It was a cool afternoon and the deer were already on the move as I climbed into one of my favorite tree stands. Shortly after settling in, I noticed movement at the edge of the woodlot. A good buck was coming my way.
My heart raced as the buck continued to approach. I carefully reached for my bow and adjusted my feet for a comfortable shooting position. I began to prepare my mind for what is easily one of the most intense few seconds a bow hunter can experience.
My breathing began to slow as the initial rush of adrenaline subsided. Only a few more steps and he’d be within range. As I prepared to draw, a startling sound pierced the late afternoon stillness. The buck immediately reeled around and bounded away through the woods in a panic. I watched him through my binoculars until he was long gone, then shifted my view towards the alarming roar coming from the other direction.
About 200 yards away, I could see a hunter in an illegally erected tree stand on the private land I was hunting. The guy had a cigarette in his mouth, which he exchanged every 10 seconds or so for a grunt call. I could see his chest and cheeks puff-up as if he was blowing a trumpet. You can imagine the dreadful sound it created.
Whether they realize it, many hunters only spook deer when using a deer call. That’s a shame, because white-tailed deer vocalizations are relatively limited. Compared to waterfowl and turkey calling, effectively reproducing key deer sounds is fairly simple – as long as you understand a few basics.
Grunts, bleats, snort-wheeze calls and rattling are all sounds that experienced whitetail hunters use to their advantage. As with any other any game calling situation, field experience, observation and practice are critical. Thankfully, learning from other hunters with years of trial and error under their belts can speed up the process.
Co-hosts of Driven TV on Outdoor Channel, Pat and Nicole Reeve have two full lifetimes of experience hunting mature whitetail bucks. Nicole shot her first deer at the age of six and since then has put many record book animals on the ground – all of them on film. Her personal best is a 195-inch whitetail from her home state of Illinois. Pat has been hunting for more than thirty-seven years and has an unmatched track record of taking some of the largest whitetails in the world. Pat has anchored more than 75 record book bucks – all on camera – and currently holds the record for harvesting the largest typical ever on video. The massive 5×5 scored an unbelievable 200 inches gross, 192-3/8 net. Like other elite whitetail hunters, both Pat and Nicole use calling to tilt the odds in their favor.
While many hunters subscribe to the theory that calling is only useful during certain times of the season, to the contrary, Pat likes calling from the very first days of the early archery season.
“I’ll rattle and use the grunt call from day one, but it is a different style,” he says. “Early season bucks aren’t rutting or fighting, but they are serious about establishing a pecking order. There is a lot of tentative sparring between immature bucks going on. Mature bucks will almost always investigate the sounds of light sparring with a few soft grunts during the early season.”
Deer calls come in many shapes and sizes. Some of the best produce a variety of different calls, while allowing for variations in volume, tone and inflection that add critical realism. Both Nicole and Pat use the Flextone Extractor, which produces a wide range of grunts, doe bleats and fawn bawls, and also includes an on-board snort-wheeze call. “Hunters need a call that can do everything well,” Pat says. “And the Extractor gives us everything we need in a single package.”
Nicole is a big fan of the Flextone Tine Teaser. This compact call easily fits into a small pocket and produces a very distinctive and realistic grunt with plenty of volume. Pat believes a lot of hunters grunt too softly and fail to get the attention of the deer they’re calling to.
“If a buck doesn’t stop or react in some way, he probably didn’t hear you,” he said, while also warning not to cross that fine line. “You don’t want to give a wise old buck the opportunity to pinpoint your location and pick you off.”
An important feature of this small, soft, flexible call is that it can be used hands-free. “You can hold this call in your teeth and use it to stop a buck while at full draw,” Nicole adds. Pat and Nicole also use rattling throughout most of the season.
“I’ll sometimes smash my Flextone Battle Bones once to get a buck’s attention,” Pat says. “I want him to stop or turn in my direction. If he does, I’ll wait until he looks back the other way or lowers his head to feed and then I’ll hit him with a loud grunt that I’m sure he can hear. Hopefully, at that point, he’ll forget where he was going, turn and head my way to investigate.”
While the Reeves employ calling strategies throughout the entire hunting season, they warn hunters to be careful of rattling and grunting too much late in the rut or post-rut periods, as subordinate bucks may be much less enthusiastic about confrontation with other bucks.
“Rattling and grunting may still be effective on dominant bucks at these times, but not always,” Pat said. “Be observant and pay close attention to a buck’s body language.”
Blind calling can be an effective strategy when done properly. Not surprisingly, however, being impatient and constantly belting out grunts and bleats will rarely yield good results. Pat and Nicole use bleat calls blindly every hour or so from the beginning of the season through the rut as a shout out to any deer that may be in the area. “Deer are naturally curious animals,” says Nicole. “Doe bleats sometimes bring other deer in to investigate. Other times, it simply puts nearby deer at ease.”
That said, Pat and Nicole still prefer grunt calls and rattling to target specific deer, as they consistently hunt mature, dominant bucks that respond well to those more aggressive buck sounds.
The aggressive snort-wheeze is another vocalization that Pat and Nicole sometimes use, but typically only as a last resort. Many hunters are reluctant to use this call, and rightly so, as it does have the potential to run lesser bucks off. But while subordinate bucks may turn tail and run upon hearing the ultra-aggressive sound of a mature buck’s snort-wheeze, it’s a sound that can bring big studs in when all other calls fail – especially when used in combination with a decoy.
Pat explains: “If I have a decoy out and a buck I’m calling has seen it but not responded, I’ll use the snort-wheeze to make him believe another dominant buck sees him and is ready to defend my decoy – especially if I have rattled or grunted without a favorable result.” Watch his demeanor and body language carefully. “If he’s a dominant deer, he simply won’t tolerate the kind of challenge a well-executed snort-wheeze represents.”
Given the proper timing and technique, many white-tailed deer – especially mature bucks – will react favorably to calling. I’ll never forget the first big buck that came to my grunt call. As our experts have warned, the deer initially ignored my softer calling. When I turned-up the volume, however, the bruiser turned and stomped in with the hair on the back of his neck standing up. My wife dropped him with a perfectly placed 18-yard shot. I have no doubt: We would not have killed that deer on that frosty November morning without a grunt call.
Calling is one of the most rewarding and productive techniques in all of hunting, yet many deer hunters haven’t embraced it – possibly due to negative results from improper past attempts. Combine proper calling techniques with effective decoy and scent strategies for a deadly presentation this fall.
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