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After many many years of attempting to call whitetail deer, I must admit my belief is that while this strategy of whitetail deer hunting can often times be very rewarding, calling whitetail deer may often times be over marketed so that hunters will buy whitetail deer calls. Sometimes when hunters utilize these calls without knowledge of proper usage of such calls can often do more harm than good.
Over the course of this article we will visit both the positive and negative results of attempting to learn and attempt the art of calling whitetail deer.
Modern day technology and tools to assist hunters in pursuit of whitetail deer have arrived. Because of the fact this technology is being used to enhance success rates of the modern day whitetail deer hunter. However, any whitetail deer hunter that utilizes such technology needs to understand how to employ it. Allow me to present a humorous story about a hunter in our camp three years ago who was trying to call whitetail deer with a rattling bag.
The hunter arrived the day prior to his Iowa whitetail deer hunt. This hunter was equipped with the latest and greatest clothing, weapons, and whitetail deer scents, lures, and calls. In a word he was, geared up. Throughout the orientation prior to the hunt I could simply tell he really wasn’t listening to advice, and was so enthusiastic about pursuing whitetail deer in Iowa it was all he could do to sit still. The next morning his guide placed him in the timbered ravine perfectly positioned to intercept a monster whitetail buck we had been watching on his behalf. (We scout and locate monster whitetails for our hunters before each arrival for all hunters.) As soon as daylight appeared on the horizon this particular hunter literally began to use a rattling bag and a grunt call nonstop throughout the entire morning. He literally rattled the entire time and used his grunt call for 5 continuous hours.
When the guide picked him up for lunch the hunter expressed his disappointment surrounding his morning hunt. We were quick to give him advice about calling whitetail deer. We were clear with him that many hunters over call when trying to call in whitetail deer.
Upon returning to the field for his afternoon hunt the hunter did the same exact thing. He grunted and rattled nonstop thinking, we didn’t know what we were talking about. Due to the fact this hunter was calling whitetail deer incorrectly the first day of his deer hunt he was unsuccessful. He also returned to the lodge that evening and was disappointed. I took him aside confidentially and ask him if he trusted me. He responded with a yes. I then asked him to give me his grunt call and rattling bag and let me hold them to the end of the hunt so that he could not use them while hunting whitetail deer in Iowa.
The very next evening without his grunt tube or rattling bag in his possession he killed a 165 inch whitetail buck. Here was a hunter that had all the conveniences afforded to the modern day whitetail deer hunter, however all he really needed was some good ole fashioned patience and silence to take a great buck. While I know this story about calling whitetail deer is overkill it still suggests that whitetail deer hunters must know how to use whitetail deer calls correctly or face the bitter taste of defeat in the woods.
While I do not profess to being the greatest whitetail deer hunter in the world, I have a very opinionated mindset about calling whitetail deer. Sure in my younger days the thrill of trying to rattle up a big buck, or trying to grunt in a deer often gave way good ole fashioned woodsmanship. Often times trying to hunt whitetail deer can become boring due to a lack of movement. Consequently some hunters cannot stand these time periods and immediately resort to rattles and calls in a attempt to entertain themselves.
While many experts will not agree with the tactics I employ surrounding calling whitetail deer I literally only take two deer calls into the woods with me while hunting. These include the True Talker Grunt Call from Hunter Specialties and the Doe in Heat Estrous Can that hunters tip upside down to mimic the sounds of a doe in heat. Once in a great while during the rut I will take a Rattling Bag but not often. The only time I call to a whitetail deer is when I see a trophy whitetail buck and he is without doubt not traveling to my ambush site. In other words my golden rule for calling whitetail deer is to not call to them at all unless a see a shooter buck and I know he is not coming my direction.
While I’m sure experts will disagree, one must use a little common sense while hunting trophy whitetail deer. I’m not saying that each year some hunters randomly rattle and call whitetail deer within harvest range. However, it is my belief that the majority of the time when the whitetail deer hunter is attempting to call whitetail deer more often times the hunter is giving his position away rather than actually enhancing his odds of success. Of all 15 record book whitetail deer I have harvested none have been taken as a result of calling whitetail deer, and don’t think in my earlier years that it wasn’t due to a lack of trying.
We all have seen them, those pro hunting videos where the hunter is sitting in a tree stand and is discussing to the camera how the area they are hunting has been recently scouted out for signs of bucks and shows the potential for a good one to show up. After the build up the hunter starts to use a deer call then switches to a rattle bag and rattles for a few seconds with the confidence of seeing that good buck. Moments later the hunter swings to the camera and says, “Here comes a good size one.” Then as we watch, the hunter draws back his bow and waits for that perfect shot. He releases the arrow and it hits its target perfect. Another well-planned hunt comes to a close and the hunter turns to the camera with a big smile on his face and says, “He’s down”.
As a whitetail outfitter I have literally witnessed film crews kill a big buck, and then film sequences of using deer calls and rattles and lures after the buck is dead. Then the footage of them rattling and calling with scents and lures is cut and spliced and put ahead of the kill scene so hunters will think the trophy buck was killed because of using the call or rattle.
The first thought that comes to our mind after we see the short but fast and productive video is to go to a local sporting goods department and purchase some of the items used on the video. As we all know videos leave out the hard work and patience needed to use those calls and rattles in the real woods we hunt in. And unlike our woods, the farms most of these hunters tape on are so overpopulated with deer, the time and patience are left out and these folks are more concerned with selling a product than on how to actually use them the correct way.
The truth is that deer calls have their place in the whitetail woods, however you must know what will work and what your goal is when using them.
So let’s take a look at how to call whitetail deer. You are one of two whitetail deer hunters. The meat hunter who goes afield to provide venison for the table, or you’re the trophy whitetail buck hunter who may not even care about killing a doe at all. Determine which one of these deer hunters you are before you start learning how to call whitetail deer.
Let’s suppose you are the hunter that is simply after meat, and is looking to kill does. If this is you then you’ve got a real action packed adventure ahead of you early season as you can call in mature does with fawn in distress calls. Learning how to call whitetail deer for this purpose is easy. Fawn Bleat: fawns bleat when separated from their mother,it sounds like a baby sheep “Maaa Maaa,” if distressed a fawn will repeat this over & over. This will fool mature does just about any time early season to put venision on the table early. This is very effective during early season for killing does, but quickly comes to an end within about the first 2 weeks of bowseason.
The more serious whitetail deer hunter in pursuit of trophy whitetail deer truly needs to understand how whitetail deer communicate. You must know the language of whitetail deer in order to effectively use deer calls. In short communication of the whitetail deer breaks down as follows, Whitetail deer communicate not only with scent but they also communicate with various vocalizations. We as hunters have heard many of these sounds ourselves. But the key to helping you use these sounds as tools is to know what sound, how much and when to use these sounds to help you in your quest for that trophy Whitetail.
During the off season you need to work on imitating some of these and by the fall hunting season you will be a master.
Doe Bleat: does utter this sound throughout the year to communicate with other does and fawns. A doe bleat is high pitched and last about 1 second,it sounds like Waaa and is usually repeated once. Hunters can mock this call at any time and be assured that this is a natural sound throughout the woods the entire season.
Doe Grunt: primarily a contact call, does grunt to their young when separated, it means i’m over here. This is high pitched and very soft Uhhh and only last half a second.
Fawn Bleat: fawns bleat when separated from their mother,it sounds like a baby sheep Maaa Maaa, if distressed a fawn will repeat this over & over.
Estrous Doe Bleat: hunters have over used this call and many bucks have grown indifferent to this call. The estrous bleat works best pre-rut, when bucks are interested but does aren’t reciprocating. The estrous bleat is high pitched and last 2-3 seconds Aaaah- Aaaah and is often repeated.
Although the aforementioned deer language descriptions are brief one must understand whitetail deer communication in order to learn how to call whitetail deer.
My guess would be that if you are reading this article you’re not simply a meat hunter but rather a whitetail enthusiast that is in search of big whitetail bucks. Thus let us explore what other experts say about learning how to call whitetail deer. Remember before we share these opinions believe friends that some of these opinions are based solely on selling product and not what is real or natural in the world of whitetail deer hunting. As I stated in my “Deer Calling Mission Statement” so to speak, I only call to whitetail deer when I see a trophy buck and I know he isn’t traveling my direction and for sure is not coming my way. The most common mistake heard throughout the woods by many deer hunters are calling too often. Deer are not making a lot of verbal communication because they are attempting to avoid predators. Thus I would never call more than once about every hour or so. Also remember that whitetail deer have much better hearing than humans thus one should use very soft short calls. Does make a very soft, high pitched sound. Don’t be too aggressive or loud, or you will pay the price. Let’s learn more about how to call whitetail deer.
Here are the differing opinions of whitetail experts throughout the industry on how to call whitetail deer.
To be consistently successful, the whitetail hunter needs all the advantage he can possibly get in his favor. The three main defenses that he has to overcome are the deer’s nose, ears and eyes. The eyes are mot easy and by standing still and wearing camo hats, face masks and gloves, etc., you can defeat them. The ears are a bit harder, but again, by standing still and reproducting the sounds that are most common, appealing and challenging to the deer (grunts, bleats, snorts and fight sounds of the whitetail) you can increase the chance of seeing your trophy up close. The last and hardest to deal with is the nose, but by using soaps, sprays, scent eliminator, buck urine, doe-in-heat urine, cover and masking scents, you can confuse and defeat his best defense.
WHEN TO GRUNT
Bucks grunt when they are looking for, trailing or fighting over a doe in heat. Therefore, grunters should be used during the fall (rut) breeding season. When a buck hears the grunt he will think another buck is in his area and will come to investigate. Saying the word “urk” silently about one second in length will get the rutting grunt sound. Make three grunts then wait 30 minutes and repeat.
Bleat calling works on both bucks and does at all times of the year, especially during the early fall season. From the time a buck sheds the velvet from his antlers he is capable of breeding. At that time he is constantly checking out the does, anticipating the rut that is to come. Both the bucks and does will check out the bleat sound to see (who, why and where) the source. Just say the word “ahhh” silently. Each bleat should be three seconds in length. Make two or three bleats every 30 minutes.
CALLING AND RATTLING
Most deer when responding to a call or rattling will approach from the downwind side. Eliminating or covering human odor is a MUST. Calling near dawn or dusk is the best time. Calling near bedding, feedings or breeding areas is also good. The use of doe or buck urine also helps in calling or rattling situations. Do not call too loud or too long.
Determining what deer call to use is not a matter of which rut phase you are hunting, but which sex and age class of deer you want to attract. Does respond to distress calls and Maternal/Neonatal calls primarily out of maternal instinct. All bucks respond to any call, which may lead them to an estrus doe; particularly a Social Grunt or a Low Grunt. Dominant bucks also respond to Mating calls and aggressive grunts out of the desire to exert dominance. Subdominant bucks may respond to these Mating calls during the breeding phase, but they may not respond because they are afraid of encountering a dominant. If you are hunting for any legal buck it may best not to use mating calls or aggressive grunts.
There are four basic techniques for calling deer that can be used anytime during the rut. The fourth technique is not as effective during the Rest Phase and Post Rut because the bucks are exhausted, not as aggressive, and not as interested in breeding.
1. For does and young bucks; Distress Call or Fawn Bawl.
2. For any deer; Social or Low Grunt.
3. For all bucks; Social/Low/Tending Grunt.
4. For dominant bucks; Social/Low/Tending Grunt or Grunt Snort.
Learning how to call whitetail deer can also become somewhat dependent upon scents thus remember the following subjects and time frames when calling in whitetail deer.
During the Pre-Rut whitetail bucks often engage in sparring matches to establish dominance. They also feed heavily to put on enough fat to get them through the rut. They search out succulent fall greens (clover, new cut hay, alfalfa, grasses that remain green), ripening berries, mast crops (acorns, beechnuts) and ripening agricultural crops (corn, beans, vegetables). If food sources are sparse bucks may respond to food scents, especially if acorn production is poor. Scents play an important role in how to call whitetail deer.
Bucks respond to tarsal and interdigital scents, buck and doe urine, buck in rut and doe in heat scents, and food/curiosity scents at this time. Because they have not begun using their rub routes the “broadcast method” of scent dispersal is most productive. Once you have chosen a high use area to hunt, and a place to put your stand, decide where to place the scent. It can be hung from trees on felt pads, film canisters, drippers or other dispensers. When I archery hunt I place the scent crosswind or upwind of my position, about fifteen yards from my stand and fifteen yards apart, and wait for the buck to come by. I hang up one or two felt pads with doe or doe in estrous scent, but I don’t leave scent out when I’m not there. If a buck comes to doe scent and doesn’t find a doe he probably won’t fall for it again. By taking the scent out every day you don’t educate the buck. For gun hunting during the rut five to ten dispensers can be placed in a straight line or arc, upwind or crosswind from the stand site to attract wide ranging deer. The dispensers should be placed 20-30 yards apart to spread the scent over a wide area.
Pre-Primary Breeding/Scraping Phase
During the Scraping Phase bucks regularly travel their rub routes and visit “dominance areas” of rubs and scrapes; and doe use, feeding and staging areas. When I am hunting a previously patterned buck, during the scraping phase, near a rub or scrape, I am fairly confident of the trail the animal uses and I don’t need numerous dispensers. Because I have patterned the buck, and I am hunting before the breeding period, I am fairly sure the buck will come by me sometime within a week, unless he meets an estrous doe first, or is spooked by another hunter. I am basically using the scent to position the buck for a clear shot. By using scent I also have a chance to bring in any lesser bucks in the area. If I am hunting an area I have not hunted before I prefer to hunt evenings, because most scenting activity occurs at that time. If I find a rub route I back track it until I think I am near the core area and setup as close as I can without alarming the buck, otherwise I look for staging areas near food sources the does use in the evening.
Because bucks may still be feeding at this time, but they are beginning to proclaim dominance and look for estrous does, food, tarsal and interdigital scents, buck and doe urine, buck in rut and doe in heat scents may all work. You can use the broadcast method of scent dispersal in wooded areas and travel lanes; make a mock scrape or mock rub route; or hunt near existing rub routes and scrape lines, especially those in wooded areas leading to food sources. Scents play an important role in how to call whitetail deer.
To get bucks in close at this time make a mock rub near one of the buck’s rubs or scrapes, and a mock scrape. Drip a line of interdigital or tarsal scent across the trail the buck uses and lead it to the mock rub. Remove the bark from the tree with a wood rasp, then drip forehead scent on the rub. Wear rubber gloves and boots while doing this so you don’t contaminate the area. The mock rub should be placed in a shooting lane near your stand, where the buck will stop to investigate, often sniffing and licking the mock rub.
I make a mock scrape with the heel of my boot, rattling racks or a stick, under an overhanging branch. I pour forehead scent on the branch and plenty of tarsal in the scrape. Then I hang an Ultimate Scrape Dripper with doe in heat or buck urine over the scrape, or near my stand in a shooting lane. This combination of buck infringement scents and doe in heat scents attracts the buck, either out of the urge to exert dominance or to breed.
Primary Breeding Phase and Post Primary Breeding Phase
During the Primary Breeding Phase setup along the buck’s rub route, in areas does regularly use; or in travel corridors between doe core areas. Because the does are in estrous the buck may be either with a doe, or looking for one. If you know the buck is not with a doe, and is staying in his traditional core area, setup as close to the core area as you can. Try to get between the buck and the first doe area he visits. If he finds an estrus doe before he gets to your stand site the chances are he will follow the doe and not his rub route. By setting up between the buck’s core area the first doe use area it travels to, you have a good chance of seeing the buck on a regular basis and attracting it to your stand. Scents play an important role in how to call whitetail deer.
Because the buck is looking for does and wanting to protect his breeding rights buck and doe urine, buck in rut and doe in heat scents work. If you have previously patterned a buck and know where it’s core area is you can setup near it to intercept him as he goes into it in the morning, or as he leaves in the evening. You can employ the same methods used during the scraping phase. If you don’t know where the buck’s core area is, and know that the buck may be on the prowl during the day, you can setup near dominance areas of scrapes and rub lines near doe feeding and core areas in the evening, where the buck will be looking for estrus does. I use several film canisters spread out to attract the buck over a wide area. If you know the buck is traveling late in the morning you can use these same techniques on the rub route back to his core area.
Remember that the buck may be traveling anywhere and anytime in search of does during the breeding period or “peak rut.” Because the buck is unpredictable at this time you should spend as much time as possible on stand. Hunt three or more days in each area, changing stand sites frequently. If the buck is with an estrous doe it will travel with her for up to three days, and may not return to normal activities until she is out of estrus. If you quit hunting the area after two or three days you may miss the buck when he returns to his normal pattern.
Hunting a buck after the breeding phase can be extremely frustrating unless you know where the buck’s core area is. After all the fighting, chasing and breeding of the rut the buck is worn out, hungry and in need of food to supply enough fat to get him through the winter. He is going to look for a secure place to rest with high quality food sources nearby. Between the first and the second breeding phase bucks are not often seen because they rest up. If you know where their core area is, and where available food sources are, you can setup between the two to intercept a buck. By this time the bucks are not as willing to fight, but they are still interested in breeding: estrus scents may work the best. Some bucks may respond to curiosity scents and food scents (acorn, corn and peanut butter).
Pre-Late Breeding Phase and Late Breeding Phase
Three to four weeks after the Primary Breeding Phase there is usually a late breeding period. Some does experience a late first estrus at this time because they are young, old, or unhealthy. In Dr. Larry Marchinton’s study in Georgia the oldest doe came into a first estrus in December. A wildlife photographer friend of mine notes that in Wisconsin his yearling does often come into a first estrus in December. I found the same to be true in southern Minnesota. Some does may experience a second estrus at this time because they were not bred during the first breeding period, or did not conceive for some reason. In unbalanced populations where there are few bucks some does may even experience a third or fourth estrus. Does not bred during the first two breeding periods often remain unbred. It’s difficult to pinpoint the timing of the late breeding period, because the does don’t recycle every 28 days. Marchinton’s studies show that estrus cycles range from 21to 30 days. This means does could come into estrus anytime in December. In Marchinton’s study there was a first estrus doe on December 1, with second estrus does from December 6 to the 28.
In many areas the bucks will start to travel their routes again two to three weeks after the end of the primary breeding period, traveling through doe use areas and doe feeding sites in search of estrous does. Since most of the does have been bred the bucks do a lot of wandering and searching. Because of the colder temperatures in some areas, the movement of the deer is dependent on the weather. They will travel during good weather, but stay in or near core areas during cold, damp, windy or very wet weather. Expect deer to move and feed for a couple of hours when warming occurs after a cold spell. Hunt buck core sites, nearby buck food sources, rub routes and doe core areas and feeding sites. Bucks respond well to buck in rut and doe in heat, curiosity and food scents at this time. Scents play an important role in how to call whitetail deer.
After the rut the buck’s again return to their core areas and seek out nutrient rich food sources to put on weight for the winter. Because the rut is over the bucks are not aggressive and often travel together to feeding areas. Though most of the does have been bred bucks will still respond to doe estrous scents. Curiosity and food scents can attract bucks near core areas, buck feeding sites, and travel lanes between the two.
Thus now we have learned a combination of scents and calling patterns are needed to enhance your success rates for harvesting big bucks. I agree fully that some scents and calls are mere toys to amuse the whitetail hunter and nothing less, while others are very effective at certain times.
Next: Part 2 How to Use Deer Calls
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