November 22, 2019
By Bruce Ingram
Deer calling during the rut is a tricky gambit. Chances are many, if not most of us, have experienced bucks and does charging toward our stands when we tried some vocalization or another. Chances are as well that many of us have had to endure deer of both sexes turning tail when we imitated some sound of theirs. Here are some strategies to hopefully help us make the right decisions on calling during the rut period.
Know the Local Deer
Jordan Blissett is a videographer for Primos Hunting in Mississippi. As such, he has hunted and filmed all across the South. The first step to success, he says, is to understand when the rut occurs in your part of the region.
In some parts of the South, especially the northern part, the pre-rut begins in late October with the main rut starting about two weeks later,” Blissett said. “However, in some parts of the deep South, the pre-rut might not even begin until early December or late December or even early January. So traveling hunters especially have to know what the stage of the rut is because that will affect their calling strategies.”
The rut also varies in intensity, depending on doe populations. Many places in the South have high doe populations, so calling might not work as well there because competition for does isn’t as intense. On the other hand, if there is a good buck-to-doe ratio, calling may work really well.
The point is that local factors have a great deal to do with the success or failure of calling.
Set Up Correctly
A second factor involves the correct way to set up when we are calling. Blissett uses turkey behavior to explain his point.
“Turkey hunters know that the proper setup is key to them successfully calling in a mature gobbler,” Blissett said. “If, for example, a gobbler comes to our calls, and he doesn’t immediately see the hen, he becomes suspicious very quickly and leaves.
A mature buck often behaves the same way. If a buck runs into the sounds of rattling, grunts, or bleats and doesn’t see what he wants to see, he often will take off pretty quickly. That’s why calling is often most effective when the hunter is extremely well concealed.
For example, most hunters know the importance of edge habitat. Whitetails often feed and move along the edges between mature forest and clear cuts, between woods and fields/food plots, and between water sources and forests/fields.
So whenever the Mississippian sets up to call, he makes sure that he is well hidden. If he is postioned between a clear cut and an open forest, for example, Blissett sets up 10 to 15 yards back in the timber. That way a buck won’t expect to see another deer immediately when responding to the call.
When to call
Let’s say it’s the pre-rut, and bucks are on the move. This can be one of the most effective times to not only call but also sound off belligerently.
“The pre-rut is certainly one of the best times to call aggressively,” he said. “It just may be the best time to rattle, especially if the buck-to-doe ratio is fairly close to each other and competition for does is fierce. It’s also a time when four or five bursts from a call like our Buck Roar can really work well.”
Of course, some bucks, even mature ones, are by nature risk adverse. These males strive to avoid contact, not initiate it. These non-aggressive bucks can be attracted to the sounds of a doe in heat.
Instead of grunting or rattling, estrous doe bleats be a handy sound to lure in a buck.
Bleat calls can lure in even the most reluctant bucks. When the bucks hear the doe bleating, they sometimes infer there is no competition. Sometimes it’s best to start a sequence with a bleat call. It can help the hunter determine and take a buck’s temperature with how aggressive he responds.
If, for instance, the buck is one of those relatively docile ones, then the soft bleats of an estrous doe might be all that is needed to cause him to ease into an area.
If no bucks respond to bleating, then it’s a simple matter to later switch to grunts, next very vocal grunts, and eventually even to loud rattling. The rattling, will almost always be the last calling strategy. However, if you start your calling sequence with rattling and grunting, it’s very difficult to dial back the intensity level to mere bleating.Interestingly, Blissett’s calling routine does not differ between the pre-rut and rut.
“During the rut itself, a buck is often either going to be locked down with a doe or chasing after them,” he said. “If a buck is locked down, chances are nothing you’ll try call-wise will work. If many bucks still seem to be on the move, then I’ll use the same calling strategies that I did during the pre-rut: bleating, then grunting, last, rattling.”
Bucks can still be fighting during the rut. That is when rattling will have a real place in your calling strategy. Remember also that a buck coming in to the sounds of two other bucks fighting may not be coming to join the fight. He may be slipping in to see if he can find the now-untended doe.
When to stay quiet
At certain times, it’s best not to do any calling. The patterns of the deer you’re hunting can guide you in the decision to stay quiet. Blissett offers the following example.
“If during the rut, I’m sitting over what we call a destination food plot or maybe an agricultural area in the evening, I prefer not to call,” he said. “The does are likely to be coming to that type of area anyway. Really, it is probably best then to sit quietly and wait.”
Additionally, loud calling at that time could possibly even alarm deer. Always consider your location.
Be There without Being There
Some sportsmen rarely or never use deer calls, either because these individuals think calls infrequently work or because these hunters are members of the “being there without being there” philosophy. Meaning, they just want to blend in with the woods, be quiet, concealed, and as scent-free as possible.
“I do think there is something to the being there without being there approach,” said Mark Cromer, an archery specialist for Mahoney’s Outfitters.
“Sometimes, the best tactic is just to sit quietly all day, having taken precautions earlier to be as scent-free as possible, and just wait for things to happen naturally. I think that is especially a good game plan during the pre-rut.”
To paraphrase Prince Hamlet: To call or not to call, that is the question. Sometimes calling is exactly the best thing we can do and, sometimes, the worst mistake we could make. Whether calling succeeds or fails in a certain situation can vary from day to day. That’s just the reality of deer hunting during the pre-rut and rut.