Of all prey species, whitetail deer can be the most challenging to entice with the use of a call, be it a grunt tube, rattling call, or a doe bleat. Learn how, and when to use your calls to improve your odds in the deer woods next hunting season.
The Grunt Tube
Most deer hunters are familiar with the grunt tube, however many either treat a grunt tube like an unwanted saxophone solo… which is to say way too much and way too frequent, or they’re afraid to use it and the grunt tube sits unused while opportunities to shoot a mature buck pass the hunter by.
While in the early season (September and October) a grunt tube can be a powerful way to pique a buck’s curiosity as they are still often in their bachelor groups. A social grunt is a soft call. It’s not meant as a challenge but more of a “hey there guys, I’m over here” type of call. This type of call uses very little breath and is both short and quiet. Remember that deer have amazing hearing so hammering on your grunt will not only potentially pinpoint your location but could scare a buck right out of the vicinity. This is a great call to use when hunting a field edge and you simply need to get a buck to move closer, as well as when well hidden in a bluff or blow down when blind calling. Finally, many hunters use this type of call when moving slowly (and quietly!) through the woods as a method of putting bucks at ease. Using very little air, barely push enough breath through the call to vocalize a soft “Urrp”. Grunt once or twice then go quiet for a while (up to 30 minutes).
The pre-rut is when bucks separate from their summer and early autumn bachelor groups and start jockeying for position within the hierarchy. Now is when you can add some volume and frequency to your calls. A series of three to five short, loud grunts that ratchet up in volume can convince a wandering buck that there is a rival hot on the trail of a doe. This is especially productive when blind calling. If hunting from a tree stand, once you finish your series stop and slowly start to scan the woods. A buck that comes in on this call will often come in fast, quiet and from down wind so slow, deliberate movement and scent control is key. Finally, be ready for the shot.
During the peak rut there is a third call that can be very effective when thrown into the mix. This is called a tending grunt. This sequence lasts around five to ten seconds and starts with a shorter urrp followed by a longer urrrrrp and then finishing with a shorter urrp sound. This sequence works great when bucks are actively seeking does to breed.
Of course, there are innumerable variations to these calls, but with these three you will be well on your way to effectively calling a buck in. One last thought about grunt tubes; visit YouTube and learn to mimic a real buck. Without an idea of what a real buck sounds like making these calls, you’re more likely to scare a buck out of the area for good than to reel one in.
Rattling is a powerful and loud method of calling in bucks during the pre-rut and rut when bucks are acting aggressively, either to establish a pecking order or if a new buck wanders into another buck’s territory. Made of plastic, wood dowls in a bag or real antlers, there are numerous different options for hunters and all styles sound pretty good. The trick with rattling is to once again study video and audio of two bucks fighting to really understand the ebb and flow of a fight. Don’t just start tinkling your antlers or call. Lock them up and grind them. Back off and smash them together, grind again and so forth. If you’re in a good spot with good cover, occasionally rake an antler along the brush. I’ve read plenty of tutorials that claim rattling for a minute or so then stop and get ready, then rattle again will produce good results. This is wrong. Try to sustain a rattling session as long as you can. A minimum of twenty minutes is a good place to start. If you’re on the ground another great trick is to get low and out of site. Rest your foot against a sapling and occasionally shake it with your foot. Done correctly this can give the impression that the deer have just moved on. I’ve used this method in the past and have been damn near run over by an aggressive buck trying to get in on the action.
“Rattling is a powerful and loud method of calling in bucks during the pre-rut and rut when bucks are acting aggressively…”
Finally, occasionally mix in a grunt or even a snort wheeze during your fight sequence to really sell the story. Just remember to be ready for action and prepare to shoot, focus on your down wind direction as just like grunt calling bucks will usually try to circle around you.
A doe bleat can be a great way to lure in a buck. During pre rut and the rut an estrous bleat broadcasts that a doe is ready to breed and can be one of the most effective ways to grab the attention of a passing buck. Whether you buy a bleat can or mouth call an estrous bleat will be a longer insistent mwwwaaahhh sound and that sound carries a long way. A bleat sequence may last one to three calls and is a great way to grab a buck’s attention. Often a doe will come in to a bleat which if you have a doe tag is fantastic. Even with a buck tag, a doe during the rut can often lead a buck to your stand. Try mixing a bleat with a tending grunt sequence as this can entice a mature buck to come crashing in.
The snort wheeze is an aggressive call that, when used during the rut or pre rut signifies a mature and aggressive buck is ready to fight. Don’t confuse this with the blow or snort an alarmed deer will make, a snort-wheeze is vocalized with a fffft ffft ffffffshhhhhhh whereas a snort may sound like a fffffsssshhh or a shorter fffft. A snortwheeze is best saved for late in the pre rut or during the rut, however, be warned that a snort-wheeze usually comes from the biggest meanest buck in the area and can cause smaller bucks to slink off to try to find a better place chase does. That being said, a snort-wheeze carries a long way and is a great way to get a buck’s attention from a long way off. This a a great technique to use when you spot a deer a couple hundred yards away and want to get his attention. I often follow up with a social grunt or tending grunt to string that deer in closer once I’ve got his undivided attention.
With any of these methods, watch videos, listen to audio and study when and how deer use these different vocalizations to communicate with each other. I’ve read that deer only respond to a call between twenty-five and fifty percent of the time however, while a call may not always work (especially when speaking about wary and skittish critters like whitetails), your chances of success in even seeing a deer in the woods this season will improve greatly when you can effectively use these methods out in the field. One final thought on deer calling – study how other deer react to each call, there are many great videos on YouTube available for free. The more you understand deer behaviour during different parts of the season the higher your success rate is going to be.
By Noel Linsey