It is possible for a deer hunter to never touch a grunt call, rattling antlers, decoy, or deer scent, and for that hunter to routinely hang his tag on a fine, fat buck.
The most important aspects of successful deer hunting, namely woodsmanship, patience and marksmanship, cannot be purchased over the counter. You will get no argument out of me on these facts because I am in total agreement.
But I also know, from my own personal experience, that had I not relied on all of these tools, I would have deprived myself of some of my most treasured memories.
There is no doubt in my mind that I have seen more deer, had better shots at deer, and killed bigger bucks because of using these tools. But most of all, using deer scents, calls, rattling antlers, and decoys has added immeasurably to the sheer enjoyment I derive from deer hunting. And I don't know about you, but I've always figured deer hunting was supposed to be fun!
Grunt Calls Really Work
Over the years, it has been my good fortune to know quite a few really good bowhunters. These are guys and gals who consistently put their tags on better-than-average bucks. I don't know a single one of them who does not use a grunt call and use it often. That's a pretty strong endorsement for grunt calls.
Calling deer is easy. In fact, compared to calling other critters, such as turkeys, coyotes, ducks, geese or elk, calling deer is child's play. About the only rule you need to remember is that you should never, ever, call to a deer, which is headed your way. A whitetail deer is not quite as accurate at pinpointing the exact source of a sound as say a wild turkey or a coyote, but they ain't too shabby in this department, either. If you insist on calling to deer that are headed towards you, you risk being picked off by the approaching deer -- and I don't care what brand of camo you are wearing.
Early in the season, and again late in the season, a simple contact grunt will get the job done. This is just a low volume, very short grunt, which looks like "rrrpp" in print. The contact grunt is simply a buck's way of asking if there are any other bucks around. The contact grunt is a cordial greeting and if another buck hears it, he will likely respond.
When the bucks start scraping, I switch to either a trailing or tending grunt. Both are repetitious vocalizations, with the tending grunt being the louder and more aggressive of the two.
The trailing grunt might sound like "uurrrrppp-uurrrpp-uurrpppp-uurrrrp-uurrrp" in print. This is the vocalization a buck makes when he is trailing a hot doe, either by following her scent trail or visually.
The tending grunt is the vocalization a buck uses when he has finally cornered an estrous doe. The tending grunt is probably a warning to other bucks to stay the heck away from his girl, or it might be used to intimidate the doe. Either way it works.
There is no right or wrong way to make either the trailing or tending grunt, because bucks all make them different. I tend to get loud and long with my tending grunts. Something like "UURRRppp-----UUrrrrrrrrrrrrppp----UUUrrrrrpppp-----UUrrrrrp..........." Sometimes I will keep it up for 20 or more repetitions. I've heard bucks go nearly non-stop for hours.
There are lots of good grunt calls on the market. There are also a few, which sound more like a ruptured duck than any buck I've ever heard. I've lured in a bunch of bucks with an H.S. True Talker. The Primos calls and the grunt tube made by Rod Benson, a small company out of Michigan, are other favorites
Doe Bleats, Too
For years I did not use doe bleats. I figured buck grunts were all I needed to call any deer, but I was wrong. There are times when using a doe bleat call either by itself or in conjunction with tending or trailing grunts is just the ticket. During the past few years, since I have been incorporating doe bleats into my calling, I have watched a number of bucks ignore my best buck grunts, but then change their minds and come to pay me a visit when I threw in a few doe bleats.
You can make an excellent doe bleat on a good variable-tone grunt call, or you can opt to use one of the handy canister calls sold by Primos, Quaker Boy and Hunter's Specialties. You simply turn the can upside down and when you flip it right side up, it emits a doe bleat. Some call it an estrous bleat, but I'm not convinced about that. Most of the does I've heard bleating were trying their best to get away from an amorous buck, not attract old lover boy. But there is no doubt in my mind, that whatever a doe is saying when she bleats, when a buck hears it, he darn sure knows that there is a doe in the picture.
If you use the doe bleat alone, don't be surprised if a doe instead of a buck rushes in. Especially early in the archery season, a doe bleat seems to appeal to a doe's maternal instincts. I suppose they think it is a fawn in distress and come charging in to do battle. I know that they come in a hurry and look like they mean business.
Rattling Works Everywhere
When I do deer-hunting seminars around the country and talk about rattling, I can always count on having a handful of hunters come up after the seminar to get in my face and let me know that rattling might be just the ticket on some high-fenced, high-dollar ranch in south Texas, but that it darn sure does not work in their neck of the woods. They are wrong about that. I've rattled in bucks in over a dozen states and provinces, and I am convinced that rattling will work no matter what a whitetail buck's zip code might be. Three of the five biggest bucks I have ever killed came to the horns and none of them were in Texas.
With that said, I will be the first to admit that there is a great discrepancy in rattling success around the country. The main reason is herd composition. The buck-to-doe ratio, and age structure of the buck population, greatly influence rattling success. If there is little or no competition between bucks, and especially mature bucks, for available does, don't expect a buck to come running every time you bang those antlers together. But don't give up on rattling either. When the sound of your clattering, rattlin' horns reaches the ears of a buck in the right mood, that buck is coming to investigate and it does not matter if you are hunting in Maine, Montana, Mississippi, or Michigan.
The very best time to rattle in a big buck is during the 10 days prior to the onset of the breeding phase of the rut, or what is commonly called peak rut. The second best period is during the breeding phase of the rut, and I am especially partial to the backside of the rut, or what I like to call the waning rut. The bucks have been having their way with hot does for a week or so now, and suddenly the supply of estrous does dwindles to near nothing. Big, mature bucks don't give up on a good thing that easy. They go on the prowl for more action. If a buck in that mode hears the sounds of a couple of bucks getting it on, odds are pretty darn good that he will investigate, either to get in on the brawl or more likely, to try to slip away with the lady the boys are fighting over.
Please read some tips on how to best use a decoy, how to freshen up scrapes, and how to increase your chances of success by using scent in Part 2.
For a fine selection of Big Game Hunting gear, click here.
For a fine assortment of Archery gear, click here.
Gary Clancy writes a weekly column for sportsmansguide.com. Gary has hunted whitetail deer in 20 different states and provinces. He has harvested many record-book animals, and presented hunting seminars from Tennessee to Wisconsin. Gary also has authored or co-authored six hunting books, four on whitetail hunting.