When Not to and When To Use Whitetail Calls
Making a whitetail calls work well for you calling requires understanding buck behavior
Of all oddities that have become commonplace in world of bowhunting for the whitetail, the widespread use of calls has to rank near the top of the heap. I am sure that anyone that has been in the whitetail hunting game as long as I have–almost four decades–recalls all too well when old timer experts in the sport often wrote about the silent nature of these animals. Such is no longer the case. Today virtually every bowhunter owns at least a half dozen or more whitetail calls. There is little question that when a whitetail call is correctly used these noise makers often coax shy bucks within bow killing range. However, too few bowhunters appear to have a good understanding of how to get the most from using deer vocalizations.
While the whitetail is not as vocal as the highly often thunderous bull elk or guttural grunting moose, but these smaller member of the deer family do communicate extensively through the vocal sounds they create. Actually, the vocalizations of the whitetail are quite diverse, especially among bucks. Male whitetail vocalizations include the buck breeding calls, which are the low, baritone-like grunt created by dominant bucks. The well-known and often imitated by bowhunters using a mouth blown call, the tending grunt is created when a buck is the company of a an estrus or near-estrus doe. The tending grunt is an excited series (three to several dozen) drawn-out urrrp urrrp urrrp. The grunt snort another less well-known buck vocalization. The grunt snort is created when air is forced through the nostrils of a buck to create two to six brief blasts. This is an intense sound bucks ready for or already engaged in combat, which bowhunters occasionally use in accompaniment with antler rattling.
Does and fawns vocally communicate with one another utilizing sounds we would call mews and whines, as well as a bleat sound. These are communication vocalizations between does and their offspring that bowhunters often imitate by using calls. Does also have what is referred to as a maternal grunt, that is subtle and of low volume. The bawl is an intense alarm vocalization, which like the nasal wheeze alarm typically sends every whitetail within hearing distance fleeing there for safety.
Whitetail calls have been available at sporting good stores now for a couple of decades. There is scores of whitetail calls that are designed to allow bowhunters to mimic virtually every sound a whitetail will ever make. Fortunately for most bowhunters, unlike a turkey or elk call,
none of these is calls are difficult to master using. Some whitetail calls are better than others, but from my experience, just about all calls are effective within their design range.
For the last three seasons I have extensively used a Hunters Specialties True Talker Deer Call at a variety of locations, many of which are high quality haunts for trophy class bucks. It is a revolutionary call that produces the full range of the whitetail’s vocabulary from the youngest fawn to mature rutting bucks. The True Talker Deer Call’s secrets is a hardwood reed that produces true natural tone quality a bowhunter can effectively control by moving your finger up or down its patented fingertip control. This feature allows hunters to select up to five different deer calls without any adjustment or disassembling the call to change reeds or O-rings. Yes, there are many great calls available, but this one has served me well from Mexico to Saskatchewan, thanks in no small part to the quick change flexibility it gives. To change the sound to make it sound like more than one buck is nearby, or to match the call tone to the size of animal, all I have to so is move my finger up and down the reed of the True Talker Deer Call.
In most instances, the call(s) you choose is not nearly as important as how you use them. Over-calling is the single biggest single mistake made by most bowhunter, followed by calling when there is nothing around that you can see. A couple of years ago while hunting along the edge of a friend’s lease located beside the Mississippi River, when I walked through a stand of ancient oak trees when I heard the grunting sound of a buck. Listening for a minute I heard it over and over until I was almost certain that the grunting was being done to the same melody as “Dixie.” Moving through bottom land woods in the direction of the musical grunting sounds, in a few minutes I came upon a bowhunter who was perched in a live oak. During a single five minute span this fellow he blew his grunt call a staggering 24 times. This may sound quite funny to you, but in my opinion it is more representative of the way too many bowhunters use their grunt call than you might think.
When bowhunting there are has few steadfast rules regarding whitetail calling, if for not other reason than the inherently unpredictable nature of these animals. I would never say some approaches to calling never work on whitetail, as surely as I did someone would prove me wrong. However, when hunting I personally have only one rule, and that is that I never blow a grunt or doe/fawn call unless I first can see the buck. Typically, my calling efforts are an attempt to get the attention of an animal that otherwise is not going to be close enough for me to get a bow shot at. By using a grunt or doe/fawn call I hope to get that animal to move in my direction. Sometimes the buck is moving too fast for me to get a shot, and I call in hope of slowing his progress.
Getting the most from a grunt call requires some ability to read the body language of a whitetail buck. For instance, when you blow your call, watch for a reaction. Naturally, if the buck comes to a full stop, you are certain you have his attention. This is usually a buck ready for action — right there on the spot. Give him a minute before you grunt again; otherwise, in his super-alert condition, his sensitive ears will pinpoint your location and make him difficult for you to kill. If the head of the animal is up and looking for where the grunt came from, avoid grunting until he is looking away from you.
There is at least fifteen different reactions a buck will give a when you make a grunt or doe/fawn call. The reaction may be as subtle as a twitch of its ear. The animal may stop dead in its track and come your way like whistling in a dog. Many times, when you blow a grunt call at a moving buck, the only indication you will have that the buck has heard your efforts will be the animal dropping its head and moving faster. It is impossible to know what kind of day that buck has had. He might have just had his rump whipped by a bigger buck, and the last thing he wants is to be on the loosing end of another challenge.
When you call, watch closely to see if the ear twitches in your direction, or if the animals swings its head in your direction. If the buck does not stop, wait a few seconds and blow again. It is not uncommon for bucks to appear disinterested when in fact they are interested, but do not want to rush into a potential confrontation. Often, such a buck will circle around. So when you call to a buck you are reasonably certain heard your efforts, do not think this is the last time you will see that animal, as it may be behind you in a few minutes, or come like a bird dog looking for the scent trail of the other deer.
Carefully choose optimal conditions before you make a call. Avoid calling when a buck has a direct view of you. If you can, call when a buck moves into brush that obscures you. Remember, the whitetail not only has incredibly acute hearing, but also have the innate ability to accurately pinpoint the source of sounds. This is also why grunt calls are so very effective when used after one or more does have traveled up a trail and then a buck is spotted. Visual diversions are key aids to a bowhunter’s calling success. Once a buck has its head up listening, immediately let up on your calling. Be patient and allow a buck to investigate the origins of the vocalizations at its own pace.
Early bowhunting season offers great opportunities for calling success by using doe/fawn and buck grunt calls. Granted the at this time does are not willing to permit breeding. However, bucks have a keen interest mating even when does do not, thus they are motivated to investigate sounds produced by does and fawns. I can not overstate the importance at this time to avoid over calling. Two to three bleats are the limit. As when you are antler rattling during the rut, at this when after you have used a bleat or fawn call keep a sharp eye out for shy bucks encircling the source of the your calling efforts. When using doe/fawn calls, if you suspect that you might be over-calling, then odds are there is a very chance you a correct. Less is far better than more.
Whitetail grunt calls are fine to use during the peak of the rut, but in my opinion, grunt calls are most effective following the peak of the rut. If you spot a buck moving along that has its nose to the ground trailing a hot doe, a tending grunt call signals there is a possible treat in the direction from which the sound came. Such a buck is looking for where does are, even if a buck is already tending them. When you spot an on-the-go buck, prior to and during the rut, a vigorous grunt call is an excellent way to give that animal precisely what it is looking for. All you are doing now is giving a buck what it is looking for.
Post-rut is my favorite time to use a grunt call. If you really want to see how these mouth-blown hunting aids can get the attention of a buck, try using them after the height of the whitetail rut. A grunt call works well at this time because when there are many does in estrus at once, bucks are usually already in the company of a doe, and therefore are not as interested in tracking down the sounds of other bucks. However, bucks are still in a “search-and-breed” mode once does in estrus are scarce, such as in the time following the peak of rutting activity. When one buck hears another buck grunt, which often indicates he knows the whereabouts of an estrus doe, it easily gets his attention. Following the peak of the rut, bucks are still eager to breed, and they rarely miss an opportunity to pester does that may or may not be in or near estrus. It is merely the nature of the male of the species. Under these circumstances, bucks are very susceptible to grunt calls.
Where you hunt also has a key impact on how you call and what your results will be. When you are bowhunting public land in Tennessee or Pennsylvania where the buck-to-doe ratio is 1-to-10 or -12, and where just taking a buck is an accomplishment, how you call and what you might realistically anticipate are different than if you are hunting farm land in Illinois or a ranch in Texas where the buck-to-doe ration is 1-to-1 or -2. Heavily hunted whitetail bucks usually are not only call shy largely due many hunters “tooting their horns,” but also because they often have less interest. These bucks know that where they live that the availability of does to breed does not require them fighting for mating opportunities. When hunting such areas where a six-pointer is a trophy, use light, low pitch grunts in stingy doses. Where hunting pressure is a factor, little to no call is far, far better than overcalling. The last thing you want is a deep sounding, baritone grunt call that resembles the vocalizations of a mature buck that will frighten away every small buck in the county. Upon hearing such grunting sounds, smaller bucks are going to leave the area for their own safety.
On the other hand, if you are bowhunting an area where mature bucks are available, such as a big wheat farm in Kansas where big bucks abound, then the deep-sounding grunt call is what you should be using. Where there is keen competition among bucks to breed, grunt calls tend to work very, very well. I am convinced that mature bucks know the other brutes that live in their range. During the post rut big bucks wander up to several miles invading the range of other big bucks. Big bucks fight buck bucks, and a vocal challenge rarely goes unheeded when the resident bully thinks an interloper is about in his bedroom.
The whitetail grunt and fawn/doe calls are marvelous tools in the hands of a bowhunter. However, it must be used correctly for you to get the most out of it.