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Calling All Whitetails

PhotoBy Michael Lee

-- Hunters step out into the woods each fall with hopes of bringing that buck of a lifetime in for a shot. One of the most popular tools in a hunter's arsenal to make that dream a reality is the deer call. From the "can" style call to the snort-wheeze there are numerous brands, styles and sounds on the market today which fill every hunter's needs. 

Which one to use? When to use them? Well, that's the million dollar question for hunters each year. 

Many people over call, under call, or just plain do not sound like a deer and this can really make an impact on your hunt. After all, to fool that elusive buck that you want to hang on the wall, you have to talk the talk of the white-tailed deer.

Timing is everything when calling. Deer make many different sounds throughout the season that depend on the time of year and mind set the deer are in. With deer seasons beginning as early as August and others starting as late as November, what may work in November for Iowa may not work in November for South Carolina. 

First off, you need to identify what "stage" the deer are in. Most places during the early part of the season, the deer aren't rutting. During this time of the year you want to focus on communication calls. Bucks may give out some very soft grunts and the does will communicate with bleats and even faint grunts. Soft calling can be very productive during the early season for putting some meat in the freezer. 

While you are on stand, use a bleat call three to four times every 20 or 30 minutes. It sounds like a doe communicating, but it may just be what that early season buck needs to hear to convince it that the coast is clear to step out for you to take a shot. Once you see a deer, if they are not coming into range, blow the call softly and check for a response. You just may change its direction and bring it right in for a shot.

The height of successful calling isn't during the peak of the rut like many people may think.  Primary responses to calling are usually during the pre-rut phase. This is when the bucks are cruising for does and establishing their "turf." Since many bucks might overlap in territory, they are much more vocal during this time. 

The bucks will respond to more dominant grunts, doe bleats and snort-wheeze calls. Dominant grunts are more forceful in tone and are made by a buck to intimidate other potential suitors in the area. This will many times accompany the snort-wheeze that truly is a display of dominance. The snort-wheeze is something I really like to use when I can see a big buck in a field or through the woods that hangs up. If the buck will stop and look when I blow my grunt call and not commit to coming my direction, I will snort-wheeze at it and many times that will get the tense buck mad enough to come closer and investigate.

During this pre-rut phase, a doe bleat such as the Bleat-N-Heat style "can" call will work as well. These bucks are searching for does and will respond to this type of call.
Once the rut peaks, bucks are solely focused on breeding and all attention is turned toward does. How can you be successful during this time of the season? You have to talk like the dominant buck. The latest in the call market is the "growl" style calls. These mimic a tending buck that is running smaller or less dominant bucks away from its doe.

The pre-rut calls still have good success during this time as well, but breaking a buck's concentration on a hot doe can be tough when the rut is on. The best thing to do in this part of the season is to spend as much time in the woods as possible.

Just because the prime rutting time is over, doesn't mean you have to stash the calls. Remember, bucks are pretty much ready to breed as long as they have hard antlers on their heads. Yes, there are times when they are roaming more but late-season calling can be effective. 

Bucks will still search out the does that haven't already been bred. They are also grouping back up as well, which can be an ideal time for you to revert back to early season tactics. I have taken nice bucks late in the season, hunting food sources that the does are targeting. The bucks will concentrate more on feeding but still have a tendency to check out does. 

There are two main methods I use when calling, blind calling and contact calling. Blind calling, as I like to call it, can work very well throughout the entire season. This is when I will use any of the above calls without actually seeing a deer. You never know when that big boy may be slipping through the other side of a thicket or just over a ridge. I like to call every 15-20 minutes with four or five grunts and/or bleats. Many times if there is a deer in the area and it can hear the call, it will at least come closer to investigate.  

Contact calling on the other hand, is when I can actually see a deer. I will call to the deer and watch its reaction. If it ignores the sound, I may call louder to see if I can get a response. If the deer starts in my direction, I will usually stop calling and let it come in. If it turns away, I will call again. After all, you don't want to leave any cards on the table if that buck of a lifetime possibly responds to what you can throw out there.

These tricks have put many whitetails on my walls and the walls of other hunters who have used some of these techniques. Most of all, don't be afraid to attempt new things as well a practice and try to mimic what you hear in the woods. You never know what might work while you are calling all whitetails.

-- Michael Lee

Michael is a noted outdoor writer and co-host of "Southern Backwoods Adventures" television series, which airs on several FOX Sports networks and the Maximum Adventure Network (MAN). For more information, visit or

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