By Mike Handley
For the record, I’ve never heard a doe talk to a buck. I’ve seen them stand up and slap ’em upside the head. I’ve heard them talk to their fawns. But not once can I remember hearing a grown doe whisper or shout sweet nothin’s to a suitor.
It would logically follow that I wouldn’t put much stock in bleating, eh?
Call me illogical.
I’ll admit I was slow to accept the premise and even slower to try it. Sounded like pure gimmick to me, figuratively, and like a goat, literally. But then Jerry Peterson, creator of Woods Wise Game Calls, invited me to bowhunt in Illinois. Although I was a bit red-faced over the thought of making such a stupid noise in the woods, I felt I owed it to Jerry to put his new call to the test.
The very first time, my bleating persuaded a 6-pointer to do a 180 and return within bow range, where it bedded down for the rest of the morning. The next year, I arrowed a record book 8-pointer in Nebraska that I also turned by bleating.
I’ve enjoyed numerous encounters with whitetails since adding a bleat call to my personal bag of tricks. But none compare with what happened one year while I was bowhunting with Mike Nickels in Kansas.
After four and a half days of playing musical stands and seeing very few deer, I was ready for a change of scenery. I wound up spending the last afternoon in a new stand about 150 yards deeper in the woods.
Alas, as the first sun I’d seen in a week began slowly to disappear, I decided to go to ground a bit early in hopes of seeing deer in a clover field at the edge of the pasture I had to cross to return to my car. I moved cautiously and silently toward the woods’ edge and soon saw deer feeding in the clover.
I made it to the last of the trees and leaned on a steel gate to watch, since it was already too late to shoot. A buck began chasing a doe half its size, and then I saw a third deer – more than twice as big as the buck I’d been watching – walk stiffly toward the others. The newcomer’s rack was thick and very tall.
I thought the two bucks were going to fight, at first, but they merely rubbed noses and resumed feeding, while the little doe squirted back in the timber.
That’s when I decided to have some fun.
Still leaning on the gate, bow on the ground, I lifted my grunt call and put it to use. Both bucks lifted their heads and stared hard. They were perhaps 60 yards away from me.
I grunted aggressively, testing the limits.
The big buck decided it had better get closer to the doe, which had resumed mowing clover. It lowered its head, began sniffing the air, and then gave chase. Actually, it seemed more like it was herding the doe away from me.
As soon as those two were back in the woods, I flipped my grunt tube and began bleating through the opposite end. I was using a Woods Wise Doe-N-Buc call that can produce both buck and doe vocalizations, depending upon which end you blow.
The small buck, perhaps feeling left out after losing his potential girlfriend, walked straight to me as I continued bleating. It didn’t stop until it was a mere five feet from me. I froze, but kept offering the occasional bleat. I could almost see its eyelashes.
After five minutes, the confused animal circled around and jumped the barbed-wire fence between us. I bleated again, and it came within five feet of me a second time – directly downwind, on MY side of the fence. If I’d had an arrow in my hand, I could’ve speared it.
When the buck couldn’t get me to move after five more minutes, it stomped its right foot. I answered by stomping my own and bleating again. I stopped breathing when the deer took two steps closer, leaning in to sniff deeply.
At that point, I was both elated and – to be honest – a little unnerved. Rather than continue the game, I decided to keep my mouth shut. I didn’t want to write a “How I survived a goring” story.
The buck never spooked. When I ceased with the pillow talk, it simply walked away and disappeared into the woods.
When I related the story to my wife, she joked that I was the “buck whisperer.” I’d never actually call myself that, but the episode sure makes me glad I decided to give bleating a try. Not only has the technique put venison in my freezer and more than one record book certificate on my wall, but it’s also provided me with some great stories and memories.
If you’ve never tried bleating or have summarily dismissed it as hogwash, I urge you to consider it. There are a lot of great calls out there today, from the grunt-bleat call I carried to canisters that require a simple flick of the wrist. If you don’t take advantage of it, you’re missing a great chance to become a buck whisperer.
NOTE: Readers who have followed my byline over the years might remember this episode. I wrote about it on this website prior to the big revamp and long before “blogging” was cool. Of the many thousands of hunting stories I’ve penned, or rather lived, this is among my favorites. And the message is timeless.