Can you call bucks?
Understanding big buck behavior and their vocalizations can be the key to successful hunting. What about you, can you talk the talk? Do you understand when to rattle, how to grunt or wheeze to bring bucks running? Do you know how to sound like a deer, draw bucks from thick cover and stop them in their tracks for an easy shot?
I’m no biologist but I can guarantee you I have spent a lifetime in Michigan’s great outdoors in search of heavy antlered bucks. More often than not I’m carrying a telephoto lens and my goal is to capture big bruisers in their natural environment. I spend countless hours on stand, in blinds waiting for the opportunity to photograph big bucks that I know are in the area. I know for certain that deer use various sounds to communicate. So, I often make sounds with the intention of drawing deer. Some results are disappointing but come fall, especially during the rut, whitetails are the most vocal and making the right sound can bring bucks running like they are on a string.
During the pre-rut chase phase bucks are very susceptible to calling and making deer sounds can attract them from long distances. In order to understand how to use calling to your advantage you need an understanding of a buck’s sense of hearing. Basically, they are equipped with two large open ended cones that can move any direction and cup sound. Their ears are far more effective than ours at locating sounds, pinpointing exact direction and determining if sounds are made by other deer.
Keep in mind that deer live in the woods and they can quickly determine the sounds of squirrel, turkeys scratching in leaves and a human walking through the woods. They are experts at hearing other deer at extreme long distances and slithering through underbrush to intercept other deer based on sound. When the breeding season arrives a love sick buck spends most of his time searching for receptive does and intercepting other deer to check sexual readiness. During peak rut most bucks are desperate and will respond to just about any sound in the woods. Some sneak up on does like a panther on the prowl; others prance through the woods like a college boy headed to the bar and some will charge or run through the forest like a charging rhino. It is their primary goal to find does, move into close proximity and check their scent to see if they are willing partners.
Deer communicate by making a variety of sounds like bleats, grunts, bawls, snorts, bellows, wheezes, hisses and more. Bleats are the most frequently used sound and varying tone, volume and frequency creates different meanings. All bucks, doe and fawn make bleats. The most common is the contact bleat made when deer communicate with each other as if to say, “I’m over here or here I am”. Does often make bleats to keep in touch with fawn and fawns bleat regularly to contact does.
The most common buck sound during the rut is a tending grunt. It is a relatively short, sharp burp-like grunt. This grunt is not very loud and if you hear it while hunting you better be prepared because a buck is in range. Bucks make the tending grunt to attract does, while checking different does, to announce their presence and to communicate with a pre-estrus or estrus doe. Bucks grunt regularly when following a trail made by an estrus doe or when following a doe during the pre-rut chase phase. I’ve had excellent luck calling bucks to me using grunt calls.
I’ve used a variety of calls to imitate the grunt call but have best luck by making the sound by inhaling and burping. I use my hand to funnel the call the direction of deer and I can control the volume, pitch and length of the burp with my mouth. It is my opinion that guttural sounds made by burping sound more realistic and draw more bucks than sounds made from plastic, wood or rubber calls. However, I’ve used a long more drawn out louder aggressive grunt or snort-wheeze to intimidate or challenge adult heavy antlered bucks. The aggravated grunt, also known as the growl will get the attention and draw mature bucks. This sound is longer, louder and somewhat phased like a growl and is frequently used before a confrontation between two mature bucks. This is when they walk stiff legged, their ears are turned back mule-like, hair is bristled to the max and they posture side by side trying to intimidate each other. Battling bucks will make the aggravated growl along with aggressive sharp sniffing-wheeze sounds. As if to say, “this is my girl, you’re on my turf, hit the road Mac!” This point is best made by the following anecdote.
It was late into the rut when I spotted a pair of bucks sparring near an Ingham Country railroad track. I used the piled high gravel as a block and slipped within 50 yards of the dueling bucks. The largest was a dandy 8 point with dark antlers, swollen neck and chocolate brown fur and seemed to be the dominate buck. I hid in tall canary grass, readied the TenPoint crossbow and gave the pair a loud grunt. Both deer suddenly stopped sparring and the darkest looked my direction. I waited until he turned his head and gave’ em another short but loud grunt call. His head immediately swiveled my direction and he was staring directly at me as he broke off from the sparring session and began walking directly my direction. He slipped into some tall grass and I lost him for a few seconds but then he emerged less than 40 yards away with head down, nose to the ground slowly slipping toward me through brush and grass.
That’s when I could hear the approaching buck make a soft tending grunt as if he was responding to the strange buck on his turf. I shouldered my crossbow, flipped the safety off and centered the Scorpion Illuminated scope on his front shoulder. The buck noticed me, came to an abrupt stop just a few yards away as I touched the trigger and heard the Spitfire thwack as it smashed through his broad chest. The buck whirled around, charged into the brush and made three big leaps before the 1 ¾ inch Edge broadhead cutting diameter did its work and he fell face first.
I approached the fallen prize and noticed the crossbow bolt made a complete pass-through on both sides and sat down to admire the dandy buck. His neck was thick, tarsal glands were bucky smelling and obviously he was looking for a fight. Little did he know the grunt calls he heard were not from a contender but an old time deer stalker who slipped into archery range and made calls ;like a rival buck. I thought to myself, Gotta love it when you can bring a buck kissin close by making realistic buck sounds.
Another deer call that you can best imitate is the breeding bellow, which is a long sheep-like vocalization. The “Baaaaaa” basically is used by does to attract bucks and is sort of a long, dawn out bleat. There are a number of other deer sounds that some hunters like to use like: buck bawl, buck bleat, alarm or distress calls or snort. However, based on my experience you are better off concentrating on the details of grunting and forget the rest.
If you see a buck slipping through the brush give him a short grunt. If he keeps moving, give him another but increase the volume and frequency until you get his attention, he stops and looks your way. Do not try calling when a deer is looking at you because their hearing is so acute they will pinpoint you. Calling when a buck is looking at you will give up your position and frequently the deer will spot you and blow out of Dodge. The idea is to get his attention and get him to turn and head your direction in search of the rival buck. Get ready, knock an arrow and allow the animal to slip into easy bow range. I’ve called zillions of bucks kissin’ close by grunting and the science behind this deadly technique boils down to making grunts that sound exactly like a buck.
Now he’s coming, you are ready to draw but the buck keeps walking. Here comes the tricky part, stop him in his tracks by making an alarm grunt. That’s right; you pick the opening and give him a short, but somewhat loud burp. This my friend is the point of no return because the buck will hear the alarm call and come to an abrupt stop and you have just a few short seconds to release the arrow. I guarantee when you grunt a buck, call him kissin’ close, draw, have him in the sights and grunt to stop him, your heart will be pumping, pulse racing and you must work to control your excitement and concentrate on an accurate shot.
Whitetails are very curious animals; sometimes they respond to a variety of sounds. Bucks are constantly sparring and often mature bucks will come running to rattling antlers because the dominate buck frequently breaks up sparring sessions by diving into fights head first. Sometimes they respond to rattling to defend their territory. But there is no magic formula to rattle in bucks. Some savvy hunters begin a sequence by loudly crashing antlers together; others begin soft and increase the sounds. I’ve had limited success with rattling but my best hunts have begun when I lightly tickle antlers together and build the sound and eventually crash them together. Rattling success depends on time of year. Bucks spar throughout the fall but aggressive rattling seems most effective during the rut. One thing is certain it pays to be prepared when rattling because bucks frequently come in with head up, ears cocked forward, charging directly at you with red in their eyes.
Don’t be afraid to use deer calls when on stand to attract bucks. Save aggressive vocalizations until peak rut but feel free to make contact calls, bleats and grunts every 15 minutes. Some hunters call once every hour but if they spot a buck pick up frequency and volume until the deer turns and is headed toward the blind. Learn to go silent if an approaching buck is looking for the source of calls. Smart hunters soon learn the trick to whitetail buck hunting success hinges on how well you can call deer. Savvy hunters quickly learn to grunt at every buck they spot and a high percentage will turn and come looking for the source of the deer calls.
Some hunters use electronic calls to attract wildlife. Use of electronic calls in Michigan is prohibited for waterfowl and turkeys but can be used for squirrel, deer, crow and coyote. Many hunters use e-calls in Michigan but you should check game laws because they frequently change.
To perfect your grunt calls practice year around. Get a CD or DVD or go on YouTube and listen to live animal sounds. Next practice belching or calling and learn how to exactly imitate deer vocalizations.
Try to exactly imitate deer grunts. Learn how to decrease or increase volume and how to space calls to sound like a live buck. The trick to success hinges on how realistic you sound.