Realistic Deer Calling
by Bill Winke
When the big 10 pointer stepped from the woods 150 yards from my stand I knew that I would be only a spectator to his passing unless I acted quickly. Because an obviously hot doe and a smaller eight point had crossed the field only a half hour before, I knew this dandy would follow, well out of bow range. Cupping my hands around my mouth to form a megaphone of sorts, I grunted loudly, twice. The buck’s head snapped around so that he could stare in my direction. I grunted one more time.
Instantly, the wide-racked buck was running toward me along the edge of the woods. A deer’s ability to home in on a call is phenomenal. The buck slowed to a walk and dipped into the woods directly under my stand. When he hit my scent trail he froze. Though he was only 5 yards away, the cover was too thick to permit a clear shot. All I could do was wait – my heavy bow at full draw – for him to make the next move. Finally, after what seemed like an hour (but was probably less than two minutes) the chess match ended when the buck backed from the cover and offered a perfect 10-yard shot.
The arrow found its mark, and even as the buck spun to run across the open field I knew he wasn’t going far. Instead of going home empty-handed, I was blessed with a beautiful trophy, the direct result of calling. That was the first buck I ever called in and the first trophy buck I ever shot with a bow. Needless to say, calling has become an important part of my deer hunting strategy ever since.
At its best, deer calling can make all the difference between success and an empty tag. On the other hand, used in the wrong places at the wrong times, calling can actually hurt your chances. There are basically two different strategies with respect to deer calling, each has its strengths and weaknesses. The method you choose on a given day should be based entirely upon the conditions in which you hunt.
In my experience at least 50% of the bucks I call to that are alone and moseying through the woods aimlessly end up starting my way – most come all the way in. And the testimonials (and trophies) of other hunters agrees with my findings.
The success rate on bucks that are seemingly headed someplace is much lower, however, probably something like one in ten, or worse. And the odds of pulling a buck away from a hot doe are about zero.
Blind calling simply means calling periodically to deer that you don’t see, but hope are within earshot. The majority of deer hunters practice blind calling because it would seem to attract the maximum number of deer.
In some cases, however, calling blind is not the best approach. For example, let’s assume you’re hunting a good-sized area and have seen a particularly nice buck. You would love to wrap your tag around this one. Every 15 minutes on stand you blow your grunt call and rattle your antlers together. Certainly, he must hear the calling, you reason, and no doubt he does. But, how is he likely to respond?
For every smart old buck that charges right in, stiff-legged with the wind at his back and fire in his eyes, several others will slink into position downwind to first check things out from a safe vantage – unseen. Or they may tiptoe in using cover to conceal them until they see you move on stand. Your odds of calling the big boy straight to your stand are fairly low. Unfortunately, your odds of having him detect your presence before ever revealing himself are a lot better. Once he senses that you are hunting him, he will become virtually impossible to tag in that area.
Blind calling can also work against you when hunting on small tracts of land. If you have permission on only a small area, you must hunt it as carefully as you possibly can. Don’t draw undue attention to yourself, because every deer you educate in that little area will be very difficult to tag, even days or weeks later. Deer know when they’re being hunted. A lot of calling under these conditions can become almost an all-or-nothing tactic, best reserved for late in the season.
There are times and places where blind calling makes a lot of sense, however. If you set up in a location where the wind is blowing your scent out into an open area where deer are not likely to circle, you can make it work. Video and game call maker, Mark Drury, tells of calling in and missing a huge buck – of Boone and Crockett proportions – a few seasons back from just such a setup in an area that hadn’t been hunted all season. Even though his tree stand was located only 25 to 30 yards upwind from the edge of a wide open field, the buck still tried to circle, staying just inside the woods on the downwind side. The encounter serves to illustrate just how cautious these big bucks can be.
Last Resort Calling
The second method of calling is to try to entice only deer that you have already seen and know will otherwise pass out of range. Such was the case with the big 10 pointer described at the opening of this piece. When you see a deer you want, try to do everything in your power to tag it right now. You may never see it again. Your best chance for calling any animal is when you can watch its progress. Visually you can tell when it has heard your call and whether or not it is interested – and you will be able to follow its progress as it tries to slip in on you. If the deer is not interested, you can try another type of call, or change the cadence and rhythm.
Last resort calling is my personal “first resort” deer calling strategy. I don’t like to carry rattling antlers so I rely on grunt calls to get the job done. If a good buck that I would like to shoot appears to be passing out of range I call, otherwise I remain silent and wait and watch. Some bowhunters prefer rattling in this situation because it is louder and carries farther on windy days. Turkey hunters know that sometimes one call will trigger a response when others won’t. If grunting doesn’t work, try rattling. You’ve got nothing to lose.
When employing last resort calling try to determine as quickly as possible whether a deer is going to come your way or not. Once a deer is well past your post it is tough to call him back. However, if all you are asking him to do is to make a slight detour your way, the odds become much better. On the other hand, if the deer is headed your way anyway, remain silent. A deer responding to a call comes in on red alert, intently searching for the source of the sound. Remember, you are the source. You really don’t want a deer to come in looking for you unless absolutely necessary.
How To Make The Calls
Actual calling techniques that will produce action are very broad. For example, you can rattle in just about any sequence you desire and still produce good results. The same goes for grunting. I’m conservative and always start with the classic three grunt series. In fact, that’s about all I ever use. It is my opinion that if a buck isn’t responding to the basic contact grunt he’s not going to come to anything else you throw at him.
You will get more from your deer calling by first taking into account your hunting conditions. When the conditions give the green light, calling can produce excellent results. However, there are also times when silence is golden. Learn to recognize the difference and become a better deer hunter.
see a video of a buck grunting below: