Deer Calling 101
I have been hunting for many years now and I spend countless hours in the woods. Even in the off season I regularly experiment with deer by calling to them at all times of the year to see what kind of responses I get. I experiment using different calls, vocalizations, tones, intensities, and different times of year. On top of all these things I'll try all of these things at different genders and age classes of deer. What works on an immature buck or doe may not work on a mature one. Fawns classes of deer are also different and have different vocalizations and different reason for responding to a particular call.
The important thing to remember is that deer calling does work. But it won't work all the time. Deer are individuals just like people and if a person doesn't want to listen and respond to what you are saying to them, they just don't listen and deer are the same way. If they aren't interested they may simply ignore your calling altogether no matter what one you try to use.
To be a really successful deer caller you need more than just a grunt tube. You also need to know information like: the age class or the deer you have in the area, age class of the deer you want, current stage of the rut, how to make the right vocalization, and when to use certain vocalizations. To have success at calling you also need to have a proper stand location, good scent control and patience. Everything relies on the other to put it all together. The amount of success a hunter has by using deer calls will be determined by all of these factors, not just how well you sound using a call.
Over the years of my experimentation during the hunting seasons and the off seasons, I have called a lot of deer into killing range. In Pennsylvania alone I estimate that I have called in well over two hundred deer, this being a combined number of bucks and does from all age classes. This number includes deer called in from "blind calling", deer that I saw in dense cover and pulled them out, and deer that were spooked and then called back in. These are deer that either offered me a shot within rifle and / or bow range or at least would have, had it been the hunting season. The number of deer that I received little or no response from of course greatly exceeds that number, but that is hunting.
Choosing a good location to call from is a major factor in successful deer calling. Good places to start are downwind of bedding areas and staging areas near feeding areas. Rub lines and scrape lines are other good spots to call from. Wherever you choose, it must be in favorable winds just like any other time you are hunting.
The general topography of the land is also important. Choosing a location on the edges of heavy cover can be a good choice as well. Careful planning is important and attention to how dense the surrounding vegetation is very important. To thick of cover and you won't get a shot and he may wind you before you ever see him. Too open and you may see him, but he may never come within range. When calling in open hardwoods, the use of a decoy can work wonders. Especially with the additional use of scents.
Another important piece of information is to call from flat ground or on top of a knoll or hill. Just like with elk and turkeys, it is easier to call a deer up the hill or across flat ground than to call them down the hill. If they're already on top, they also have the visual advantage and they will use it for sure. This isn't to say that it's impossible to call a deer down hill, it's just easier to call them up.
Timing is also important. It is necessary to know what calls to use and when to use them. For example, A group of does are in a field, several buck are also there and it's early in the pre-rut. With does already by the bucks, using a buck grunt to attract the buck's attention might not be all that useful. But by using a fawn bleat, you may be able to draw the does closer to your position. In return the bucks will likely follow behind the does to a certain degree and may then offer you a shot.
There are several reasons why hunters don't have much success by calling. One reason is that many hunters are apprehensive about calling for deer altogether and choose not to give it a good try. Another is that they call too loudly. Deer don't usually get very loud in their calling to our ears but to another deer it's easily heard. Soft subliminal calls will work best to attract deer. Yet another reason is that hunters often call too much. At certain times of the year deer can and will be very vocal. During the rut bucks may continually grunt while trailing a hot doe (trailing grunt), but other than that deer will call at regular intervals with regularity.
However, this isn't a constant call as some hunters do. Some guys once they start using a grunt tube will constantly call every 5 or 10 seconds all day long. A definite no-no in my book. My best success for calling bucks is to use a short series of grunts. This is one longer tending grunt followed by 3 short trailing grunts. This entire calling sequence won't last more than 5 seconds. I won't repeat this sequence for another 10 to 15 minutes and I will only call like this if I am "blind calling".
Another common mistake among deer callers is the improper use of the call itself. Most calls these days have adjustable reeds. This allows the hunter to change the tone and pitch of the call. This allows the hunter to direct his calling efforts more specifically to a buck or doe. To call for a doe you don't want to use deep tones. Higher tones like a doe or even higher tones like a fawn bawl or fawn bleat will work well for calling in a doe.
Using the same doe call will either sound like a doe or a young buck. This tone of call will work well for calling in either bucks or does. To be more specifically in calling bucks only, go a little deeper in tone and for mature bucks go as deep as possible when adjusting the call reed.
Time of day and weather can and will have an effect on your calling efforts. The best times to call are on cool, crisp, sunny mornings with little or no wind. The next best would be the same but with an over cast or slight breeze. The worst times to call are during a rainy and / or windy day. This reduces the range of your calling efforts and greatly hampers your response time should a deer come in. Not to mention that in these conditions deer are often very spooky and apprehensive about moving around very much.
Calling deer in to killing range can be accomplished at any time of day, especially during the rut. As I said before, it all depends on the particular personality and mood of the deer in the area. The amount of hunting pressure in an area will also have a direct effect on your calling efforts as well. A deer that has had a bad experience responding to a hunters call may never respond to a call again. It is impossible to know what exact part of your calling efforts that attracted the deer to you, you can only surmise. But you can only surmise from successes and failures, not from never trying.
The number one thing to remember when choosing a call is its versatility. Whether or not you can produce several different vocalizations with the same call is important. Most of the better call manufacturers make their calls so that the user can adjust the reed. This allows the user to produce either a buck, doe, or fawn vocalization. It also makes the hunter capable of mimicking different age classes of deer. Most calls today are made of some sort of plastic or composite material. Some of the plastic ones offer quality tones while others sound very 'hollow' and cheap. Wood calls which are hard to come by often offer superb tonal qualities that many plastic calls aren't capable of.
Calls that are hands free are also great tools to have in the arsenal. These calls are great to have when you are unable to move about freely. However, many of these calls aren't offered with adjustable reeds, which requires you to purchase several different ones to allow you to produce all the vocalizations.
Most articles often try to descript what a vocalization sounds like. I'm not going to do that here. The best way to do this is to purchase a video or audiotape that allows you to listen to live deer vocalizations. This will give you the opportunity to hear what a particular deer sounds like and how to reproduce those same sounds.
The key to successful deer calling is to do it. Without experimentation you will never know how much success you could possibly have. This technique will only prove to be more successful in many states in the future with the increase of doe harvests and the protection of younger bucks. So give it a try and see for your self. The results might surprise you.