Some believe in it and have success calling in deer. Others don’t think calling is effective and have never given it a try. However, there is a time and place for using deer calls.
Calling deer is much different than calling turkeys, ducks or other wildlife. Deer usually will not answer the call, but rather respond to it. The response can be positive or negative depending on the mood of the deer. Hunters obviously would like a positive response and the deer approach for a shot.
Deer are somewhat like people. You may call and the deer hear your call, but ignore. Much like when you speak to someone and they don’t give a reply -- even though they heard you. However, deer calls do work under some circumstances. Biologists and hunters continue to learn about deer vocalizations.
Before you call
There is more to calling deer than just tooting on a call. First, we must determine which deer we are calling. A buck in a field with a couple does probably won’t respond to a buck grunt. However, a doe bleat or fawn bawl may bring the does in closer with the buck following.
“One key in calling deer is to start off soft,” said Eddie Salter of Evergreen. “If you call too loud on the first call, you can spook deer that are close by.”
Salter advises looking around your hunting area before making any type of call. Check to see if any deer are close. He says to begin with a soft doe bleat. The sound should be short, only a few seconds. Deer have excellent hearing and what is barely audible to us can be loud in the ear of a deer.
Before calling select the proper area suitable for calling deer. Setup on the edge of a pine thicket or near heavy cover. Allow enough room between you and the deer to get a shot when it comes in view. Deer, like turkey, prefer to move up hill or on the same level if responding to a call. This doesn’t mean the deer won’t come down hill to a call. They just prefer to move up.
Keep yourself scent free and use a cover scent when calling. Deer are very cautious when coming in to a call. Stay alert as the deer may approach from a different direction.
“The deer will usually circle downwind to see if he can pick up any scent,” said Salter. “Spray down good with scent eliminator spray.”
If you know there are deer in the general area but haven’t seen any, blind calling may work. Starting off with a few high-pitched doe grunts can get a deer’s attention. Keep the calls short and low in volume. If no deer or response is noticed call again, but sparingly. One call about every 15 minutes is plenty.
“During the pre-rut and rut I like to use the grunt of an older doe,” Salter said. “Also, I’ll try some grunts of a young buck.”
Buck grunts have a deeper tone and are much lower in frequency, much like a bass singer. Mature bucks will grunt three or four times when chasing a hot doe. Sometimes their grunts may sound like a guttural burp or even an old squeaky door hinge. Too, an old buck close to a doe will make a deep clicking noise. This sometimes sound like a short turkey cluck.
When sounding the doe grunt move the call to give the impression the doe is running. Sometimes this can get an old buck excited and he may run in.
Rattling is another type of call for bucks. Molded antlers or a rattling bag can be effective in getting a mature buck’s attention. Rattling simulates the fighting or sparring between two bucks. Generally the larger or more dominant buck will be involved in the fight. However, some bucks may come in to watch the fight.
Salter says with rattling you can get a buck to look your way even if he is 400 to 500 yards away. When he hears the rattling he will stop and look. Salter prefers a rattling bag over antlers since they are louder and easier to carry.
Calling to deer you see
Seeing a deer react to your calls is a good indication you made the right call. The deer will usually not come in on a dead run, but rather change his direction toward the sound of the call. A buck will most likely circle and approach downwind of the call.
“Once the deer begins coming in to your location don’t call to him anymore,” Slater said. “He will be looking for the source of the sound and that is you.”
As the deer approaches keep quiet and still. The deer is searching for the sound. Any unusual noise or movement will spook the deer. Salter says the best time for calling bucks is during midday. Generally, the bucks are up and moving around some during the middle part of the day.
If you call to a deer and the deer shows no response or interest, hit the call again. On the second try increase the volume of the call. It may take a couple of loud calls to get the deer to look your way. If the deer is out of shooting range you have nothing to lose by calling louder.
Salter says deer hunters should carry a grunt call every time they go into the woods. He recommends a couple of different types of call that can give different sounds. Just like people, deer have varying voices and their calls can be different from one deer to the next.
Deer use vocalizations all year long, not just during hunting season. Rattling and calling can work throughout deer season, even after the rut. While plastic deer calls are the most common, a wooden call gives off a better more realistic sound.
Calling deer is not magical and it takes some practice. Get to know your call and experiment with the different types of grunts before heading out into the woods.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at ChrJohn7@aol.com.