As I was scrolling my Facebook feed this weekend, I came across a conversation in a hunting-related group.
Someone was questioning whether deer calls actually work or if they’re just a gimmick used by manufacturers looking to sell something.
Although there were plenty of folks in favor of deer calls, quite a few hunters, if not the majority, said they don’t work.
Wanna know the truth?
Grunt tubes first became popular when I was in my teens. Outdoorsmen have always been suckers for anything that promised to increase their success in the field and, back then, I was convinced that these so called deer calls were nothing more than a gimmick.
I found it completely laughable there were folks climbing into the treestand and blowing through ‘em making a sound like a duck with something in his throat.
But in those days, I had no idea that deer have their own language. I hadn’t given much thought to it before but it all just seemed silly to me.
Imagine my surprise when I learned I was the real idiot and that deer do talk among themselves.
Today, that’s common knowledge within the hunting community. But the art of speaking their language is still something of a mystery. This is why so many hunters fail miserably when they incorporate calling into the hunt.
Often, they make the wrong sounds at the wrong time, coupled with the wrong amount of volume, which ends up shooing deer away from their set-up.
The truth is this: If you want to raise the odds of success, you absolutely should use calls in an attempt to talk to the deer. Before you do so, however, it would help to know what you’re saying.
I doubt this next revelation is going to shock too many of you but, deer don’t have the ability speak words.
Instead they use pitch, tone, volume and tempo to form variations of their deep, guttural vocalizations.
Just as with humans, the males, or bucks, tend to have a much lower voice than the doe but it’s possible for a young buck to be mistaken for one of the gals if he’s only heard and not seen.
Let’s take a look at the primary vocalizations that every hunter needs to know by heart.
All of them are quite easy to perform with most of the calls on the market.
Some of them are made specifically for buck or doe sounds while others are adjustable and allow you to imitate both.
• The basic grunt: Whether performed by a buck or doe, this is their way of saying, “Here I am. Come on in.”
Just as when we’re talking to other people, the volume can have a huge effect on the response. Grunting too loudly will usually alarm them.
Instead, keep it soft. Remember that a deer’s hearing is better than ours and the slightest sounds can be heard by them from a great distance. When imitating a buck, make one or two easy, soft grunts in succession that don’t sound aggressive.
For a doe grunt, you’ll want to space them out a bit more with a slightly longer pause. A good rule of thumb is to limit the string of grunts to no more than three.
• The contact call: This is the doe’s way of gathering her clan and it’s often used after the group has been alarmed and sent running.
To copy it, make a couple of fairly loud calls somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 to 30 seconds apart, then wait.
• The doe bleat: Like the basic doe grunt, the bleat is another way for a doe to make contact with other deer. But many biologists believe it to be a sound that’s easily recognizable by her own fawns, whether it is an attempt to keep them together or as a way of reassuring them she’s near.
Bleats are a higher pitched sound than grunts and they’re mimicked by making one to three soft calls with brief pauses between them. Each bleat is usually only one to two seconds long.
Rut specific calling
Some deer sounds only occur in relation to the rut or breeding period.
Using any of these at other times is a sure-fire way to send the deer scurrying into the next county so be sure your timing is right.
• The estrus bleat: Anytime a buck hears one of these, it’s guaranteed to draw his interest. That’s because this is a doe’s way of telling them that she’s nearing the point she’ll be open to their advances.
Although the sound itself is the same as a doe’s regular bleat, the estrus bleat is louder and drags out longer.
To perform it, you’ll want a continuous bleat of anywhere from three to five seconds that tails off at the end. It’s fairly common for hunters to do a couple of them in a row with a brief pause between them but there’s nothing wrong with limiting it to just one. This is especially true if you have a buck within your sight and are just trying to pull him closer.
In that scenario, making more than one long bleat only increases the chance he’ll pinpoint you and know there’s no way there’s a girl up in that tree.
• The buck bawl: One of the strangest sounds that bucks make, this sounds like a moan and means “I’m a lonely boy and sure would like a little companionship over here.”
To recreate it properly, you’ll need to cup your hands around the exit end of your grunt call, opening and closing them as you blow into the call for about three seconds.
This is usually a moderately loud call, but the tones will change as your hands open and shut. This is because what you’re creating a sound chamber with your hands to make the moaning noise. It will take a little practice to get it down perfectly.
• The breeding bellow: When a doe is finally ready to accept a buck’s advances and breed, this is how she lets him know.
This vocalization is loud, sounding like a couple of back-to-back estrus bleats followed immediately by a doe’s version of the bawl.
When attempting this one, you’ll once again need to make a chamber with your hands. Make the call a couple of times and then put it down.
• The tending grunt: Like the males of most every species, bucks can get jealous when they think another guy is making time with their girl. That’s why the tending grunt is a great way to call the big boys in during the rut.
This call is a long series of soft, short grunts that bucks will make as they’re trotting behind a hot doe. In essence, he’s telling her, “Slow down, sweetheart. I’ve got plans for us!”
Pulling this one off is easy. Just make anywhere from eight to a dozen or more soft, short grunts in a row.
Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.