September 22, 2010
By Joe Lieb
Back one November in the mid-'80s, I was out for what I thought was going to be a typical afternoon of bowhunting in eastern Iowa. The weather was perfect and I was fired up. I didn't have a clue that this particular hunt would expose me to something that would ultimately make me much more successful at taking mature bucks.
On this hunt, which took place around the middle of the month, I pulled into one of my special spots around noon. The area I was hunting consisted of a valley about 1€‚1/2 miles long and several hundred yards wide. The valley floor consisted of second-growth timber choked with weeds and multi-flower rose bushes. A 5-acre cornfield stood on the north end of the valley.
Three draws came together just north of the cornfield, and the deer were using this bottleneck as a funnel when traveling from their bedding areas on the hillsides and hilltops to the cornfield. It was a tricky spot to try to get to, but that's where I went to set up for my afternoon hunt.
After an uneventful 1€‚1/2 hours on stand, I caught movement on the hillside to my east, about 150 yards out. Ten minutes passed, and I could finally see a large buck through the breaks in the timber. I estimated that he was a solid 160-class 10-pointer as he slowly and deliberately worked his way toward my position.
He had closed the gap to around 70 yards when I heard a grunt on the hillside to my west. The first deer I spotted was a doe around 50 yards out. Behind her another 50 yards stood a 140-class 10-pointer. Just as I spotted him, he started after the doe.
A VOCAL REVELATION
Although I had heard trailing grunts before (imagine a buck walking at a fast pace letting out a short grunt every time one of his front hooves hit the ground), this was the first time I had a visual of both the buck and doe while these vocalizations were actually being made. Due to the lay of the land, the 160-class buck could not see the buck or doe across the valley, but he was turned facing their direction at full attention. As I looked back to the west, I saw that the doe had run south about 40 yards and stopped. At that, the buck behind her closed the distance between them to around 20 yards, trail grunting all the way. Just then the doe let out five distinct bleats.
The buck, watching her so intently that he wouldn't have missed a hair moving on her body, trail grunted his way right up behind her. He immediately mounted her and let out with several short, fast-paced and deep-pitched "tending" grunts. However, she took a few steps forward and he slid off her back. As soon as his front feet hit the ground, he let out a long, loud and throaty grunt. He then moved up, mounted her again and immediately started again with the tending grunts.
Just as the doe started moving away from him again, I heard brush breaking. The sound was coming from the east not far from where the 160-class buck had been standing on the hillside. I looked over just in time to see him running across the valley floor toward the breeding pair.
As he got close to them, the doe ran ahead a short distance and stopped. But the 140-class buck stayed where he was, staring at the doe, oblivious to the fact that the other buck was running right at him. The 160-class buck caught him in the left rear hindquarter and just about knocked him off his feet. I could tell that at least three of his heavy tines penetrated the hide.
The smaller buck then ran up over the hill with the other buck in hot pursuit. That was the last I saw of them. Although I stayed in my stand until dark, instead of paying attention to what was going on around me, all I could think about was the amazing scenario that had played out right in front of me.
IMITATING THE SOUNDS
That evening I drove into a farmer's pasture where I spent a sleepless night in the back of my pickup, knowing that a door into the world of deer vocalizations had just opened up to me. Prior to that time, it was a world that I had never even known existed. I wondered exactly why the bigger buck had reacted the way he had. Was it territorial? Was it a dominance thing? Was it because of the breeding frenzy? Or was it a combination of all three? I also wondered if I could possibly duplicate what I had heard in a form that would be good enough to achieve the same response from mature whitetails.
I practiced doe bleating by mouth and grunting with a grunt tube. The grunt tube I had was one of the older non-adjustable types. It sounded good but had a pitch that resembled that of a second-year buck. After about a week of practicing, I felt confident enough to take my new technique to the deer woods and see what would happen. The first afternoon out, I didn't have any response to my calling that I could see. However, I did see a good, solid 140-inch buck trailing a doe around 80 yards out, and I learned my first lesson while using this call: It's an exception, not a rule, to call a buck away from a doe he's trailing.
I've had it happen, but it's a very rare occurrence. And, of course, the closer she is to being ready to breed, the harder it'll be to pull him away. That season came to a close much too soon and it ended without any great successes, but the new knowledge I had gained was priceless.
DEER CALLING 101
The next season found me with a new Quaker Boy grunt tube that had an adjustable reed. Adjusting the tone was accomplished by taking the mouthpiece off the body of the call and sliding a rubber O-ring up or down on the reed to change the pitch. I couldn't get what I considered to be a great doe bleat out of the call, so I continued to do that by mouth, but I could get a deep, somewhat raspy mature buck grunt that sounded excellent.
My reason for using a deeper, more mature buck grunt at that time is exactly why I choose to use the same sound today: I want to sound as close as I can to the caliber of animal that I'm trying to call i
n -- a mature buck.
I realized that my calling was breeding-oriented, so I waited until I knew that the chase phase of the rut was in full swing. I set up on a saddle that was situated on a timbered hillside. The saddle itself was about 150 yards long and about 75 yards deep. In front of the saddle to the east the hill dropped off another 75 yards to the valley floor where there was a cut cornfield roughly 10 acres in size. Behind me the hill rose slowly for about 75 yards and emptied out into a big field of corn stubble and hay.
To the north there was a brushy dry-wash that ran from the top to the bottom of the hill, and to my south at the end of the saddle there was a corner where the hillside turned to run east and west.
A PAINFUL EXPERIENCE
It was a perfect morning to be out -- overcast, cold and just a slight breeze out of the northwest. Just as it got light enough to see, I had two small bucks walk through the saddle, scent-checking for does. About 20 minutes after they left, I started calling. Just as I finished my sequence, I saw a huge buck step out of the brush and into the edge of the cornfield across the valley below me. He stared in my direction for a few minutes. Then he started walking south along the edge of the field. He was moving with a purpose, like he had somewhere to go. I couldn't understand for the life of me why he didn't cross the cornfield and come in to my call.
After he'd walked about 50 yards, I called to him again. At that, he stopped and looked in my direction briefly, and then he looked straight ahead and started moving again. I lost sight of him as he rounded the corner of the hill to my south. At that moment, to say that I lost faith in my newly discovered calling technique and in my ability to duplicate the aggressive calling that I had heard would have been a huge understatement. A thousand questions suddenly entered my mind, and I didn't have an answer for any of them.
Feeling like I had nothing to lose, I called again five minutes later, but the results were the same. After a few more minutes passed, I remember thinking, One more try and then I'll be done with this whole new calling thing. I called as loud as I could, thinking that by now he had probably put some distance between us. As I got about halfway through my sequence, I glanced to the south toward the end of the saddle.
There stood the buck, staring right at me, less than 60 yards away. He had me "made" in that tree, and there was absolutely nothing at that point that I could do about it.
We stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. Actually, it was only a couple of minutes, and then he turned around and slowly walked out of sight around the corner of the hill. To this day, I can still remember my last look at that huge rack as it disappeared.
It's a good thing that I couldn't read that buck's mind while we had our stare-down, because I'm positive I would have felt worse than I already did. I'd bet that everything he thought about his encounter with me would have started with "stupid€‚.€‚.€‚."
By the time I climbed out of the stand that morning, I had played every minute of the hunt over in my mind 1,000 times. Even though I was disgusted with the outcome and my nerves had me completely worn out, I understood the mistakes I had made. I was on my way to learning a whole new aspect of bowhunting that would end up giving me even more respect for a mature buck's intelligence than I already had.
I believe that the typical grunt that most deer hunters use is more of a social call than we would like to think. It is a common sound in the deer woods, and because of that fact, you can only speculate on how a mature buck is going to respond. While it's true that countless numbers of whopper bucks are called in and taken each year, just think back on some of your own experiences with grunting. Have you ever had that big buck stop at your grunt, only to look in your direction for a minute or two before continuing on in the direction he was originally headed?
Me too. And no amount of grunting would bring him back. In my opinion, when you are after the true monster of the area you hunt, you need to talk to him in a way that threatens his territorial and dominant instincts. With this call, your goal is to try to make him believe there is another mature buck in his area breeding does, so that's the phase of the rut you'll want to wait for before using it.
A WINNING COMBINATION FOR AGGRESSIVE CALLING
Here's what I do: I start my calling sequence with a deep guttural mature-buck-trailing grunt. These are fast-paced and about 20 vocalizations in length. (Remember, a buck-trailing grunt is a short grunt that a fast-walking buck lets out every time one of his front hooves hits the ground.
Then I come out with anywhere from four to seven doe bleats that are long and drawn out, each about three to four seconds in length. I then go back to the trailing grunt and make 10 to 12 additional vocalizations. Then three to five more doe bleats. Then I go to a tending grunt. (The same as a trailing grunt except the time between each vocalization is much shorter, making it much faster paced.) This last sequence is about 15 seconds in duration. Each vocalization is short and very fast paced, with the last grunt in the sequence consisting of one full breath blown through the grunt tube as loudly as possible.
While calling blind (calling without a deer in sight) I'll typically run through this sequence every 20 to 30 minutes while on stand. When calling to a buck that I can see, I go through the sequence only as much as it takes to start him coming in my direction.
At this point, he's got my exact location pinpointed and he has already committed himself to respond. Anymore calling on my part will almost certainly give away my position. It never ceases to amaze me how easily mature bucks can pinpoint my exact location. What's more, the distances at which they are able to do this are amazing!
I've personally had much more success at calling in mature bucks than I've had with rattling. Also, I've learned to be creative. I sometimes bring a sapling or a bush up into the stand and slap it off the side of the tree while I'm calling. And if you put a decoy out in an area where any buck that's responding to your call can see it, you've created one of the deadliest setups that I know of.
Will this technique bring in 100 percent of the mature bucks you see 100 percent of the time? Not a chance. But if you use it as a tool, perfect it, and put it in your bag of hunting tricks, it will definitely make you much more successful!