All birds and animals make sounds. Dogs bark, birds chirp, cows moo, ducks quack and lions roar. You get the point.
Elk, deer, turkeys and other game species also make noises to communicate. Learning those noises and what they mean helps you succeed more often in the woods.
We spoke to Ray Eye, an outdoor communicator and TV/radio personality, to learn more about wild game calls and what you should do when hearing them while hunting.
“All wildlife make a variety of sounds,” Eye said. “You don’t need to know all the vocalizations to be a successful hunter. You just need to learn the basic sounds each species makes, and how they communicate.”
No matter the species, the most important call to learn is their mating calls. The term for mating calls varies by species. Turkeys gobble, deer grunt and elk bugle. Males use these calls to let females know their location and their interest in breeding. Further, when a male hears another male’s mating call, he often investigates his competition. Males instinctively compete to breed by intimidating their rivals or fighting those that don’t back down.
That’s why hunters often duplicate those species’ mating calls. A grunt, gobble or bugle might spook subordinate males, but it might also spur mature males to claim or defend their breeding rights, causing them to storm your location.
Mating calls aren’t always meant for breeding. Animals sometimes use them socially or to defend or claim their turf. The more time you spend in the woods, the easier you’ll interpret what kind of call you’re hearing.
Eye suggests novice hunters learn to distinguish calls by watching videos. While you watch, practice mimicking these calls so you can interact with game while bowhunting.
Receptive or Reciprocating Calls
Males aren’t the only ones to use their vocal cords. Females often communicate with specific reciprocating calls. A female deer, or doe, bleats; a female turkey, or hen, yelps; and a female elk, or cow, mews. In their own way, their calls often indicate they’re ready to breed.
Therefore, instead of challenging a male with a male call, bowhunters can mimic the females’ calls to attract the male. That strategy gives hunters another calling tactic to try.
Wildlife communicates year-round. Elk, deer and turkeys often use the calls described above during hunting seasons, but their vocabularies are more extensive than hunters might realize. Let’s review some common vocalizations for elk, deer and turkeys.
- Chuckle: An elk chuckle is a series of short grunts after a bugle. Excited bull elk make this sound to challenge other bulls for dominance.
- Bark: An elk “barks” when it’s alarmed. It sounds similar to a dog bark, but with a noticeably hollow tone.
- Glunking: Glunks come from deep inside a bull elk’s throat. ElkHuntersGuide.com said it sounds like a bass drum sitting in water, and is used during the rut to entice cow elk.
- Snort-wheeze: Bucks snort and then sometimes blast air through their constricted nostrils to create the shrill-sounding snort-wheeze. Realtree’s Josh Honeycutt said the snort-wheeze is “the most aggressive call a buck can make toward another deer.” It signals that he’s the boss, and is challenging other bucks.
- Deer snort (blow): Deer snort, or blow, when alarmed. To snort, deer force a big puff of air through their nostrils. This sound indicates the deer is alarmed.
- Cluck: The cluck consists of one or more short, abrupt notes, according to the National Wild Turkey Federation. Turkeys “cluck” in spring to get other birds’ attention. It basically means “come here.”
- Kee-kee run: The kee-kee run is usually a three-note call that lasts about two seconds. It’s the call of lost young turkeys, and it’s heard most often in autumn when poults still stay near the hen. It means “I need you.”
- Putt: The putt is a single note or several sharp notes that indicate alarm. It usually means the bird has seen or heard something dangerous.
To learn more and choose your calls, visit an archery shop. You’ll find elk, deer and turkey calls to complement your hunting strategies. Feel free to ask the store owner or a staff member to show you how to use the calls. Then, get out there and start practicing!