Buck Calling Clues
Let a deer's body language shape your hunting strategy.
Whitetail bucks are never more visible than just before and during the rut, and this creates a common problem: You see a good buck in the distance, with no way to know whether it will move in for a shot. Do you call to this deer? And if so, what calls do you make?
Perhaps no one is better able to answer these questions than Mark Drury, the founder of M.A.D. Calls and a noted whitetail calling expert. “From the pre-rut through the peak rut, and even into the late season, I commonly set up in open areas where I can see the deer I’m hunting. And over many years of observing whitetails’ reactions to every type of calling, I’ve found that the mood and personality of an individual buck have a huge influence on how he’ll respond,” Drury says. “Being able to see the deer you’re hunting is a big advantage, but only if you take a moment to judge its demeanor and let that dictate if and how you call.”
According to Drury, bucks exhibiting aggressive rutting behavior are particularly susceptible to calling. “When I see a good buck come charging into a field and start chasing other deer around, I know I stand a good chance of calling him in,” he says. “With a buck like this, I’ll usually start with light estrous-doe bleats or tending grunts. If that doesn’t get his attention, I’ll increase my volume by going to the rattling horns or even to the snort-wheeze call [BRACKET “a loud phh-phh-phhht sound that bucks use to challenge one another”]. I’ve had tremendous success snort-wheezing to aggressive bucks over the years.”
[NEXT “Hungry Bucks”] **Hungry Bucks **I
If Drury spots a buck acting less aggressively, such as one that enters a field and begins to feed, he tones things down. “This buck may just need to fill his belly, so I’ll let him eat,” he says. “But as soon as the deer’s head comes up and he starts looking around, I’ll hit him with some soft grunts and bleats. The key is to just get this buck’s attention. If you can manage to raise his curiosity even a little, he may change his mood in a hurry.”
Much like a henned-up tom turkey, a buck that’s tending a doe is one of the most difficult to call. When paired up, a buck isn’t likely to move toward your stand on its own, Drury says. If the doe happens to be leading it toward you, there’s no need to call. Otherwise, you’ve got nothing to lose, and only aggressive calling will do the trick. “I’ve been able to pull some of these bucks away using a snort-wheeze call,” Drury says. “Sometimes that challenging, in-your-face call is more than even a tending buck can stand. If I see a mature buck with a hot doe and the pair is surrounded by lesser bucks, I’ll rattle hard at him. This buck is accustomed to chasing off rivals-and may well come running in.” **Shy Bucks **
Naturally, there are bucks that can frustrate even the most skilled callers. “If I see a clean-looking mature deer-that is, one with no marks on his coat or broken tines from fighting with rival bucks-and he’s just slipping through the timber, I assume he’s going to be difficult to call,” Drury says. “Some bucks are just shy. I feel they’re either nonbreeders or simply afraid to challenge other bucks.” Such deer might come to a call out of simple curiosity, Drury notes, but they’re almost certain to circle downwind of you en route. Here, it may be best just to cross your fingers and hope the buck moves into shooting range. “Most of the time, I won’t even call to a buck like this,” Drury says. “I don’t see any point in educating a deer. They’re smart enough as it is.”
Once the chase phase of the rut begins, you’re more likely to see dominant bucks-but very few of them will be standing still. At close range, you can typically stop these deer with a grunt call, but at longer ranges a grunt often goes unheard. In that case, try a bold, unorthodox alternative: Blow a referee’s wwhistle.
“A whistle will stop a buck in midtrot 100 yards away, even on a windy day when leaves are rattling,” says Alabama hunter Mike Bolton, who has used the tactic to take several big bucks over the last decade. He also finds a well-timed blast perfect for stopping deer in a shooting lane. “If you see a buck moving through dense woods, whistle when it hits a clearing,” Bolton says. The buck will “stop every time. It’s just natural curiosity.” -Steven Hill