July 22, 2016
Learning and using whitetail vocalizations can be key to a successful season.
Panic. That's all I felt when the heavy antlered ten-pointer turned down the trail heading away from me. My chest tightened. This isn't what was supposed to happen. I had to do something. I had to make some noise.
As I do every time before I call to a deer, I subconsciously analyzed the situation - the time of year, the deer's behavior and umpteen other factors — and came to a decision on the right vocalization to throw at the big buck walking out of my life. Luckily, I made the right decision, and seconds later he turned back towards me.
Situations like this occur across the country thousands of times every year. A need to bring a deer in closer arises and a hunter is left with a series of important choices that can make or break his hunt — what call to use, how to use that call, how many times to use it and so on.
That said, having a thorough understanding of whitetail vocabulary and how to apply different sounds to different situations is an absolute must-have for the serious deer hunter. Here's the low-down on five such calling methods that you'll want to have in your repertoire this fall.
A contact grunt is one of the most basic vocalizations you can use when calling to a buck and for that reason it should be a frequently used tool in your kit.
When making a contact grunt, you're trying to replicate a simple sound that bucks frequently use — a basic "burrrrrp" type sound, which can be made with most grunt tubes.
This is a low risk sound, as bucks are used to hearing it, but often times in can pique their curiosity and draw them in closer to see what other buck might be in the area.
If I see a buck passing out of range, no matter the time of year, this is usually the first call I try. Typically I'll call once, watch his reaction, and if he does not react, I'll try one more time. If he does start coming your way though, and this is applicable to just about any calling situation, don't keep calling. Quit while you're ahead.
A tending grunt is one typically used during the rutting phases, as this simulates the noises a buck makes when following closely behind a doe he's hoping to breed.
By replicating these noises, you may be able to attract another buck looking to steal the doe that he thinks you're chasing.
That said, if a contact grunt doesn't work and the rut is on, you might want to give this calling sequence a try. To perform a tending grunt, use your grunt tube to make a repeating series of short "burrp, burrp, burrp, burrp" noises.
When contact or tending grunts don't work for me, and if the timing is right, a snort wheeze is my next call of choice. This is the Hail Mary of deer calls, as it's very high risk/high reward and should only be used in certain situations. The proper time of year for this call is the rut, when bucks are competing for females, hopped up on testosterone, and looking for a fight.
This is a very aggressive noise that essentially acts as a challenge to other bucks, so typically this call should only be used on bucks that seem relatively mature, as those are the most likely deer to be interested in picking a fight. If you try this on a younger or non-dominant buck, it's likely he'll tuck tail and take off.
To make a snort wheeze, if your grunt tube has a snort-wheeze chamber or funnel, forcefully blow "tfft, tfft, tfffffffffffff" as loud as you can into that chamber. This will typically stop a buck in his tracks and if he's the aggressive type, there's a decent chance he'll come strutting in and ready to rumble.
In some situations a grunt just won't do the trick and that's when a bleat comes in handy. The most common bleat used is an estrous bleat, which replicates the sounds a doe makes when ready to breed.
If your grunt tube has a estrous option, make the switch, and then produce a whining "meaahhhhhha" noise several times. This call is best used during the rut, when bucks are on the prowl for a female who's ready for his advances.
Another bleating option to keep in your back pocket is a fawn bleat, which is typically a little higher pitched and attempts to mimic a fawn in distress. This call is a great way to call in a doe close to your set-up.
While not necessarily a deer vocalization, rattling is certainly another noise that bucks will respond to. During the rut phases, if you're in an area with a relatively high number of bucks, rattling can be a sure-fire way to attract a deer's attention.
Use rattling antlers, real or synthetic, to create a 30-60 second long rattling session that mimics the sound of two bucks sparring.
If you're in an area with large numbers of mature bucks, very loud and aggressive rattling can be the ticket. On the other hand, if you're in a more pressured region with a younger buck age structure, you may want to tone things down and keep it to lighter sparring.
Be warned though, when responding to rattling (or any calling sequence), bucks will typically try to circle down wind of the sound before approaching.
If possible, set-up in an area that will keep bucks from being able to get completely downwind of you in this scenario, otherwise you're likely to get winded.
If these calling techniques aren't already part of your whitetail vocabulary, practice a little this off-season, and then give them a shot in the fall.
When you're finally able to put them into action, you too might experience that same feeling I did after the heavy horned buck walked on a string to 20 yards.
When the arrowed passed behind his shoulder, it wasn't panic I felt anymore, but instead, joy.