Building relationships with deer depends on your choice of words.
THE DEFINITION OF aggravation is watching helplessly as a mature whitetail buck ignores your grunt call and casually walks out of your life. Once a buck decides your overture is unappealing to him, you can grunt until the veins in your neck pop out, and you won't turn him. He has tuned you out.
In response, you can stand there stewing in frustration -- or do something about it. You have nothing to lose by switching tactics or, more correctly, switching calls.
No one knows what all the vocalizations deer emit really mean. How can anyone get inside a deer's head to fully understand? So we all speculate based on the reactions of deer and on known biological facts. And despite all the science, no bowhunters know exactly what they're saying when they talk to deer. They're simply making educated guesses. Understanding that uncertainty is why any well-prepared bowhunter carries a variety of calls capable of reproducing the sounds deer make.
One mistake many hunters make is giving animals far too much credit for thinking. If a buck hears rattling in the distance, he doesn't try to decipher whether the sound comes from a real battle, a pair of sheds, a rattle bag, or plastic antlers. If he hears a grunt, or the bleat from a can call, he doesn't question its authenticity or wonder if a hunter is waiting to shoot him. While I can't get into a deer's head either, I doubt that any deer has a concept of such things. Certainly, if he's had a negative experience in relation to a particular sound, he might avoid that sound in the future. But that's very rare.
What really matters to any bowhunter is the buck's attitude. Is he looking for a date or for a fight? Is he feeling frisky and inquisitive or weary from a night of chasing does? Is his rut instinct strong and irresistible, or is he just starting to think about the ladies? Nobody knows the answers.
However, you can ask the buck about his attitude, which you do by calling to him, using your entire repertoire of calls until you give him what he wants to hear. It's possible nothing will pique his interest, and he will keep going. It's also possible a particular call will intrigue him, and he will turn in your direction. If you're using only one call, you'll never know whether some other vocalization could have pulled the buck into your kill zone.
Grunt calls give me the most confidence because I've seen them work so often. I've also seen deer ignore them, and I hate that. When it happens, I break out a different call or a set of rattling antlers and talk to the buck in a different language until he listens to me or disappears.
If I'm calling blind, I usually start off with a subtle bleat call, typically a can call. If it fails, I switch to a grunt call. I also like to combine grunts and bleats to create the sounds of a serious chase. If that doesn't work, or if a passing buck ignores all my calling, I rattle. I also rattle on windy days, because the sound of antlers carries much farther than the softer grunts or bleats. I look at the snort-wheeze as a last resort -- it's aggressive and can run a buck off if his attitude isn't right.
Now, with the value of grunts and rattling established, I want to concentrate on the value of the bleat call. A bleat is nonaggressive, so it rarely spooks deer. Bleat calls are versatile because they're effective from the first day of the season to the last. In the early and late season, bleats are "contact" calls that appeal to the herd nature of deer. So if a buck, doe, or yearling is wandering around alone, a soft bleat can be alluring.
During the rut, bleat calls are an obvious plus. Bucks drunk on testosterone will check out anything remotely sounding like a receptive doe. The biggest problem with a bleat is getting a buck to hear it. If he's 100 yards away on a breezy day, he may not hear a can call. In this case, try a mouth call, preferably a combination call (see below) that can put some volume in your bleats.
Here are some alluring bleat calls that will expand your deer vocabulary and help you draw a buck into bow range all season long.
Primos: The Great Big Can
You operate these calls simply by tipping them over. The interior bellows apparatus gives the bleat a natural, quivering sound. To keep the volume down, tip the can over in your pocket; to increase the volume, hold the can in the open air.
Primos Hunting Calls has several models: The Original Can ($12.99), The Great Big Can ($14.99) for more volume, The Lil' Can ($11.99) for less volume, and The Long Can ($14.99), which emits a longer bleat with more of an estrous tone. If you don't like the movement of tipping a can over, try the e-Can ($14.99) with pushbutton activation.
Hunter's Specialties offers three cans: The Adult Doe ($11.99), Young Doe ($9.99), and Mega Estrus Bleat ($14.99). Again, you never know which sound will pull a buck's trigger, so try all the options.
Knight and Hale's EZ Gravity Bleat
Knight and Hale's EZ Gravity Bleat call ($11.99) has a good sound as well. It comes with a silencer cap to prevent bleating in your pack or pocket.
The Lohman Dynamite Keg ($4.99) operates differently. Instead of tipping it over, you push a plunger to make bleat calls of varying pitch and duration.
Quaker Boy has three can calls: the Bleat-in-Heat ($11.99); the Bleat-in-Heat II ($10.99), which has a slightly higher pitch; and the Squeezin' Bleat ($19.99), which comes with a rubber bellows to push air through the call. You can manipulate the Squeezin' Bleat to create an infinite variety of bleat sounds.
Woods Wise Products has a Handy-Can Hot Doe Bleat ($12.99), which includes a lanyard with a weatherproofing Hush cap.
Hunter's Specialties' True Talker 2
These multipurpose calls can produce all sorts of grunts and bleats, depending on how you adjust them. Having various deer vocalizations in one call gives you the instant versatility you often need to pull balky bucks within bow range.
Hunter's Specialties' True Talker 2 ($19.99) is an excellent combo call with memory bands you can set to the tone and sound you prefer. You can make virtually any grunt or bleat sound with this call.
Knight and Hale's Rack Blaster ($24.99) can do it all as well. You can operate this call by either inhaling or exhaling, which allows you to grunt and bleat in quick succession to imitate a chase situation such as a buck grunting as he pursues a bleating doe.
Woods Wise's Super Hot Ma-Mah call
Primos' new Up ROAR call ($24.99), with three chambers, is a "triple threat." One chamber creates an aggressive grunt, the second a snort-wheeze, and the third an estrous bleat call.
Flextone Game Calls are made of flexible rubber. With the Buck Collector ($20.99) and Buck Commander ($16.99), you can produce doe bleats as well as grunts. The All-N-One call ($15.99) replicates grunts and bleats, and the compact Hands Free call ($7.99) allows you to make either soft or long-distance bleats -- hands free!
Illusion Systems' Extinguisher call ($29.99) features a ModiSlide System that alters the sound of the call. You simply change the position of the slide to create buck, doe, or fawn vocalizations.
Woods Wise's Super Hot Ma-Mah call ($19.99) can produce a wide variety of doe bleats and estrous sounds. You change the type of call by inhaling or exhaling. It has a soft body with a megaphone shape.
I haven't mentioned mouth-operated bleat calls, but all or most of these companies offer good options. No one can ever know or predict what type of call will trigger a buck's interest. But if you're prepared to ask a buck all the right questions with one of the calls listed here, you just might get the answer you're looking for.
Flextone game Calls, 1-877-993-4868, www.flextonegamecalls.com
Hunter's Specialties, (319) 395-0321, www.hunterspec.com
Illusion Systems, (507) 281-0300, www.illusionsystems.com
Knight & Hale Calls, (479) 782-8971, www.knightandhale.com
Lohman Calls, 1-800-232-3474, www.flambeauoutdoors.com
Primos Hunting Calls, 1-800-523-2395, www.primos.com
Quaker Boy, 1-800-544-1600, www.quakerboy.com
Woods Wise, (931) 364-7913, www.woodswise.com