November 30, 2020
By Terry Madewell
Deer hunters go to great lengths to draw big bucks within shooting range. We spend countless hours on preseason scouting, setting stands and planting food plots—all in an effort to achieve the perfect set-up.
While these are all important factors, nothing can draw a deer closer or faster—especially during the rut—than a properly applied vocalization.
MAKE THE CALL
Steve Cobb of Union, S.C., a pro-staffer with Hunter Specialties for 25 years, has hunted deer throughout the Southeast and has learned that calling can have a major impact on his success.
"Vocalization strategies help me kill big bucks," Cobb says. "But as with many aspects of deer hunting, calling can be a double-edge sword. When done correctly it’s extremely effective on all deer, including big bucks."
However, Cobb warns that when done improperly—using the wrong sound or intensity or making a call at the wrong time—vocalizations can also ruin a hunt.
"Vocalization patterns change as the season progresses," says Cobb. "Pre-rut, rut and post-rut are all good times to employ vocalizations, but the types and intensity of successful calls change throughout this period."
Cobb says grunts and bleats are effective for him throughout the season, but how he uses them varies.
"During the pre-rut, the tending grunt is one I’ve used with excellent success," he says. "This is a simple, three-to-five note, short, non-aggressive grunt. During the pre-rut in the Southeast, vegetation is usually still dense so I won’t always see a deer before grunting. But it’s also useful if I see a buck slipping by and I want him to move him my way."
Cobb says a buck roar is also very effective. "The buck roar is an aggressive call made by a dominant buck, and it’s not common to hear it a lot when hunting. But it’s a call that’s a challenge to the dominant buck in the area, and often it’ll cause him to investigate."
Cobb says the buck roar begins with a series of aggressive grunts, louder and quicker than a typical grunt, then finished with a louder, very aggressive growl sound.
"I make this call blind at times, but it’s most effective if I literally see a buck actively chasing a doe during the rut," he says. "The buck will have her in sight, but may break off and come to this challenge sound."
Rounding out Cobb’s pre-rut buck vocalization arsenal is the snort wheeze. "The snort wheeze is more of a territorial sound that means a buck is ready to fight. This vocalization is a sound I make when rattling during the pre-rut.
"This call is made by a buck actively trailing a doe, and she may or may not be in sight of the buck," he says. "The call begins with 3 to 4 grunts with a nostril sound instead of a throat sound, followed by a longer, drawn out ‘wheeze’ somewhat similar to a human wheeze."
Cobb recommends listening to these sounds online to get an idea of exactly what they sound like.
"Just hearing them a few time makes it much easier to duplicate these vocalizations," he says.
Speaking of rattling, Cobb says the pre-rut is a prime time to break out the antlers or rattle bag. Rattling is especially effective when there’s a lot of competition for does.
"During the pre-rut, bucks are ready to breed but only a few does are ready," he says. "This is the window of great competition among bucks, especially when there is a limited number of does."
Cobb says rattling can be done from a treestand, but he’ll rattle while still-hunting, too.
"I’ll move through woods and set up in good cover with the wind in my favor and rattle from the ground," he says. "If no bucks approach, I’ll move in stealth mode to another location and repeat the process."
Cobb says he rattles in two different ways. The first is used during the pre-rut, and he begins with a short, light ticking of the antlers that quickly evolves into a very aggressive, loud rattling routine.
During the latter part of the season he’ll often just tick the anglers together lightly for up to half a minute to simulate two small bucks sparring. That can often prompt a big buck to slip in to see what’s happening.
"It’s typically a short visit. He’ll look for small bucks, and if a doe isn’t involved, or he sees no deer at all, he’ll leave," says Cobb. "But occasionally it has given me the few seconds of opportunity needed to make a shot."
Cobb offers additional counsel for calling during the rut, specifically.
"Bleats are highly underrated and are great during the rut," Cobb says. "I’ve called in more deer by simply bleating than grunting during the rut."
He says bleats work well because does will bleat when moving away from a pursuing, non-dominant buck and also when alone and looking for a buck. "Any bleat will potentially cause a buck to move in that direction to investigate," he says.
Another great vocalization during the rut is a bleat-grunt combination. To do it, Cobb makes a single bleat followed quickly by a single grunt, and he repeats the series as he turns his head to mimic a buck following a doe through the woods.
"I’ll bleat then grunt while facing left, then repeat from the center a few seconds later, then turn to the right and repeat after a few more seconds. It’s attractive to any big buck in the area," he says.
Cobb doesn’t rattle as much during the rut, though if he sees a big buck in the area he’ll do so to get its attention. However, he never rattles blindly during the rut.
According to Cobb, post-rut vocalizations are effective, but his stand locations change, as does the intensity of his calling.
"During post-rut, I move from the rutting areas to food sources," he says.
Cobb says grunts and bleats are effective during the post-rut, but in addition to toning down the intensity of his calls, he backs off the frequency as well. "In the Southeast, my experience is deer vocalize less than they do out west, but they’re still vocalizing," he says. "It’s a sound strategy to mimic what the local deer are doing."
Cobb says if he sees deer moving or hears them fighting during the post-rut, he might rattle a bit, but it’s more subdued.
"Dominance was established during the pre-rut, so the vast majority of rattling I’ve ever heard during the late-season has come from two smaller deer sparring."
He says there’s a huge difference between a fight for dominance and mere sparring.
"Rattling in a sparring manner during the post-rut gets the attention of bucks in the area," says Cobb. "They’re compelled to investigate just in case those smaller deer have found a doe in estrus."
This calling system offers all the tools a hunter needs.
Calling deer is a skill learned by spending quality time in the woods, and successfully calling deer throughout the season typically requires a number of different calls. Fortunately, there are several call packages on the market that offer everything a hunter needs.
One of the best is the Hunter Specialties True Talker OG Combo with Rattle Bag (hunterspec.com; $27.99). The True Talker tube can produce a wide range of calls, including a mature buck grunt, young buck grunt, doe bleat and fawn bleat. Its improved reed design is resistant to freezing up and even produces a fifth sound—a "growl" for gaining the attention of aggressive mature bucks.
Also included in the combo is the Ruttin’ Buck Rattle Bag, which features several tuned hardwood rods that mimic the sound of battling bucks when clashed together. — Dr. Todd A. Kuhn