What you say and when you say it are crucial to successful calling.
Most of you have tried deer calls, and I’m sure if we conducted a poll, your opinions would be mixed.
Some deer hunters swear by grunt tubes, cans and snort-wheeze calls and use them every year. It’s not uncommon to see a hunter pull into the local coffee shop with a big buck in the pickup and credit calling for the success.
Others have experienced horrible results. One peep on the grunt tube, and the buck they were watching headed for the next county.
The same can be said for rattling and decoys.
Truth is, calling, rattling and throwing a decoy into the mix for added realism can help you increase your odds — if the message you send is right for the situation.
Greg Miller from Driven TV knows a few things about calling and rattling. Before Miller was a TV host, he was a full-time writer who spent much of his fall chasing big bucks in Wisconsin. Today, he travels the country searching for big bucks. He never leaves home without his grunt tube or rattling antlers.
Miller says if a hunter blows on a call and a buck runs for the brush, a mistake is usually to blame.
“Some hunters have one or two bad experiences with a grunt tube and refuse to use one again,” Miller said. “Chances are, they are doing something wrong. Many hunters blow a grunt tube too loudly or try to sound like a monster. That type of calling can spook a buck.”
Miller, who has spent countless hours hunting and watching bucks, says they rarely grunt loudly.
“Grunting is often subtle and quiet,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like a kazoo band. When a hunter blows loudly on a grunt tube, it often sounds unnatural and puts a buck on edge.”
When it comes to rattling, Miller says it rarely spooks a buck when done properly.
“Very rarely do you see a knock-down, drag-out fight between two monster bucks,” he said. “But that is often the kind of rattling hunters do. They try to sound like two big bucks fighting and end up spooking bucks, especially less mature ones.”
To ensure he doesn’t spook big bucks when rattling, Miller uses a set of rattling antlers that would measure about 120 inches. “I use a set of smaller antlers and often only tickle them together for about 30 seconds,” he explained. “When I’m sitting for several hours, I rattle or call every half hour if it is the time of year when bucks are starting to travel. Early in the pre-rut, I might call or rattle only once every few hours. That’s when I’m hunting sign like scrapes and rubs, and chances are a bedded buck isn’t far away.”
When calling or rattling, Miller never tries to sound like a buck on steroids. “I don’t smash them together for long periods or get real loud and aggressive,” he said. “Over the years, I have rattled in hundreds of bucks with my 120-inch rattling antlers. I have rattled in everything from 1-inch spikes to a 200-inch deer with these antlers.”
Timing is very important when grunting and rattling. Although rattling and calling can work any time during the hunting season, your chances are better at specific times.
“I believe the best time to call and rattle is from the pre-rut onward,” Miller said. “The later in the pre-rut, the better. That’s when a buck is traveling and checking out everything that might have to do with potential breeding. Calling before then often proves fruitless.”
When calling, Miller suggests a little is often better than a lot. “Deer don’t run around the woods constantly calling to each another. Many hunters think if a little calling is good, a lot of calling is even better. That isn’t the case. Early in the season, soft grunting or bleating can get a buck’s attention, but a lot of calling can spook him. How often do you hear bucks calling? Not often.”
Just as bucks get riled up as the rut kicks in, hunters, too, seem to get more aggressive, calling way too much.
“Calling only at the right time can be deadly,” Miller said. “When I see a big buck coming down a field edge, grunting at him once or twice can turn him and get him to come to me. But if I see a buck and calling doesn’t work right away, I usually put my call back into my pocket. Calling too much can spook him and, possibly, other bucks you can’t see.”
Miller stressed that a grunt call is his primary weapon. “I occasionally bleat or do a snort-wheeze, but not very often. I do many seminars on deer hunting, and I often ask the people in the audience if they have ever heard a snort-wheeze in the woods. Most never have, and the few who have heard it describe it as a quiet call. A whitetail’s snort-wheeze isn’t very loud, so yours shouldn’t be, either. A snort-wheeze is also more likely to spook a buck, so use it sparingly.”
Miller went on to say hunters should remember they aren’t just calling to a deer — they are communicating with it.
“When we rattle, grunt or bleat, we are trying to mimic what the deer are doing,” he said. “If a hunter rattles loudly early in the season or grunts like a madman from opening day on, they will likely spook deer because that is unnatural. Timing is everything. Calling quietly, rattling sparingly and only doing so mainly during the pre-rut and rut will likely produce better results than calling every time you are in your stand.”
Mick Bowman, a Knight & Hale pro staffer from Kansas, is a firm believer in calling bucks, especially when done in conjunction with decoying.
“Using a grunt call can be great for bringing in a buck, especially when you place a decoy close to your stand,” Bowman said. “I don’t call very often, but when the pre-rut rolls around, I pack a grunt tube and use a buck decoy. I think one reason many bucks get spooked by grunt calls is because they hear the grunt but don’t see the buck that made it.”
When using decoys in conjunction with calling, Bowman often uses one antler on the decoy. “I don’t want bucks or does to be spooked, so I use one antler. It attracts lots of deer,” Bowman explained.
He is careful to keep the decoy scent-free, and he likes to use tarsal gland gel. “I have several decoys, and I spray them with scent eliminator at the beginning of the season and leave them near my stands. Many hunters believe decoys spook deer. I think it’s often human odor on the decoy that spooks deer.
Just as Miller doesn’t call much until the pre-rut and rut, Bowman doesn’t turn to his decoys until the timing is right, also during the pre-rut and rut. He says a natural setup — and also one that provides a better chance for a clean shot opportunity — is crucial.
“I always place my buck decoy so it is facing me,” Bowman noted. “Bucks often approach a decoy from behind, but eventually come around and face the decoy head on. While they are in the process of approaching the face of the decoy, they give me quartering-to, broadside and quartering-away shot opportunities as they circle from the rear to the front. That gives me plenty of chances to make a shot.”
When using decoys, Bowman always places them in the open. “I never put a decoy in thick brush,” he said. “I like to grunt as a buck approaches so he can hear and see his rival,” said Bowman. “If a buck comes around a corner and all of a sudden sees a decoy without knowing it was there, he will likely spook.”
Although many hunters have bad luck calling and using decoys, Bowman loves the combination. “Some of my biggest bucks have been taken over decoys,” he said. “There have been situations where several does walk into a field and are all around the decoy. Then a buck walks up to the decoy and gets shot. If the does are fooled by the decoy, the big bucks will be, too. Calling and decoying can be action-packed and fun if done correctly.”
The doing-it-right part is where the rest of us seem to struggle. It is easy to call too much, rattle too much or use a decoy improperly. It’s also easy to give up when we experience bad results.
Miller and Bowman prove mimicking deer and saying the right thing at the right time can be deadly. Save your calling for the pre-rut and rut, and keep it soft and subtle until you have more experience watching deer react.
For decoying, pay more attention to scent control and wind direction so you’re in the right place to ambush a buck as he reacts to the setup.
These techniques will add excitement and success to your hunting when done properly, and the only way to learn to do them right is to keep trying.
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