I have been hunting for over 20 years now, and one question that I get asked over and over is when and where to use certain types of calls for whitetail deer. I will go through a few different types of calls, how and when to use them, and the thought process behind everything.
When you’re out hunting, you may notice that different parts of the season will determine a lot of the deer behaviors. For instance, during the summer months while you’re out scouting, you may notice that all of the deer tend to bunch up together, and mostly travel between bedding and food sources, and mostly at night. Just like you, the deer get hot during the summer months. They need to keep their cool. This will make them bed down in the shade during the day, staying in the timber and near water sources.
When the weather starts to finally cool off, there’s a lot more that goes on than just the weather change. Does will break away from the bucks and keep their fawns nearby to help them learn to fend for themselves. The bucks will group up into ‘bachelor’ groups. At this point, the bucks have finished shedding their velvet from their antlers and will begin sparring (playfully) to begin determining dominance as well as building up their neck muscles for the rut.
As the Pre-Rut approaches, the does leave their fawns behind and the bucks begin to separate in search of the early does. When two bucks approach each other, there is the possibility that they will fight (more aggressively), again, to determine dominance. Bucks will be searching all throughout the day and night, one, to look for that first doe, and two, to check their rub lines and scrapes. The best areas to find a big buck at this time of year are going to be around their bedding areas (taking care not to invade their beds), along rub lines, and near scrapes. They will be visiting these three areas religiously over the next month.
As the rut approaches, the bucks in the area will be acting stupid. They will be active both day and night searching for hot does. The bucks have one thing on their mind and won’t let anything stand in their way. They become very aggressive toward other bucks. They will now fight, sometimes to the death, to determine who will prevail as the dominant buck in the area. The most dominant bucks in the area will be the ones that get the hot does, if available. At different times of the rut, a buck will bed down with a hot doe to breed. During this time, that buck is busy and won’t respond to any calls. You will now have to focus on another buck in the area.
After the rut is over, there will still be a late doe coming into heat for a few weeks. Now, the bucks are tired of running all month and will just want food and rest. They will still respond lightly to scents and calls, but rattling for bucks too aggressively may scare them off. The larger, more dominant bucks may come in to steal a hot doe, but not necessarily. Things will slow down considerably as the deer will be returning more to normal as the weather gets cold. Now, they will be more focused on staying warm and getting plenty to eat.
I will use a grunt call throughout the entire season. Depending on the part of the season will determine how I use it. A lot of times, the bucks will grunt just to see if there are other bucks in the area. These are called ‘locator grunts.’ They will be one or two short grunts together. This is effective all through the season, as it would simulate a deer asking if another one is around.
While chasing a hot doe, they will be a lot more aggressive in their grunting. These types of grunts are called ‘tending grunts’ and will be a series of a lot (5 or more) together, only a second or two in between. Usually when calling to simulate tending grunts, I like to do them in about 5 minute intervals. If another buck in the area hears a tending grunt, he is very likely to come check it out to see if he can find the hot doe.
When rattling a buck in, you need to know what’s going on in the woods. You need to know what part of the season it is so that you know how to rattle. At first, early season to pre-rut, you will need to barely rattle at all, simulating two smaller bucks just barely touching antlers, hardly making any noise.
As the season progresses from the pre-rut to rut, you need to get more aggressive with your rattling. The bucks will be a lot more responsive to rattling and will want to come in looking for a fight. As you get into the main part of the rut, be ready. You will want your rattling to resemble two large bucks fighting to their death. This is when the big bucks will come in, ears pinned back, ready to fight. I like to rattle in 15-30 second intervals for about 2-3 minutes. As I’m rattling, I will also be letting out some aggressive grunts, simulating the bucks exerting themselves, breathing heavily, and in turn grunting.
As far as when and where, I have had a lot of success early season to pre-rut along crop field edges. I hunt an area where we mostly have soybeans and corn, and where I hunt is along to edge of timber, over a creek, overlooking one of these fields. As the rut gets closer, I like to move my stand a little closer to where a buck beds down. I typically stay about 150-200 yards away from their beds, but close to crops, water, rub lines, and scrapes.
I have had a lot of success in calling deer in over the years, and I sincerely hope this will give you some new tricks to try on your next hunting trip. I wish you all the best of luck and hope you can call in the buck of your lifetime!