Whitetail deer are generally considered shy and quiet animals. They don't howl like coyotes, bugle like elk, or call like ducks and geese.
But hunters who get close to deer know that they do communicate. And that sometimes they can get deer to come within shooting range by imitating their sounds.
It's easy, and it's fun and anyone can learn to call deer. Because deer have different voices just like people do, you don't have to imitate sounds perfectly. And when a deer comes to your call, it's exciting!
Deer calling isn't a sure-fire thing. Most of the time, you'll get no response to your calling, but you only need it to work once per hunting season! To be successful at deer calling, you need to know the calls, what they mean, and how to use them in hunting situations.
These are the basic sounds made by whitetails:
- Grunt: This is the most common sound made by bucks, does, and fawns. There are several variations; it may sound like a short burp, or more like a long growl. Deer may grunt anytime, whether they are content or anxious about something.
- Bleat: This is a higher-pitched call usually used by animals trying to contact one another. It sounds like the baaaa of sheep.
- Snort: This is the sound you hear when you have been discovered by a deer. It is a sharp, blowing sound a deer makes instinctively to alert other deer to danger. This is not a call you want to imitate!
- Wheeze: A seldom-heard deer sound, it is a coughing noise usually made by bucks that are angry or fighting.
- Distress Cry: This is a loud, long, crying sound made by deer that are caught by a predator or otherwise hurt and unable to escape. It is usually made by young deer.
Deer Calling Devices
There are many brands of deer calls available for sale. Most are barrel-reed calls, which is a tube-shaped device similar to duck calls. Some calls have reeds in flat holders and others operate by friction; you scrape one piece on another to make the sound. Some make a wide range of sounds, while others make only one.
Most hunters find that barrel-reed calls that are tunable work best. That way, you can make higher-pitched or lower-pitched calls if you choose.
Using Deer Calls
The best calling time is during the mating season, or rut. The rut is a period of several weeks from late October into December, depending on where you live. During this time, deer are more interested in the company of other deer and are more likely to respond to a call.
During the rut, the grunt call usually works best. Set up your stand at a place in the woods that shows signs of deer activity tracks, trails, scraped areas on the ground and small, rubbed trees. Every 20 minutes or so, make a call. Try shorter, quieter calls mostly, and a few longer, louder calls. Bucks are most likely to respond, but does may, too.
If you see a deer passing by and can't get a shot, you can try to call it back. In this case, it's best to call just loud enough for the deer to hear. If the deer stops and looks, or starts coming your way, stop calling and freeze, ready to shoot. If the animal keeps going away, try louder, longer grunts. It may convince him.
Sometimes when a grunt call won't work, a bleat will. It is a more urgent sound and can be more convincing.
The wheeze is another call that can work during the rut. It is usually used in conjunction with rattling clashing two antlers together to simulate a buck fight. The wheeze is a hard, high-pitched coughing sound made by angry bucks. It helps convince nearby deer that there really is a deer fight happening. Bucks respond best.
The distress cry can attract mature does they may think a fawn is caught by a coyote and come to help. It usually works best in the early fall when fawns are still young and their mothers are still caring for them. The call is similar to a rabbit call for predators. The call should last for about one minute.
Deer Calling Tips
Keep in mind that a deer that comes to your call will be looking hard for another deer. It will be alert and watchful, which means you have to be very careful to avoid being seen. Keep movements as slow as possible unless the deer's head is behind a tree and you're sure it can't see you. Any little noise will make the deer look your way and probably spot you.
The key to calling in deer is to be in the right place at the right time. All you really need is to know the basics, and to have a deer that wants company to hear your call. Mix in deer calling with silent stand watching, and you'll get some close encounters with deer!