The rut is an outstanding time for bowhunters to get a shot at a lovestruck buck when he’s most vulnerable. In the fall, decreasing day length triggers a change in buck behavior and physiology. The typically solitary, secretive animals that rarely move in daylight most of the year become restless and nomadic, letting their guard down while they search for an estrous doe. The result can be boom or bust, with frenzied action or long lulls on a seemingly deer-less landscape. If you find yourself in the latter situation, it’s time to get aggressive and bring the bucks to you.
Don’t sit back and wait for the hunt to come to you. Instead, be bold and bring your hunt to the deer. Bucks are more susceptible to calling tactics during the rut than at any other time of the season, so don’t be shy. A pair of rattling antlers and your favorite grunt call are essential tools; don’t leave home without them. Calls help you communicate with deer and leverage a buck’s aggressive tendencies to your advantage.
5 Deer Sounds to Know
A grunt call replicates the guttural, nasally, belching sound made by bucks, and rattling antlers simulate two bucks locking their antlers together in a show of dominance. Both are important tools, but they serve different purposes. To speak the language effectively, it’s important to understand a whitetail’s vocabulary:
- Contact grunt: A short, soft blow on your grunt tube at moderate volume simulates a contact grunt, which bucks use to announce their presence. While the sound is most commonly heard during the rut, bucks might grunt at any time of the season. It isn’t uncommon to hear a buck make a contact grunt while you’re in the field, especially when hunting areas with a high deer density. Contact grunts are an effective way to grab another buck’s attention when you can see it walking out of range and have the ability to read its body language.
- Buck roar: Often talked about but rarely heard, a buck roar is a deep, loud grunt made by a frustrated buck — usually a mature one — during the rut. They’re typically longer vocalizations that can elicit an aggressive fighting response from other mature bucks. The buck roar can spook immature bucks that want to avoid confrontation, though, so use with caution.
- Estrous bleat: The estrous bleat replicates the sound does make when they’re ready to breed. Bleats can be an effective way of getting the attention of a nearby buck as he passes by out of range. Most bleat calls are can style and easy to use. You block the hole on one end of the call and tip it over, and the bleat sound is emitted from the other end of the call.
- Antler sparring: Bucks will spar with other bucks as soon as they shed their velvet. Sparring is replicated by lightly tickling rattling antlers together, and it can draw nearby curious bucks past your hunting spot at any time of year.
- Buck fight: A buck fight is much louder and more aggressive than antler sparring. These are the most intense fights that can result in broken tines, exhausted bucks, and even sometimes a fight to the death. Bowhunters can simulate a fight by locking rattling antlers together heavily for more than 60 seconds.
Should You Grunt, Rattle or Both?
It’s better to have and not need, than to need and not have — and this applies to the bowhunter’s calling toolkit. You should carry a grunt call for the entirety of the season, and if space in your pack allows, don’t forget the rattling antlers and bleat call during the rut. Use a combination of these sounds to entice deer to your ambush.
If you’ve spent any amount of time watching hunting shows on TV or online, you’ve probably watched a buck work a rub or scrape. This process is noisy, with sounds ranging from rolling gravel and rocks as a buck paws away at the dirt, to snapping branches and grunts. Add realism to your calling tactics by replicating these sounds in tandem with whatever call you decide to use. Buck fights, especially, involve two bucks stomping at the ground, breaking brush and causing a ruckus. Don’t be afraid to make enough noise to re-create the real thing.
Can You Call Too Much?
Just like any hunting strategy, there’s a fine line between enough and too much calling. Overcalling can educate deer and reduce its effectiveness, so learn to read the animal’s body language when it reacts to your call. Stop calling when you see a deer cautiously turn and walk away. Continue calling in situations where a buck doesn’t appear to have heard you.
Most importantly, don’t be shy during the rut. This magical time comes once a year, and it’s your chance to experiment with tactics that push the limits in the whitetail world. With time, you’ll find a calling strategy that works for you and your hunting style so that you can confidently use a buck’s aggressive tendencies to your advantage. The result might well be a full freezer, antlers on the wall and a good story to tell.