Question: I have tried to call-in whitetails with little success. What calls works best, and when should I use them to improve my success?
S. Williams, via e-mail
Answer: Whitetail deer respond very well to calling at times, and completely ignore it at other times, regardless of what you do. Bucks can be called-in throughout the season, but I primarily use calls during the rut to yield the best results. When I started bowhunting, I blindly called in hopes of luring in any deer. When calling blind, I will call every 15 minutes during peak movement times.
A typical sequence will involve several grunts, followed by 30 seconds of intense rattling. Make sure you have an arrow nocked, and be ready to shoot immediately following a calling sequence, because a buck can come in fast. Blind calling can help keep you alert and excited during the hunt, and it can be very effective when deer are cruising.
While blind calling can work well, I've learned it also calls in deer that I have no interest in killing. The problem there is these deer may get downwind and alert other deer of my presence. My preference when calling is to wait until I see a buck I am willing to shoot before calling to him. With that said, if a buck is headed my direction, I avoid calling unless he turns away. If he does that, then I will hit him with a grunt.
How far away a buck is will determine which call I use. If a buck is a long ways off, I rattle because the sound will carry farther. If a buck is in close proximity but is going to skirt my location, I will send out several short grunts. If a buck ignores my grunting, I may try a snort-wheeze to entice a response. Keep in mind, calling never works if the animal doesn't hear you. When you can see the buck you are calling to, study his body language as you call to make sure he heard you. When I have a constant visual on a target buck, I start with soft calls and increase volume until the buck acknowledges the call.
On a late-November hunt a few years ago, with the wind howling, I was blindly rattling. A buck emerged from the CRP grass in the distance. He was headed my way, but he was going to pass by out of range. I tried grunting, but the wind was so strong the buck couldn't hear me. I finally yelled a grunt with my voice to get him to look my way.
He glanced in my direction, but then kept on going. As soon as he was out of sight, I grabbed my rattling antlers and banged them together to make as much noise as possible. The buck ran back to my tree, barely giving me enough time to grab my bow and shoot him at 12 yards! If I wouldn't have made as much noise as possible on that windy day, I know that buck wouldn't have heard me and would have kept on going.
Confidence in your calling is built upon success, so call to as many deer as possible and study their reactions. With experience, you will identify situations when you need to call aggressively, when a soft grunt is all that is needed, or when it's best to avoid calling altogether. While you may spook a buck with calling, that is rare. I have erred on the cautious side of calling in the past and regretted it. Don't be afraid to fail. Calling deer might be a science, but more likely it is just a numbers game — a matter of calling to the right buck at the right time. Good luck this fall!