The whitetail deer is a surprisingly vocal animal with a variety of tones and sounds that call manufactures have been trying to imitate for decades. This article is not going to go into much detail about any specific call or brand, that may come in future writings, but I will touch on my personal experience with calls including how and when I use them so that you may find a new tool to use on your own hunts.
Deer have several “categories” of calls such as social, mating, territorial, and distress, and an understanding of the differences will better your chances at having success with them. Social calls may be heard throughout the year and are made by does, bucks, and fawns. They may include grunts and bleats and are used to notify other deer of their location and often signify that the deer is calm and relaxed. I like to use social grunts and bleats in the early bow season to coax deer from a thicket or bedding area and encourage them to begin moving towards an evening food source where I have coincidently hung my stand. Curiosity and a desire to be with others of its kind will often get deer moving towards my position. I tend to keep the calls short and sporadic, about every 20 minutes or so unless I have a deer in sight. Then I watch the animal for its reaction to the call.
Mating and territorial calls occur during the pre-rut and rut stages of the season. During this time does eager to mate will produce a longer drawn out bleat letting bucks know about her readiness. Bucks often respond with short deep grunts. A buck chasing a doe may grunt only a few times or continuously throughout his pursuit. Other bucks that hear this commotion will almost certainly come to investigate for themselves, especially if they feel that they are more dominant. For this reason, I like to use a combination of doe bleats and buck grunts to try to simulate this interaction and peak another bucks interest.
When bucks are grunting to each other to declare a territory or dominance, it is often a deeper more aggressive sound. The now famous snort-weeze or buck “roar” are also vocalizations used for intimidation and declaration of ownership over a territory or hot doe. I use these calls sparingly as their purpose, intimidation, can spook younger bucks and does. I will typically make this call only when I can see the buck and get his reaction.
Distress calls are typically a deer’s way of alerting other deer in the area to potential danger. The most commonly heard distress call is a “blow.” This vocalization is often used in conjunction with leg stomping and the whitetail waving bye-bye into the brush. As a hunter, my heart sinks when I hear a deer blowing at me. My first thoughts are where, why, how could I have prevented it, and is this the end of my hunt.
Now that you know what type of call to make, lets talk about when to use them. Calls are most effective if you are set up in a thicket or other area where a deer’s visibility may be limited. Whitetails are naturally curious animals and will come to the call if it sounds like a deer and they can’t verify what’s making it. If you are in a box blind in the middle of a field, the deer will be able to see that there isn’t a deer at the source of the sound and the call will be less effective. Also, a deer’s hearing is so sophisticated, that they will often pinpoint the exact tree that you are in when they come to investigate. Therefore, additional cover around you and good stand placement is a must.
Call volume and frequency depends upon its purpose. If you are “trolling” for deer without a specific animal in sight, then I use a little louder calls with a maximum frequency of every 15-20 minutes to catch a cruising buck or invite a group of does to join me that may be out of sight or at a longer range. If the deer is in sight then I use calls just loud enough for it to hear and only as often as is necessary to keep its interest. Again deer are curious and intelligent, so if you call too often they’ll figure you out. If a deer is within 50 yards, I keep the calls in my vest.
A few years ago, I was rifle hunting in Maryland with a 30-30 from a large oak tree in the middle of a brushy fenceline between a grass field and a cut corn field. It was late november and peak of the rut. I had given a few series of aggressive buck grunts mixed with a buck chasing a doe when a solid 8pt entered into the grass field. He was just over 300 yards and was looking for the deer that he had heard. I grunted at him again and he stopped to lick an overhanging branch along the treeline and vigorously freshened a scrape. The buck the started his march on a string towards my stand. He stopped again at about 200 yards, so I made a few doe bleats followed by three short grunts. He immediately returned to his course. At 100 yards, I centered the crosshairs and fired. To my amazement, the buck continued towards me. Flustered and bewildered I fired again and missed. Now he knew the situation and turned to run. The third shot put him down. When I approached the buck, I found two entry and two exit wounds in his chest. He was so focused and determined to find the buck chasing his doe that he did not realize he had taken the first shot through his lungs.