Best Calls For Deer Hunting
I have been a bowhunter, now going on 40 years. I’ve found there are times when a call will work great for deer hunting. Whether you hunt does in the early season or mature bucks during the rut. Deer calls can help get deer into range. As a bowhunter you want to get a deer in close. As a gun hunter you need to bring a deer at least within range of the rifle or shotgun you’re using. There is subtle differences on how and when to use a call when you are trying to get a deer within 30 yards as opposed to getting one within say 100 yards for a gun.
This article will focus on the best calls for deer hunting as well as some insight on how to utilize each one and when. I also will share some insights from the experiences I’ve had with deer and deer calling over the years. Therefore I will be interjecting a lot of deer behaviors from a hunters perspective.
When to Call When Deer Hunting
This is a hard question. It could be asking when as in what time of the season or it could mean in the moment. Some hunters will argue that they don’t call unless they see a deer. This allows the hunter to watch the deer’s reaction to the call when it is used. This can be a good idea if you are confident that you are in the right area and will see a deer from your stand. There are times when I blind call and then there are times I wait to see the deer before calling. Here is a couple scenarios for each situation.
Blind Calling Deer
Blind calling when deer hunting is when you call without seeing the deer. You might do a grunt call every 10 minutes or a grunt call combined with a can call. Probably the most used method of blind calling deer is rattling. Rattling antlers are used to simulate two bucks fighting. Other deer are attracted to these fights. One of my most memorable hunts was my first year deer hunting. I was 13 years old and alone strolling through an open hayfield on the side of a hillside in Lynchburg Tennessee. There was a loud crashing sound coming from over the hill. I approached quickly. When I reached the top of the hill there was deer everywhere. 14 bucks were counted standing just outside a cedar thicket staring into it intently.
I can still see one of the small bucks looking back at me but not running. It was so focused on what was in that cedar thicket and he just turned and stared back at the noise that was the brawl in the cedars. I never saw the two that were fighting in those cedars but they had to be big. The noise created was amazing and something I would never experience again. I have seen and heard a few fights since but nothing even close to that. To know now that it came during my first season ever to hunt deer is awesome and must have been one of the many things that hooked me on my lifelong passion of bow hunting.
Rattle For Deer You Can’t See
Rattling antlers are a great deer call to use for blind calling and it works. Meant to imitate two bucks fighting rattling antlers will get a big buck’s attention. Normally rattling for deer is done to bring in deer that you can’t see. The sound of bucks fighting carries a very long distance in the woods. As a hunter light rattling might be the best way to get a buck to come to your location. However, there are times when heavy rattling is called for.
One of these times is when you can see the buck from a long way off and know that you have to really hammer the horns to get him to hear them. I have watched more than one buck come on a string from as far away as 500 yards. I had to slam the rattling antlers as hard as I could to get the sound out there. It was obvious when the buck heard the horns as it made a beeline to my stand.
The most effective way to call deer with rattling is a light sparring sequence with an occasional heavy rattle sequence to get one coming. Make a heavy but short rattle sequence to start the hunt followed by light rattling every 10 or 15 minutes after that then another heavy rattling sequence after an hour or so. The idea is to use the heavy rattling to get the buck to begin moving your way. The reason that it is important to keep the rattling light after that is the buck might be just out of sight and a heavy sequence will pinpoint your location and the buck will be working to locate the bucks that made the sounds.
This will increase the odds of you being busted before you ever see the deer. The light rattling will keep the buck guessing exactly where the sounds of two bucks fighting are located. Hopefully this will give you the upper hand in the situation. By spotting the buck moving around looking for the sounds you can be ready. Seeing the deer you are attempting to call always increases your odds of getting them into range.
Blind calling with a grunt call can be very effective. This is true for mature bucks or does. Deer are very vocal. They are more vocal than most hunters realize. As a bowhunter, especially if you pass on some deer, you are able to learn so much about deer. This is why until the past few years I only bow hunted for whitetails. I have heard some strange sounds from deer over the years and some of those sounds I have only heard once so I know they are not common. As for the hunter there are a few calls that are the mainstay. This is mainly because they are the sounds used by deer most often. Especially in the times when we hunt them. The rut being the main focus here.
Calling Deer With A Grunt Call
To blind call with a grunt tube always use a subtle grunt. Deer can hear very well and on a crisp clear frosty morning I would say that a deer can hear even a light grunt several hundred yards away. A subtle call is all it takes. Only call every 10 or 15 minutes as well. A deer will come to your grunt call cautiously and you want to give it time to move into sight before calling again. You want the deer to be looking for you.
You never want the deer to pinpoint your location or it will want to see a deer before moving in. I have seen mature bucks stand and look for another deer when they know that a deer just grunted right there. You will see the deer get very nervous if they don’t see another deer and when this happens usually the gig is up and it will turn and leave. Most of the time this happens when you call to a deer when it is too close.
Also, as I have learned the hard way, if you do need to lightly grunt to get the deer to come a little closer never point the call in the deer’s direction. You always want to turn the call away from where the deer is either standing or the direction you think it may come. Calling in the direction of a deer it will pinpoint your location with GPS accuracy. I have seen it happen too many times. I also have missed opportunities on some really nice bucks before I figured it out. What happened you ask?
Well, for many years I used a grunt call with a tube. I always turned the tube before grunting. My new call had no tube therefore as I was getting ready for a shot and the buck just would not come in I would grunt lightly. I pointed the call in the buck’s direction. I didn’t want to move for fear of the deer spotting me and the deer knew instantly where a deer should be standing based on the grunt it just heard.
Sight Calling Deer
Sight calling is my preferred method of calling deer. What sight calling for deer means is when you see the deer that you’re calling to. Watching a deer’s reaction to your calling will help you gauge the mood of the deer and how it is reacting to your call. It also lets you know just when to stop calling to the deer. Sometimes it pays big to wait until a deer is spotted before calling. To see a deer while calling helps tremendously. Calling blind works but it can also send a deer in the opposite direction without you ever knowing it was in the area. Blind calling makes more sense when hunting mature bucks. However, blind calling can spook a wary old buck. Bucks that have been called to before are tough to trick and calling too often can put him on edge.
Sight calling to deer, as mentioned above, will help you to gauge the deer’s reaction. If the deer is moving your way stop calling. Also, if the deer stops and is looking around for the deer that made the call you should also wait. If you call while a deer is intently listening and it is in sight of your stand then it will pinpoint your location more accurately than you think. Wait until the deer seems uninterested or is moving off before calling again. Interested deer will turn and come a little closer to find the deer making the call. At this time without knowing exactly where it should be. A decoy will work great for this but usually with a decoy if you can see the deer then it will see the decoy and come on in, if it is going to.
Calling Deer With The Can
Can calls simulate a doe in estrus during the rut. It has a narrow time that it is effective and can actually spook deer if used outside this timeframe. The only time I use the can call or doe in estrus call is between halloween and mid November. This is when deer are rutting and the can call can work effectively. Whitetail bucks know that does aren’t in heat in September. They will be very leery when they hear the call. You can use the can call when sight calling and blind calling. I use the can during the rut when I know that bucks are on their feet cruising for hot does.
While I use it sparingly, mainly because I have not seen it definitely work myself. I need that confidence to rely on the can by itself. I always use the can call or doe in estrus call in conjunction with a grunt call. Two or three tending grunts then a couple tilts of the can and I lay them down and get ready. Look for a mature buck to come in quick and a lesser buck to come in cautiously. This call simulates a buck that has a doe in heat cornered and he is trying to breed her. If there’s a dominant buck within hearing range of that call he will, more times than not, investigate. He knows he is the dominant buck and another buck has entered his core area and he will want to check out the intruder.
Calling Deer With A Rattle Bag Or Rattling Horns
Rattling works great when hunting mature whitetail bucks. Rattling attracts young bucks and does as well, but if you want to bring in a mature whitetail buck then the rattling horns works great. I use both the bag as well as the horns. Either the synthetic horns or homemade rattling horns will reach out a long ways to call a buck. If you hunt open land like out west then the horns work great because the sound will travel much further than the rattle bag.
The rattle bag is awesome though for close quarters. I have used the horns out west and they work and I have called two giants in from 400 yards away and I was able to watch them all the way to my tree. I failed to get a shot at either buck even though they both came straight to my location and were in bow range. Once I clicked something metal on my bow and the buck turned and left the other just never gave me a clean shot.
Now I hunt thick stuff. I hunt a swamp and visibility is limited. I like to call lightly no mater what call I use when I can’t see. The rattle bag is plenty loud enough in this situation and it takes up much less space in my pack. The rattle bag can be used to rattle loudly too but the bag just doesn’t have the same tone as the horns. The horns sound just like a couple big bucks fighting even when clanked together loudly. Where the rattle bag shines is when lightly calling in thick cover.