your area you are hunting. To start, follow the above steps and see if you cannot progress and formulate your own techniques on how to call and attract whitetails.