Calling whitetails is an effective hunting technique. But it’s better utilized later in archery season than sooner.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
You want to do it. Oh, man, do you want to do it.
For months you’ve dreamt of archery season, always envisioning an edgy, big-racked, thick-bodied whitetail buck walking under your tree stand or up to your ground blind.
In your mind’s eye, the deer came in on a string, responding to your calling.
Now, the season is here, you’ve practiced, your calls are ready and you want to make deer sounds.
Don’t do it. Not yet anyway.
That’s the advice of the men of the Small Town Hunting television show, whose hunt deer all around the country for the Sportsman Channel.
Whitetails the nation over are vocal animals, said Chris Ashley of Mississippi. That’s especially true in the Midwest – Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio – but they communicate everywhere, he said.
Hunters looking to fill a tag quickly can use that to their advantage in the early bow season, said team member Keith Burgess of Louisiana. Doe bleats will bring in antlerless deer, he said, so if the goal is to put venison in the freezer, that’s a way to do it.
But too much calling – just as it does with mature gobblers in spring turkey season – educates the oldest, biggest, wariest whitetails, Ashley said.
So he resists the temptation to call too much too soon.
“I don’t even carry my calls until five days before Halloween. I think that’s the time you really get after them,” Ashley said.
But then, he gets aggressive.
Starting around 8:30 a.m. or so – he lets deer move on their own before then – and until early afternoon he’ll call and rattle. Those mid-morning hours are often especially productive, he said.
Success, though, is dependent on a number of factors.
For starters, he calls only when he has cover of some sort.
“Always try to keep a treetop or a briar patch or a thicket, whatever it may be, even a big rolling hill, so that buck has to come up and look for you. Because if you set up in the wide-open woods and rattle or call, that deer sees you,” Ashley said.
Or, he sees nothing, meaning no deer and no place a deer might be hiding. And that’s just as bad, Burgess said.
“He isn’t going to believe what you’re telling him,” he said.
Beyond that, calling has to be varied.
Many hunters, Ashley said, will gently blow into their grunt tube two or three times, in almost a monotone. Bucks make that sound when just cruising through the woods, he said.
“But that’s not going to call him in,” he added.
It takes something different to get a buck’s attention, agreed team member Cody Kelley of Mississippi. He turns up the volume, for one thing.
Imagine walking through a crowd, he said. If someone says “hey” in a conversational tone, even two or three times, it probably doesn’t get much attention. But if they yell “hey” loudly, people stop and look.
It’s the same with bucks and calling, he said.
“If that buck is walking in the leaves, and there’s wind and there’s birds, there’s a jet flying over, there’s all those scenarios, and that buck’s cruising a ridge at a hundred yards, and you’re grunting too softly, he keeps walking,” Kelley said.
“If that deer doesn’t stop and look, he never heard you. I’m going to get as loud as I’ve got to until he stops.”
The kind of call is important, too.
When it come to big bucks in particular, using sounds other than simple grunts counts for a lot, Ashley added. A buck roar — a louder, more aggressive call made by bucks in the rut – often works well.
“It’s a sound they all want to hear,” Ashley said.
Another full-on rut call is the grunt-snort-wheeze. It attracts the attention of dominant bucks in particular, he added.
Whatever the sound, he suggests tapering it off at the end, rather than ending it abruptly. That sounds more deer-like, he said.
“I think that makes a big, major difference,” he added.
Rattling, done in conjunction with calling, adds even more realism, oftentimes just enough to convince a wary deer to come in, Kelley said. He prefers rattling with actual antlers to, say, a rattling bag, though, again because he can get more volume.
There’s another reason to use antlers, Burgess said. A fight between two bucks is a noisy affair, he said.
“It’s a commotion going on,” he said by way of description.
A hunter with antlers, especially if hunting from the ground, can hit trees, break branches and pound the ground like hooves. All those things together mimic a scuffle.
That’s what deer expect to hear.
“Rattling is just a small part of it. It’s a lot of pushing and stomping and trees breaking and limbs cracking and everything,” Burgess said.
From there, it’s a matter of knowing when to quit. The Small Town Hunting members quit calling and rattling when a buck is approaching.
A whitetail’s eyesight and hearing is so good it will identify quickly where sound is coming from, they said. So if a buck is approaching, they let him come without doing anything that might give them away.
But until then, at the right time of year, it pays to make the right noises.
“Be aggressive,” Ashley said. “If you’ll do something somebody else is not doing, a lot of times that works.
“It’s not going to work every time. You have to use common sense. But when it’s time, it’s time.”
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