Deer Calls: When and How To Use Them
Getting within bow range of a buck is always challenging, but learning to use deer calls boosts your odds of filling your tag this season.
Calls offer several ways to communicate with deer, but their effectiveness varies by the situation. You’ll become a more effective bowhunter by adding the following calls to your pack, and learning how and when to use them each season.
The grunt is deer hunting’s most important vocalization. You can buy grunt tubes at any archery shop, and mimic white-tailed bucks by softly blowing into them. Bucks grunt year-round to communicate with other deer, so always carry a grunt tube.
Bowhunters can replicate several grunts that lure bucks into range. The most common sound, the social grunt, is soft and short. It works great in the early season when bucks are still in bachelor groups and determining the hierarchy. Bucks of all ages often respond to social grunts, but are usually more curious than aggressive.
In contrast, buck roars are made by dominant, aggressive bucks seeking to fight or intimidate other bucks. This deep, guttural grunt is louder than any other deer call, and works best on mature bucks that are king of their core area. Although a roar might spook subordinate bucks, it can enrage mature bucks into fight-mode and then storm into your location.
Tending grunts are multiple single-note sounds made at 2- to 3-second intervals. Bucks make this vocalization when chasing or tending a doe during the peak of the rut. These quiet, repetitive sequences dupe lonely bucks into investigating your location in search of a hot doe.
A loud, aggressive calling tactic called “rattling” mimics a buck fight, and its loud sounds of clashing antlers can draw bucks to your site from hundreds of yards away.
If you’re new to rattling, watch videos of bucks fighting to hear the commotions. You need to mimic the sounds of breaking brush, stomping hoofs and grinding antlers. Good deer callers put emotion into their calling. Buck fights are serious. Don’t just clank your favorite rattling antlers together repeatedly. Lock them together and get intense as you grind and smash them together.
Rattle for 30 to 45 seconds, and add a few grunts to the sequence to increase the realism and separate your calls from rattling by other hunters. When you’re done, grab your bow and get ready. Bucks sometimes come running, but don’t let your guard down. Watch your downwind side because cautious bucks often circle downwind before committing. If nothing happens after about 15 to 20 minutes. Try another sequence.
Mix up your rattling sequences and devices. If you have a set of deer antlers lying around, try using them. Many bowhunters love real antlers for their authentic sounds, but they take up space in a pack. If you like the feel of real antlers but don’t have an adequate set for convincing rattling, plastic rattling antlers can sound just as good. Other options are rattle packs, rattle bags and rattle boxes, which are pocket-sized rattling systems made of wood or plastic that deliver realistic sounds. Whatever device you prefer, practice with it and compare your sounds and sequences to real buck fights on videos and websites.
Not all deer calling mimics bucks. Does and fawns emit bleats that can lure in bucks or other does. Does that are ready to breed make estrous bleats, which are ideal for calling lovesick bucks during the rut. These sounds can be made with mouth-blown calls or with “can calls,” which eliminate human error. Simply flip the bleat can upside down to create realistic sounds.
To fill a doe tag try fawn bleats, which are shorter and higher-pitched than estrous bleats, and replicate a lonely fawn seeking its mother. In most cases, your bleat tube can double as a fawn bleat by adjusting the reed inside your call.
When should you try calling? In ideal situations, you see the deer you’re trying to lure into range. That lets you read its body language and adjust your calling accordingly. For example, a buck that bristles up for a fight after you try rattling might fall for a final grunt that pinpoints your location, whereas a wary buck that cowers and turns away when hearing a social grunt might flee when hearing anything aggressive.
However, many – if not most – calling setups start when no deer are in sight. This is called blind calling, and works especially well during the pre-rut to early rut phases near bedding areas. These areas are usually thick, so deer often hear activity and vocalizations without seeing the source of the sounds. That can pique their curiosity enough to investigate noises, making for ideal shots at close quarters.
Calling deer is one of the most exciting tactics you can try for luring a buck or doe into bow range. When it works, it’s exciting and satisfying to know your communications fooled a wild animal into responding. Calling won’t work every time, but adding calls to your tactical repertoire makes you a more well-rounded bowhunter.