Get Aggressive: Rut Calling Tactics
February 09, 2011
Oct. 31, 2009, was the day Mark Drury and "Chiquita" -- one of the most sought-after bucks on Drury's Iowa farm -- crossed paths within bow range. Drury had been chasing this giant whitetail, with its namesake, banana-shaped G-2s, for five years without success.
On this crisp fall morning last season, the testosterone was thick in the chunk of timber where Drury was posted along with his cameraman. Conditions were perfect for the veteran hunter to get aggressive.
Two 160-class bucks were smashing heads just out of Drury's comfortable bow range when Chiquita rushed in to break up the fight.
The monster buck, which Drury figured was about 9 1/2 years old, caused the warriors to stop fighting and then began heading away from his stand.
Drury reached for his rattling horns and clapped them together. Nothing. Chiquita kept going. He grabbed his MAD Hyper Growl call and went nuts, imitating the frenzied, guttural noises a buck makes when its aggression and testosterone are boiling over.
The commotion was too much for the rut-crazed Chiquita to bear, and he circled back, walking within 25 yards of Drury's bow.
"It was game over at that point," Drury said. "I drilled him."
An hour later, Drury lifted Chiquita's 174-inch, nine-point rack off the ground to pose for pictures, marking the end of his five-year quest.
No one preaches the importance of being subtle and quiet when calling deer more so than Drury. But years of experience in the woods have taught him that there definitely is a time and place to get aggressive with rut calling tactics.
"There's a period right before peak rut before the bucks become what we hunters call 'doed-up' -- when the bucks are on their feet all day, cruising around with their noses to the ground, making rubs and scrapes and fighting with one another," Drury said. "That's when I like to be aggressive with my calling, because the bucks are being aggressive."
This time, which Drury said arrives in late October or early November in the Midwest where he hunts, is when bucks are making their final moves to jockey for position in the breeding line. They're all searching for the first does to come into estrous and the mature deer are making sure their superiority is respected. Tweak a mature buck's aggression with some aggressive calls now, Drury said, and you'd better clear space on your trophy wall.
"This is when that giant is going to make a mistake," he said.
Hunters heading into the woods during this phase must recognize the difference between calling aggressively and making aggressive calls, Drury said. Calling aggressively means putting volume and speed into your calls. Typically, Drury only does this when he's trying to get a buck's attention from a long distance.
Making aggressive calls, however, is something he does often just prior to peak rut. These are the sounds of whitetail aggression.
"There are three aggressive calls," Drury said. "There's the growl, the snort-wheeze and rattling. When you make these sounds, a mature buck is going to think his dominance is being challenged. And he has to come in to try to run you off."
Rattling, obviously, mimics the sound of two bucks fighting -- possibly over a hot doe. The snort wheeze is a sound a buck makes to challenge another buck. The growl -- also called a roar or bark is a unique sound that Drury said a buck makes when his emotions are running so high, he just can't control himself.
"If you get a mature buck chasing around a hot doe that just won't stand still for him and then (you) have another buck or two intruding on his area, he's probably going to growl," Drury said. "I compare it to when a baseball manager runs out on the field to argue with an umpire and just goes ballistic -- kicking dirt and throwing things and yelling in the umpire's face. He's totally lost control."
BASIC RULES APPLY
Even when you're making aggressive calls, Drury said the same basic rules of calling apply. Call sparingly to keep a buck from pinpointing your hideout and only call as loud as necessary for the buck to hear you.
"I really only call when I'm looking at a buck, because I want to see how that buck reacts," he said. "If the buck is out a good ways, I usually try banging the horns together first. If that doesn't work, I'll try a snort wheeze. If that doesn't work, I'll try growling. Sometimes I mix them together.
"If he's in close, I'll stick to grunting and growling. Whatever I do to get his attention, once I've got him coming, I'm not going to call again, unless he's losing interest."
For Missouri hunter Alex Rutledge, there's a process that goes into aggressive calling.
"If you just go out there and start banging the horns together and grunting real loud, you're probably going to do more bad than good," he said. "Bucks are like people -- they're all different. Some are aggressive and some aren't."
Rutledge starts by scouting for aggressive sign.
"I look for trees that are just tore up all the way around and have little limbs busted off around them," he said. "Or I look for an
area that's full of rubs and scrapes packed in pretty tight."
That sign indicates there's an aggressive buck around. Rutledge will set up a stand nearby and plant a buck decoy underneath.
"When I'm going to be aggressive with my calling, I like to use a decoy," Rutledge said. "To me, it adds to the realism."
Unlike Drury, Rutledge doesn't need to see a deer to call. He'll begin a blind sequence by calling quietly -- testing the waters, he calls it.
"You don't know if something's close by," he said. "If there is, then you don't want to blow his ears out. That might spook him."
Rutledge starts his sequence with quiet, tending grunts and growls. If he gets no reaction, he'll build his volume. Eventually, he'll start rattling with a bag or with antlers, while also growling and grunting.
SET THE STAGE
"My goal is to make a buck believe there's really something going on in his territory that he needs to check out," Rutledge said. "I want my calling to be realistic, which is why I make a lot of different sounds -- just like a couple of real bucks would."
On the morning of Oct. 27, 2009, Rutledge was set up in a Nebraska hedgerow extending out from a 20-acre block of timber where he'd found lots of rubs and scrapes. His buck decoy was positioned 10 yards out from his tree.
Because he was surrounded by fields and there were no bucks around, Rutledge started calling on this morning with his rattling antlers. He also mixed in some growls.
Soon, a nice buck walked out of the timber some 300 yards away and Rutledge hit him with a snort wheeze. The buck looked over, saw the decoy and ran across the field. He closed the last few yards with his ears laid back, saliva dripping from his mouth and walking with stiff legs.
When the buck was 13 yards from Rutledge's stand, he drew his bow and prepared to shoot.
"The same time I released my arrow, the buck freaked and jumped back," Rutledge said. "I missed him. He ran out a few yards and I quickly grunted at him and he stopped. I reloaded and nailed him."
Rutledge is convinced it was aggression -- aggression within the buck and aggression the buck perceived coming from his opponent -- that kept the 140-class nine-pointer from tearing out of there, giving Rutledge a chance to nock another arrow and score a kill.
Both Rutledge and Drury said regular buck grunts and estrous doe bleats can be effective just before peak rut. But they typically don't cause a mature deer to come barreling in, looking for a fight.
"That's what I want to see, man," Rutledge said. "When he's fired up, that's when you know you're gonna kill him."