Deer use sound as well as scent to communicate. Hunters have long sought to exploit this to locate deer and bring them into range. However, unlike turkey hunting, calling deer seems to have a much lower success rate. Most experts are pleased if they can get one in ten bucks to respond to their calls. According to 500 Deer Hunting Tips by Bill Vaznis, there are a number of proven deer calls:
- Buck grunts, from yearling buck grunts and moderately toned tending grunts to the louder buck contact grunts.
- Doe bleats, especially estrous (doe-in-heat) bleats.
- Fawn bleats, including fawn-in-distress bleats.
How to Call Deer
There’s a wide selection of deer calls to choose from. Like most bowhunters, I own several calls in order to have lots of options while out in the field. Generally speaking, hunters carry at least two types of calls:
The grunt is the most common and versatile call of whitetail deer. A hunter can use it to make a single “contact” grunt (made by both does and bucks in response to other deer), a softer series of 7-10 buck “tending” grunts (made by a buck to a doe during the rut), or even the loud, challenging roar of a buck at the peak of the rut.
All of these can be made with a simple grunt tube, like the versatile Primos Hardwood Grunt call. Here’s what it sounds like in nature, an actual whitetail buck’s grunt courtesy of PAbucks.com:
A bleat call imitates the communication sounds of does and fawns. There’s the high-pitched fawn bleat, a slightly deeper doe bleat, and the louder, insistent doe-in-estrous-come-here-now bleat. Have a listen of those calls:
To make bleat calls, I recommend “The Can” calls made by Primos. The Primos Can Family Pack comes with three such calls:
- The original can makes the bleat of a doe in estrous
- The little can makes a higher-pitched young doe / fawn bleat
- The great big can is like the original, but makes longer and louder bleats
When to Use Deer Calls
Using deer calls successfully requires tailoring your renditions to the season, location, and to the deer that you’re calling. The more realistic your calls, the better. I’ve been reading that combinations of deer calls add realism, because they suggest that multiple deer are together and communicating with one another. For example, a couple of fawn bleats followed by a doe bleat suggests a family of does and fawns — just what bucks are hoping to locate at the beginning of the rut.
Multiple grunt tubes or single calls with multiple pitches also suggest the presence of more than one deer. That’s why the Extinguisher deer call is so popular.
Early Season Calls
If you’re hoping to call deer in the early season, brace yourself for disappointment. It’s too soon for rattling or estrous doe bleats. You might arouse a buck’s curiosity with a contact grunt from a young buck or doe, or the higher-pitched fawn bleat. The trick of early season calling, according to Vaznis, is to key in on food sources. Set your ambush nearby in a likely staging area with plenty of cover.
Pre-Rut and Rut
With the rut approaching and then getting into full swing, your deer calls should center around deer mating activities.
- One powerful combination is a doe-in-heat bleat followed by a series of tending buck grunts. This is good for downwind of a bedding area, or when still-hunting the thick stuff.
- For the peak of the rut, consider this slight modification: a lost-fawn bleat, then a doe-in-heat bleat, then a series of tending buck grunts. This imitates the common situation where a doe leaves her fawn behind when going off to be bred.
- The rut also calls for the #1 bestselling deer call on Amazon: the Primos Buck Roar – a deep, loud grunt of a buck about to breed. Any bucks that come in to this may be looking for a fight.
- A buck already in the company of a doe would be hard-pressed to leave her. Here’s a great strategy from Vaznis: lure the doe instead, with a fawn-in-distress bleat. Where she goes, the racked buck will follow.
Late Season Calling
Even in late season, a buck that still has his antlers is willing and able to breed. An estrous doe bleat may be the most effective call. My favorite such call is Primos’s The Original Can call.
Or, if you’re hoping to fill an antlerless tag, the fawn-in-distress bleat will often bring does charging in to the rescue. For this I use the Primos LittleCan Call, a smaller version of the original. You can shake your hand a little bit while sounding this, emitting a quivering, plaintive call.
When Not to Call
I have a few different types of calls, and I’m not afraid to use them. Even when they don’t bring in any deer, they do teach me something about deer behavior. This is especially true when I can see the deer and watch them through my hunting binoculars. My experiences suggest that deer can not only hear well, but are attuned (if not always responsive) to the calls of their own kind. For example, I’ve used a grunt call at a passing buck. Each time I called, he turned his head in my direction, but ultimately went on.
That said, there are a few situations when you should not attempt to call deer:
- If a buck has heard your call and is heading toward you. He already has a fix on your general location; another call may draw his attention right to your tree stand.
- When a deer is just out of range and already looking toward you. These animals are on high alert, and anything “off” will spook them.
- If a buck hears your calls and is not interested. This one I have trouble with, but Vaznis makes a good point: the last thing you want to do is educate a buck to your imitation grunts and bleats.
Which Deer Calls Are Most Effective?
Vaznis writes that, although there are many proven deer calls, there are three calls hunters should focus on. These three calls are the easiest for beginners to master, and they also bag the most bucks:
- The buck contact grunt, sort of the universal “Hey!”
- The doe-in-heat bleat (estrous bleat) which translates as “Come hither!”
- The series of moderately toned tending buck grunts, the whitetail version of “Hey baby, how you doin?”
More Deer Calling Tips
Vaznis offers a few extra bits of advice for those hunters hoping to call in a deer this season:
- Start your calling sequence at a low volume, especially when blind calling. A nearby buck might come to investigate, whereas initially loud calls might drive him off without you ever knowing he was around.
- Have an arrow knocked (or your gun at the ready) before you start calling. You don’t want to be caught unprepared in the event that a deer responds quickly.
- Cover noises with fawn bleats. If you accidentally snap a twig or make other unwanted noise (e.g climbing into your stand) while in the woods, try following them with a “confidence” call of a fawn bleat. Deer are accustomed to fawns blundering around in the woods making lots of noise, so you might get away with it. Just this once.
Remember that deer calls alone are just one part of the recipe for success. Staying downwind, hiding your tree stand, keeping absolutely still, and estimating distance are just some of the important bowhunting skills you’ll need to bring home a deer this season. See my article on 10 Skills Every Bowhunter Needs. And good luck out there!