By Mike Handley
Thirty calendars have gone to pulp since I pulled my first mail-order “Eddie Salter” grunt call out of the box, put it to my lips and urrped. I still vividly remember the first time I tried it in the woods, while looking at a bunch of does. They ignored it, which astounded me.
I’d fully expected the gals to run. But instead of spooking, it put them at ease.
I was a stalk hunter back then. I prowled the edges, even the hearts of young pine plantations with a Remington 1100 stoked with buckshot. My deer encounters were close. Because I played the wind, they often heard me before seeing or smelling me.
When I started carrying that grunt call, my success improved greatly. Whenever I jumped deer that only heard me, I’d grunt, and many would come right back into my lap.
When I was publishing a hook-and-bullet tabloid years later, I became acquainted with numerous experts and, for the first time, began grunting as a means of attracting deer rather than soothing them. I remember that first attempt as well.
I was still-hunting the property of a wildlife artist I’d met. After urrping off and on for about 10 minutes, admittedly feeling like a fool for possibly alerting every deer in the county to my presence, the woodlot echoed with more urrping. I thought I was surrounded by other hunters. I almost called out to them.
But I was the only human on that 1,000-acre parcel.
That same season, urrping lured in my biggest buck (at the time). He looked like a Chia deer when he sauntered in, ears laid back and ready to kick white butt. I wrote about that experience in a daily newspaper column, and I was flooded with responses from readers who tried it and were rewarded with their best whitetails.
Troy Graves’ Arkansas buck
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard similar stories. And these often end with an extraordinary buck on the ground.
Troy Graves and Larry Reece are examples. Both dismissed grunt calls as pure malarkey until they reluctantly tried them – and only because they figured they had nothing to lose. Turns out, they each had state records to gain.
Troy hiked into the Ouachita National Forest on Oct. 19, 2003. A real deer slayer of a friend had persuaded him to unearth and carry the grunt call he’d buried in a drawer.
Five years earlier, the first time Troy ever blew through a grunt tube, he was looking at a small buck and wondered how it would react. Afterward, when the juvenile whitetail sped away as if stung by hornets, Troy vowed to never again carry the ridiculous contraption to the woods. The plastic Woods Wise call, which came with his Buckmasters membership, sat idle with his socks after that.
He might’ve been quick to dismiss television shows and magazine articles extolling the virtues of grunt calls, but Troy couldn’t argue with his buddy’s success during the ’03 bow season. Spurred more by seeing the dead deer than by his buddy’s testimonial, he found his cast-off grunter and hung it around his neck before heading off into the national forest.
By the time Troy decided he’d gone far enough into the vast tract, it was nearing 4 p.m. His plan was to grunt aggressively every half-hour until dark. Truthfully, he considered it a waste of time.
Mere seconds after his third round of vocalizations, however, a buck charged onto the scene. It came within 20 yards before it spotted Troy reaching for his muzzleloader, and then it quickly put another 20 yards between them.
The 177 4/8-inch Typical’s mistake was stopping for one last look.
Larry Reece, Mississippi
The story behind Larry Reece’s Mississippi record is strikingly similar.
Larry considered the little gadget long on hype and short on magic. He’d never had a deer respond to grunting. In fact, he wondered why he even bothered taking the call to the woods on Dec. 7, 2001.
Larry had seen a buck with a decent rack cross a mowed spot on the power line he was watching, but it disappeared back into the trees before he could get a good look at it. Hoping to get a second chance, he grunted twice with his call.
Almost immediately, a buck trotted down the power line to within 80 yards, and then it stopped and stared hard. Larry said the rack looked about 18 inches wide and had a lot of points, and that was all the time he spent looking at it before squeezing the muzzleloader’s trigger.
When taped for the BTR, the 14x16 rack’s composite score (which includes inside spread) was more than 254 inches. At an official 237, it’s also No. 9 in the world.
“The grunt call – I don’t even know the name of the one I had – caused me to get this deer,” he said. “It came in at a trot, looking for another buck. That was the first time I’d ever had one come right to me like that.”