by Brad Harvey
It’s been many years since grunt tubes hit the market. Back then I was convinced that these so called “deer calls” were nothing more than a gimmick. Boy was I wrong.
I hadn’t ever really given much thought to deer vocalizations but it all just seemed kind of “hokey” to me. Imagine my surprise when I learned that I was the real idiot and deer do in fact “talk” amongst themselves.
Today this is all common knowledge but the art of calling is still something that most hunters just don’t have a good grasp of. More often than not, they make the wrong sounds at the wrong time, use the wrong amount of volume and end up shooing more deer away than actually aiding in their efforts. Truth is, if you want to raise the odds of finding success during this newly opened deer season, you absolutely should be using calls in the stand. Before you do so, however, you just might want to have a little understanding of the language.
To no one’s surprise, deer don’t have the ability to speak words. They instead use things such as pitch, tone, volume and tempo to form variations of the somewhat deep, guttural vocalizations that they’re capable of. Just as with humans, the males or bucks tend to have a much lower voice than the doe. Let’s take a look at the primary vocalizations that every hunter needs to know by heart. All of them are quite easy to perform with most of the calls that are on the market today. Some of them are made specifically for buck or doe sounds while others are adjustable and can sound like both.
The basic grunt- Whether performed by a buck or doe, this is their way of simply saying, “Here I am. Come on in.” Just as when we’re talking to other people, the volume can have a huge effect on the response you get and grunting too loudly will usually alarm them that something isn’t right. Instead, keep it soft. Remember that a deer’s hearing is far better than ours and the slightest sounds can be heard by them from a great distance. When imitating a buck, make one or two easy, soft grunts in succession that don’t sound the least bit aggressive. For a doe grunt, you’ll want to space them out a bit more with a slightly longer pause between them. A good rule of thumb is to limit the string of grunts to no more than three.
The contact call– This is the doe’s way of gathering her clan when they’ve become separated and it’s often used after the group has been alarmed and sent running in various directions. To copy it, make a couple of fairly loud calls somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 to 30 seconds apart then wait.
The doe bleat– Like the basic doe grunt, the bleat is another way for a doe to make contact with other deer but many biologists believe it to be a sound that’s easily recognizable by her own fawns whether it is an attempt to keep them together or as a way of reassuring them that she’s near. Bleats are a higher pitched sound than grunts and they’re mimicked by making anywhere from one to three soft calls with brief pauses between them. Each bleat is usually only one to two seconds long.
Rut specific calling– The rest of the deer sounds that I’ll cover are ones that only occur in relation to the rut or breeding period. Using any of these at other times is a surefire way to send the deer scurrying into the next county so you’ll want to be sure that your timing is right before trying them.
The estrus bleat– Anytime a buck hears one of these, it’s guaranteed to draw his interest. That’s because this is a doe’s way of telling them that she’s nearing the point that she’ll be open to their advances. Although the sound itself is the same as a doe’s regular bleat, the estrus bleat is louder and drags out much longer. To perform it, you’ll want a continuous bleat of anywhere from three to five seconds that tails off at the end. It’s fairly common for hunters to do a couple of them in a row with a brief pause between them but there’s nothing wrong with limiting it to just one. This is especially true if you have a buck within your sight and are just trying to pull him closer. In that scenario, making more than one long bleat only increases the chance that he’ll be able to pinpoint you and know that there’s no way the girl he’s looking for is up in that tree!
The buck bawl– One of the strangest sounds that bucks make, this sounds very much like a moan and that’s somewhat fitting. What ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼he means by it is, “I’m a lonely boy and sure would like a little companionship over here.” To recreate it properly you’ll need to get your hands involved. Cup them around the exit end of your grunt call, open- ing and closing them as you blow into the call for about three seconds. This is usually a moderately loud call but the tones will change as your hands open and shut. This is because what you’re actually doing is creating a sound chamber with your hands that allows the moaning noise to be made. It will take a little practice to get it down perfectly.
The tending grunt– Like the males of most every species, bucks can get downright jealous when they think another guy is making time with their girl. That’s why the tending grunt is a great way to call the big boys in during the rut. This call is nothing more than a long series of soft, short grunts that bucks will make as they’re trotting behind a hot doe. In essence, he’s telling her, “Slow down, Sweetheart. I’ve got plans for us!” Pulling this one off is easy. Just make anywhere from eight to a dozen or more soft, short grunts in a row.
The breeding bellow– When a doe is finally ready to accept a buck’s advances and breed, this is how she lets him know. This vocalization is pretty loud, sounding like a couple of back to back estrus bleats followed immediately by a doe’s version of the bawl. When attempting to pull this one off, you’ll once again need to make a chamber with your hands. Make the call a couple of times and then put it down.
Well, there you have it. With a little bit of practice you’ll be ready to carry on a complete conversation with every deer in the woods and, hopefully, draw the one you’re after close enough for an ethical shot. But remember: Over-calling these critters is just as much a hindrance to your success as it is with turkeys. The safest bet is to always allow a good 20 minutes between calling sessions. Anything more than that and they’ll be onto what you’re trying to do.
Brad Harvey is an outdoor writer from Clover, SC and serves in an advisory capacity for a number of manufacturers within the hunting and fishing industries.