Becoming a Buck Whisperer.
I quickly replied, "What is it?" He whispered, "It can call in a buck." Needless to say, I took it from him and went on blowing that thing every time I got bored in the tree, just as most kids would. I never saw a deer. My deer-calling performance started out less than stellar. However, if you fast-forward 20 years, I will tell you much different stories--stories of success! The difference between that first day and the present day is I have learned when and where to call to deer. Now I'm the one who never heads to the treestand without a grunt tube, and rarely without a set of antlers. This is because so much of my success with whitetails comes from communication with them. I've learned that bucks make more mistakes responding to calls than most other hunting strategies. In this article, I want to share how to become a buck whisperer.
Speak No Evil
It was a perfect October morning. The colors were changing fast on the trees, and the yellow leaves were shedding fast off the hedge trees in the cool breeze. I was enjoying this moment when the movement of a deer caught my eye. I could see antlers but really had no certainty how big he was, other than it looked like a mature deer. I quickly checked the wind, grabbed my grunt tube and gave him a few quick grunts. He stopped, and his ears twisted back toward me. I gave him one long grunt as he stood motionless, and this time it flipped a switch. He spun around and started closing the 100-yard distance quickly. He stopped about halfway and started making a scrape and marking a licking branch with his face. He turned away from me and started peeing on his hocks. As soon as he turned his back, I grunted one more time, as if saying, "Hey, I'm talking to you!" Once again, his head spun around to locate me, and he knew I was there to challenge.
Next thing I know, he walked right into bow range, and I loosed an arrow and put him down. Everything happened so fast. I knew I had just grunted in a great buck, but I soon realized I had smooth talked a nearly 200-inch deer right to my tree.
The grunt tube is one of the few absolutes of my gear. I always have one, no matter what time of deer sea son it is. I have called bucks in at all times of the year with a grunt tube. Grunting is a key part of buck communication. Many times, that is what will get them above all else. It's not too aggressive or offensive. It raises curiosity just as much as it does a challenge. My experience is that grunting is usually in short spurts unless you are offering a challenge, in which case you roll out a longer grunt call. If you look back to how I spoke with that buck, notice that I grunted when the buck didn't have a clear line of sight to me. I never let his eyes be fixed on my direction when I called. I left this up in the air, and he had to come closer to see for himself. This is because animals have an amazing ability to pinpoint where sound comes from. If they can see clearly to where the sound came from, they will lose interest; if not, then they gain curiosity to figure it out. My experience with deer calling is that the buck will immediately seek a visual confirmation as soon as a sound is made. Then he will approach until he can confirm where exactly, or what exactly, made the call. He will assess danger by trying to see what he heard. This is why I called when he was facing away, and I did it in a fashion where my grunt had stopped by the time his head spun around.
Another noteworthy point is that once he closed the gap, I waited until he showed his dominance and then faced away again before calling the last time. I forced his hand by calling to him, letting him scrape and then repeated my challenge once he turned his back to me. Short grunts followed by one longer grunt are great for random times of slow periods of the rut too. Bucks often spend the rut with a doe, with their noses to the ground following scent or intently listening for rutting activity like grunts or fighting. Always make sure you are clear of other deer around you before calling. Otherwise, they too will try to pinpoint you and will certainly blow the alarm if they see someone up a tree blowing random grunt calls.
Hear No Evil
One cool November day, I was perched high in a hackberry tree. It was a slow few days in the lockdown phase of the rut. I was doing my best to stay alert, but I wasn't doing a very good job of it. As I was daydreaming, I heard a rustle of the leaves just over my shoulder. It was one of the top bucks I was after, but he was passing me by already. He was too close for grunts, so I let him keep walking and got my bow back on the EZ hanger, then reached for my rattling antlers. I let him fade farther and farther away. Then, just as he was about to clear my sight, I held my antlers behind the back of the tree and started rattling aggressively. He quickly stopped, trying to see where the fight was happening. I kept the antlers hidden and pinned myself tight to the tree. He whirled around and came running in from over 100 yards away. I slipped the antlers between my legs, grabbed my bow and drew back. He came on a rope, walking right past my tree, and I let him meet my Rage.
The story I just told you was an intentional one, because it wasn't a random rattling encounter. We all know deer will come to rattling when their mood is right. But in this case, I was very specific about using the antlers. Rattling antlers are a long-range calling tool. What I have found is that antlers are a "hit or miss" tool of the trade. Some days they work better than anything, but other days you can rattle your arms limp and just hear crickets. If you rattle when deer are close, your location will be pinpointed and all eyes will be on you. With that said, I prefer to rattle when deer are not close enough to see me but close enough to hear me. I have a set of rattling antlers that are like a relic to me. They have called hundreds of deer within bow range. But I use them wisely, and keep that card hidden until the timing is just right.
Once bucks have hard antlers, rattling can be effective at any time. When I rattle, I try to taper the aggressiveness as the rut builds up to the peak. So, earlier in the season, I may just tickle the tines together with nothing more than a light, playful sparring match. Then I ramp that up to a full-blown fight once the rut is in full swing. My rule of thumb is to never rattle when a buck is close enough to look at you instead of needing to come in to investigate. I also make sure the coast is clear and there are no deer able to pinpoint me when I make a random rattle. Some of my favorite times to rattle are at first light in the morning once I have been able to assess there aren't deer already in proximity. I also rattle periodically throughout the day during the best three weeks of the rut. I never rattle within 30 minutes of leaving my stand, unless it has a specific purpose for a deer I was specifically calling to. The reason for this is that rattling is a long-range sound, and it could take a buck a while to roam around to your location once he hears that fight. When you rattle, try to impersonate two bucks coming together and then being locked up and driving against one another. Some people think that rattling is just slapping two antlers together, then separating them and slapping them again. I like to grind and twist them hard to make sounds rather than just cracking them against each other. Remember that bucks lock up and fight; they aren't bighorn sheep just backing up and butting one another.
Pick Your Fight
One of the most important parts of calling deer is understanding the cause and effect. When you pick your fights correctly, you will have success and interaction with more deer. If you pick your time poorly, you will reduce your opportunity and possibly burn out your spot. First off, don't call to deer you don't intend to shoot. Interaction is also education. Each time you interact with a deer, you educate it on your tricks and sounds. If you want to be successful in calling mature bucks in your area, then don't call at them just to get a response. Because the best-case scenario is that you call them right to your tree, they stick around a while and then leave. The worst-case scenario is they come in close and bust you. Now they know your style and sound, and you have taught them to approach with more caution. Call-shy deer are a disadvantage to you, and you will lose a huge advantage to whitetail hunting if you educate your deer to calling.
The next thing to always check before calling is the wind. Deer rely on their noses above any other sense they have. When you call, you should always assume they would approach downwind if it were easy for them. I don't call at any bucks that can alter their path slightly to get downwind, because they will! I wait to let them get into a position where they are going to have to make more effort getting downwind than they will just to come in. In the story above, I waited for that buck to be heading upwind before I let out my first call. That way, he had no choice but to come by me to investigate.
The last thing is to ALWAYS assume you are going to have a shot and be ready to make it. I have lost count of how many times I have made a call and had a monster buck standing under me within seconds. I always try to position myself where my bow is very close to me with an arrow nocked and ready. If the buck is in the right mood, you will barely have time to set down your antlers or put your grunt tube in your pocket before opportunity is knocking. I have a system of always knowing where I can set my antlers in an instant or at least squeeze them between my legs until I get my shot. When you call, be ready and stay ready for at least 30 minutes. Bucks can charge in fast, but they can also play chess and wait on making their move until they are certain there isn't any danger. I have been fortunate to watch many mature bucks just stare motionless for long periods of time, waiting to see movement before approaching a call. If you catch one doing that, stay still as can be and only call again if the buck looks away from you.
I have come a long way since my first time calling to deer. Looking back, I realize I was leaving a lot of things to sheer luck. As my calling experience with deer progressed, I began to realize it could be one of the key factors to my success. In the past three years, my biggest bucks are all ones I communicated with. Stick to these tips I gave you, and I'm certain your success can be the same!
Caption: Poor calling strategy is one of the easiest ways to educate deer and ruin your chances at the buck of a lifetime. John Dudley now carefully plans when and where to call so bucks approach upwind and don't detect him.
Caption: Once bucks shed their velvet and have hard antlers, rattling can be effective at any time throughout the season--if done correctly. Try tickling the tines early in the season, and ramp up the sound once the rut is in full swing.
Caption: When you call, be prepared for a buck to charge in at any time over the next 30 minutes. They may appear in seconds or bide their time before approaching.
Caption: After perfecting his calling technique over the last 20 years, John Dudley now recognizes calling as one of the biggest factors in his success at consistently taking trophy whitetails.