Adjustments in tube length vary the tone and pitch of mouth calls.
Most hunters would never dream of heading afield for waterfowl or turkeys, or even big game such as moose or elk, without appropriate game calls in their pockets or hanging around their necks. But, until relatively recently, many deer hunters paid very little attention to the kinds of sounds that whitetail deer make, and to the idea of imitating these sounds to call deer to the hunter. Calling deer can be one of the most exciting and effective ways to bag a big buck this fall, provided that you have an idea of the sounds you need to make, and the calls you need to make them. Here's what you need to know.
Many hunters may be surprised to learn that whitetails of both sexes communicate by making more than a half dozen different sounds, including grunts, bleats, snorts and wheezes. Of these sounds, grunts, which are made mostly by bucks during the rut and which can consist of chasing, tending, trailing and fighting variations, and bleats, which are made mainly by does and fawns as social or locating calls, are among the most important to the hunter. Grunt tubes, along with bleat cans and calls, are meant to imitate these sounds, all of which can be useful in various situations to attract a buck, doe or fawn. If you're lucky enough to have heard two big bucks fighting, you'll likely never forget this powerful sound. Although it isn't actually a "call," imitating it can send a dominant buck charging in and itching for a fight with the mysterious intruders that have entered his territory. Hunters use a set of rattling antlers or a rattle bag or box to stage a mock buck fight in order to attract the real thing.
The various mechanical deer calls available today to make these sounds can be divided into three main categories: mouth calls, bleat cans and rattling devices.
These are the bread and butter of deer calls, and are also the most versatile. Most mouth calls are some form of grunt call, consisting of a plastic or wooden mouthpiece at one end, a soft or hard tube at the other, and an internal reed in between. Some of these calls reproduce the various grunting sounds made by bucks pursuing does, while others make doe and fawn bleats and bawls. Some calls can be adjusted by lengthening or shortening a flexible tube, while others produce different sounds by way of push-button adjustments made to the reed while blowing into it. These adjustments are meant to vary the tone and pitch of the call to allow the hunter to imitate either the higher-pitched calls of a young buck or the more guttural grunts of an older male. While most grunt tubes function by blowing into the mouthpiece, a few allow the caller to both inhale and exhale into the call to produce the highly-aggressive snort-wheeze made by a dominant buck, and even the powerful buck "roar" or "growl."
Hands-free mouth calls have become quite popular with bowhunters. These calls can make a variety of sounds, all while held in the hunter's teeth or lips, or strapped to the wrist, leaving both hands available for shooting or rattling.
Whatever type of call you choose, an instructional CD or DVD is a quick way to learn the best way to use these calls.
Tip: Medium- to high-pitched grunts are less likely to scare off young bucks than the deeper sounds of an older buck. Unless you are only pursuing trophy bucks, imitate a younger buck, as this sound can attract any deer.
Can calls are easy to use and precisely mimic various kinds of doe bleats.
With the exception of electronic callers, these are the easiest deer calls to use. Consisting of a small, perforated can with an internal sounding device, these one-handed calls function by simply tipping them upside down and then bringing them upright again, producing very realistic doe or fawn bleats or bawls. Various models are available that either imitate the communication bleat of a young doe, for use during the early season, or the mating bleat of a doe in heat, for use during the rut. Larger, louder cans are also available for long-range calling or for use on windy days.
Tip: Most bucks will try to approach your calling location from downwind, in order to get your scent before showing himself. Try to set up with some sort of natural obstacle such as a waterway or bluff downwind of you, or call from upwind of an open area that will allow you to spot any deer circling around you.
Imitating the sound of two rut-crazed bucks fighting is a great way to attract the attention of a dominant buck. For years hunters used real antlers, whether sheds or from previous successful hunts, but these dry out over time and can lose their tone. Imitation rattling antlers that sound just like the real thing and will never dry out are a popular alternative. Some are even designed to minimize the chance of smashing your fingers while using them -- a problem with using real antlers.
The drawback of rattling antlers is that they require two hands and can be cumbersome to carry in the field and to use in a treestand. Rattle bags -- small sacks containing numerous hard-plastic or hardwood sticks -- will fit in a pocket and can be used with just one hand. Similar to these are rattle boxes which consist of two hard-plastic plates shaped like stars or snowflakes and attached with a cord. Both of these calls are popular with treestand hunters. Simply gnash the bag or box against your leg with one hand, leaving the other hand free to hold a gun or bow.
Tip: To prevent startling a buck that may be nearby, start your calling sequence softly by just tickling the antler tines together, or gently squeezing and rolling the sticks in a rattle bag or box. If nothing responds, gradually increase the volume and intensity. Try to imagine what two real bucks would sound like. Add realism by pounding the ground and thrashing some brush. Rattling tends to work best just before the peak of the rut.
Mechanical callers aren't the only option. The ultimate device for imitating actual deer sounds is an electronic call. These digital marvels feature multiple, push-button deer vocalizations, as well as the sound of two bucks fighting, usually recorded from live deer. Some models are all-in-one transmitter/speaker units, while others feature wireless remotes and multiple, long-range receivers that can even give the illusion of moving deer. All are battery-powered.
Tip: Electronic calls are not legal for hunting in all areas. Check local regulations before using them.
No matter what type of calling device you use, don't overdo it. Most experts suggest a few calls every 15-30 minutes. Try varying the volume and duration of your calls, and even point the caller in different directions. Also try using a grunt call and a bleat can at the same time as rattling antlers. Use your imagination.
This fall, instead of just doing the same-old, same-old of deer drives or waiting along a trail for a buck to happen by, try calling a deer to you. You just might find it to be the most exciting form of deer hunting you've ever done.