Whitetail calling that effectively brings deer into range can take your hunting to a whole new level. A lot of hunters simply are afraid to use calls during any part of the season except for the rut. Others call too much and too loudly. The key is very simple. Learning when and how to call according to the current deer activity is the only thing that separates success from failure in the field. On that note, let’s learn how to match our calling to each transitional period.
UNDERSTANDING THE LANGUAGE
In reality, a deer’s vocabulary starts with about three basic sounds – the bleat, the snort and the grunt. All other whitetail vocalizations ranging from wheezes, bellows, bawls and even clicks are derived from these three primary sounds. However, deer utilize these three calls in varying degrees of volume, intensity and sequence to convey different emotions.
For example, these three basic sounds can express when a deer is lost, afraid, wanting to breed, or ready to fight. Learning what combinations of these sounds to use during each transitional period of the rut will enable you to put trophy bucks right under your stand this fall.
Transition One – Early Pre-Rut Calling:
During the opening days of the season, hunters generally are facing hot weather, swarms of mosquitoes and thick foliage that creates visibility problems. Bucks are usually grouped up in bachelor groups and are sticking to a strict feeding-to-bedding pattern. Without question, this is one of my favorite times to pinpoint and pattern a giant pre-rut buck because of the predictability of daily activities and the absence of hunting pressure. The early pre-rut period is also a really good time to exploit high-racked giants by breaking out your calls and attacking a buck’s social curiosity.
As a bowhunter, I can’t tell you how many times during the early season that I’ve pulled a buck into range by using a series of soft non-aggressive grunts. As mentioned earlier, bucks are traveling in bachelor groups during this period and will often come in to investigate the new buck in the area. These non-threatening grunts generate social curiosity, and you’ll be amazed at just how easily bucks will respond to this type of calling.
During my early years of bowhunting, I thought the only time a buck would respond to a grunt call was just before or during the actual rut. In fact, during my teenage years, I didn’t even pack a grunt call in the woods during the opening weeks of the season. Man, was that ever a big mistake!
Another type of early pre-rut calling that will put a buck in your lap is a combination of several subtle rattling sequences mixed with social grunts. After bucks lose their velvet, it’s not uncommon for light sparring matches to begin among the group. I sat in a stand one evening in Missouri and watched several different bucks lock antlers and gently tickle their tines while pushing each other back and forth. Every time one of these pushing matches broke out, another buck would walk up and watch what was happening. From that point on, I have used soft rattling and social grunts to pull early-season bucks into bow range. This strategy has allowed me to tag deer that otherwise would probably never have gotten close enough to shoot.
Transition Two – Midseason Pre-Rut Calling:
As the season progresses, overall deer behavior and patterns will undergo major changes. During this transitional period, bucks will begin to break out of their bachelor groups and will no longer tolerate each other’s company. Temperatures are dropping, daylight is getting shorter, food sources are changing, and bucks are beginning to think about the upcoming rut. Calling strategies that worked a few weeks ago will not be as effective during this period, and it’s important for hunters to adapt to these behavioral changes. Once again, calling should not be overlooked at this point in the season. It can be deadly on bucks anticipating the rut.
According to biologists, some mature does will hit their estrous cycle a few weeks earlier than the rest of the herd. When this occurs, you have an ideal situation in which there are actually more bucks than available does in heat. This means you can utilize more aggressive rattling and grunting during this transitional period. Without question, this is the one time of year when rut-related calling will be productive in areas where does seriously outnumber the bucks.
Another call that will either turn a buck’s bristles up and cause him to march right to your stand or make him run in the opposite direction is the snort-wheeze. I often use this call as a last resort when the buck is not responding to other types of calling. The snort-wheeze is really aggressive, and the nature of the buck you’re dealing with will determine how he reacts to it.
Transition Three – Rut Calling:
The rut transition is the period when most of the actual breeding takes place and a buck may pop up just about anywhere. Bucks will generally be locked into whatever pattern an estrous doe is currently following. If a hot doe decides to stroll out in the middle of a crowded parking lot, the lovesick buck is going to be right behind her.
However, after breeding one doe, bucks will search areas that hold family groups of does for another partner. The key to this transitional period is to set up near known doe bedding areas and wait for a rut-crazed monster to show up. This is an extremely exciting time to be in the woods, and calling during this period can produce some action-packed trips.
In order to attract bucks, an estrous doe will frequently urinate on her hocks to leave a scent trail for bucks. The doe will also use vocalizations like an estrous bleat or breeding bellow to alert a buck of her location and the situation. Setting up near areas where does are known to freq
uent and using these types of calls can be a very productive strategy during the rut. I also like to throw in some tending grunts with the bleats to sound like a buck in hot pursuit of an estrous doe. In fact, I utilized this strategy last season during the rut to drop a nice buck at point-blank range in the mountain country of northeast Tennessee.
Transition Four – Post-Rut Calling:
Immediately following the rut, buck behavior will once again go through major changes. Bucks that are worn out and ragged from fighting, chasing and breeding will slow down and try to regain energy. However, any doe that was not successfully bred during her first estrous cycle will come back into heat about 28 days later. Some yearling does will also hit their first estrous cycle about this same time period. Any diehard deer hunter who has not thrown in the towel can utilize calling during this transitional period to coax a buck into range.
A couple of seasons ago, I watched a yearling doe walk down a ridge while bleating and bellowing every few steps. The doe also stopped every few feet to urinate or her hind legs. Just a few minutes after the doe had passed, a heavy-racked giant crashed out of a thicket in hot pursuit. This is another transitional period in which a combination of estrous bleats and breeding bellows will get the job done. Calling along with setting up a doe decoy and using some estrous scent will allow you to attack all three of a buck’s senses and should increase your chances of connecting with a bruiser that has managed to make it to this late point in the season.
Calling during each transitional period of the rut can be the best move you make this fall. If you wait until the rut hits before breaking out your calls, you’re really missing the boat (or maybe I should say “missing the buck!”). This season, stick with the basics. Match your calling with the current phase of the rut, and you’ll be able to consistently punch your tags regardless of what time of year you’re hunting. This year, add some common-sense calling to your hunting arsenal and drop the hammer on a tall-tined monster!