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Master Class with Legendary Deer Call Makers

Pro tips: Harold Knight and David Hale share the nuggets of knowledge from their decades of deer-hunting success.

Master Class with Legendary Deer Call Makers

All too often, a lack of attention to fundamentals is what costs a hunter a chance at tagging a mature buck. (Shutterstock image)

Long before Harold Knight and David Hale began their game-call business in 1972, the pair were local legends in Kentucky for their woodsmanship and hunting prowess.

Their business started with a turkey call Knight invented that used latex stretched over an old pill bottle. When the EZ Grunter deer call came along in the early 1980s, their business really took off.


Over the years I’ve had the privilege of whitetail hunting with them many times, both as a guest on several episodes of their old Ultimate Hunting cable TV show and on buddy hunts. During these hunts they provided me with a graduate-level education on hunting southern whitetails and turkeys—lessons I still successfully employ to this day.


USE TECH … SPARINGLY

"Over the years, we’ve tried all the gadgetry and gimmicks. The bottom line is, some of it is helpful, most is not and none if it will help you if you don’t practice basic woodsmanship," Hale says. "This boils down to not letting the deer see, hear or smell you. Don’t stink up the woods with your scent, don’t walk through the woods like a 300-pound gorilla and know how to read deer sign and understand basic whitetail behavior so you can set stands in the right spots."

One piece of technology the pair believes in is the trail camera.

"It’s amazing the information trail cameras can give you," Hale says. "But again, you have to be smart about using them, taking care not to pollute the area when setting and checking them."

PRO TIP: During the rut, if you’re not going to sit all day, try to at least be on stand in the morning. Then, during midday, check your trail cameras elsewhere on the property for activity. If a certain trail camera shows heightened activity or that a mature buck has shown up in daylight within the past day or two, consider moving there for your next sit. During the rut, things change quickly, but never make a move unless you have recent images of something worth moving for.

Master Class Deer Calls
Harold Knight (left) and David Hale credit their deer hunting successes to placing an emphasis on woodsmanship. (Photo by Bob Robb)

HAVE GOOD SCENTS

"A drag line soaked with doe-in-estrous scent can be dynamite during the rut," Knight says. "So can hanging scent wicks near your stand. When rifle hunting, we’ll sometimes hang a scrape dripper filled with an estrous scent across a field from where our stand is but still within rifle range. If a cruising buck catches that scent and comes to check it out, we’ll have a good shot yet be far enough away from the dripper that we won’t spook him."

PRO TIP: Hang scent wicks in a 360-degree circle around your stand and combine this with some aggressive calling. Imitating a buck following an estrous doe with tending grunts combined with doe bleats can add that little bit of extra realism. This can often draw in a buck controlled by its hormones for a closer look.

KILL YOUR STINK

One mistake Hale says bowhunters often make is thinking the scent control process ends at the vehicle.

"We always bring a bottle of scent-control spray to the stand and spray everything when we get there," he says. "Throughout the day, we’ll re-spray several times. It’s a little thing, but it can make a huge difference."

PRO TIP: Take scent control to another level by neutralizing all scent-causing bacteria with an ozone-generating product for your clothing and gear. Put your clothes and backpack into a scent-proof bag and then into a scent-proof tote after every hunt. Run a cycle of ozone as soon as you put them in, and, if time allows, another before taking them out for the next hunt. Several manufacturers make products designed specifically for this purpose.

HUNT REMOTE OPENINGS

Location is arguably the most important factor in deer hunting. If you’re hunting an area infrequently visited by bucks, your chances of connecting, of course, are slim. David and Harold are firm believers in hunting traditional areas that bucks commonly frequent but are always willing to hunt non-traditional areas too.

"Our favorite stand locations are in funnels located between bedding thickets and preferred foods, or near water," Hale says. "But we’ve also found a different location type that most hunters overlook but has produced some really good bucks for us."

The spots he’s referring to are relatively small broomsedge fields often not more than a couple acres in size.

"Truth be told, I’ve taken more good bucks during the rut from stands on the edges of small, non-agricultural fields than from at any other type of stand site," says Knight. "One big advantage to hunting these small fields is that deer will rarely if ever encounter hunting pressure there. Any type of field that has cover up about 3 to 4 feet high is a prime field to hunt during the rut."

PRO TIP: Hunters are often victims of habit. That is, they hunt the same stands over and over no matter the conditions or seasonality. While you may have seen a great buck out of your favorite stand several years prior, that doesn’t justify hunting it now. If you insist on hunting the same stand, be alert and listen for deer movement, as bucks chasing does make quite a ruckus. If you hear or see distant movement, be willing to move there and pop up a tree using a portable climbing treestand. If you’re not comfortable in a climber, set up a ground blind, but be sure to keep a buffer between you and the deer so as not to spook them.


POUND THE GROUND

Harold Knight is one of sneakiest men I’ve ever spent time with in the woods. His ability is slip along unnoticed is stunning. When gun hunting during the rut, he often leaves his stand and quietly pokes along through the timber.

"The secret to hunting from the ground is to constantly use a wind checker and be aware of the wind direction at all times," Knight says. "You must always respect the deer’s nose and its ability to detect human odor, and always keep the wind in your face. If it’s swirling or not right, back out and wait for another day."

Knight also says you must move very slowly. The slower you move, the more deer you’ll see. Use your binocular to glass ahead, looking for a little piece of a deer. Even if a deer spots you moving slowly, if it can’t detect your human form, then you probably won’t spook it. Don’t make any quick movements and be conscious not to kick rocks or step on sticks and branches that will pop underfoot.

"By being mobile, you can check scrapes, bedding areas, feeding sites, creek crossings and funnels all in a single day," Knight says. "You can also set up and do some calling. I like to still-hunt like this mostly during midday when the does are bedded but bucks are still cruising looking for a girlfriend. By avoiding known bedding areas and focusing on travel corridors—and especially rub lines—the chances of me accidentally spooking deer go way down. And you just never know what you’ll meet up with."

PRO TIP: Pack some camouflage netting that can be strung up on branches or clumps of brush to create a quick blind for calling, or sitting and resting, for any length of time. Simply roll it up and tie onto your pack when you’re ready to move again.


HIT THOSE CALLS

Of course, being game-call makers, both Harold and David are proponents of using calls.

"Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t," Hale says. "But we’ve called in so many bucks over the years that we really do believe in them during the rut."

The combination of a grunt tube and can-type doe bleat call can be deadly, he says. "If you see a cruising buck that isn’t going to walk within range, grunt loudly to get his attention, then use the can call," he says. "You’re imitating a buck trailing a doe that’s ready to breed. Few bucks can resist, and these calls are non-threatening, so you probably won’t spook him."

PRO TIP: See a buck cruising past your stand and not responding to conventional calls? Hit him hard with a snort-wheeze. This challenges him to a fight, and if he’s aggressive at all, he’ll likely come in to investigate.

Master Class Deer Calls
Knight & Hale’s The Natural Grunt Tube

GRUNTING 101

Harold Knight on when and where to use a grunt tube

When I first met Harold Knight in a hunting camp back the mid-1980s, his and David Hale’s business was just starting to take off. Knight is an amazing game caller, and he gave me a tutorial on a type of deer call I was unfamiliar with then—the grunt tube.Here are the three basic grunt sounds Knight recommends you use, and when to use them.

CONTACT GRUNTS

"A social or contact grunt is basically a vocalization that is non-aggressive and used by both does and bucks, especially during the early season before the rut kicks into full-swing," Knight says. "A single muffled grunt with no emotion can be very effective throughout the early pre-rut and late post-rut transitional periods when bucks and does are traveling together in same-sex groups."

DOMINANT GRUNTS

"During the rut, a dominant buck grunt, which has a much deeper pitch than that of a young buck or doe, has an almost angry or agitated tone that is meant to threaten or challenge other males," he explains. "This is the sound to make to get a rut-crazed buck to come check you out."

TENDING GRUNTS

"Then there are tending grunts, which are a series of muffled grunts that bucks generally make while trailing or actively pursuing an estrous doe," Knight notes. "The tending grunt often sounds like a buck trying to catch his breath in between grunts. Basically, it sounds like a buck is asking the doe to stop and breed. This type of vocalization can be deadly during the breeding periods of the rut and secondary rut.

"One thing to keep in mind when using a grunt tube is if you call at a buck and he just walks off, pay attention to your downwind side. Rest assured, bucks are acutely aware of what’s going on around them. It may be that he is circling around to try and scent-check the area the call has come from."

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