Wally grabbed me about 11am as the snow stopped. We went to a different spot and walked off into the forest. We happened upon a scrape the size of a bathtub opened right down to bare dirt, obviously about as fresh as a scrape gets. We stood right in that scrape as Wally pulled out a pair of antlers and started to bang them together. This was over 25 years ago, before this was an everyday event on every TV in America with an outdoor channel. I had heard of Texans doing this, but just rolled my eyes thinking “yea sure, this is going to scare everything within a mile away”. Before he had even finished his first rattling sequence, a giant 12 point buck comes charging full speed at us, powdered snow flying around it like some wraith in a horror movie. I shot him at 20 feet like a PH would shoot a charging cape buffalo in Africa, and he skidded to a stop; dead; right at our feet. I have been addicted to calling deer ever since.
The 3 largest bucks of my career have come to calls; 2 came to horns and the other to a grunt tube. I have also called in countless others that I have seen, and I’m certain many others that I never saw. Studies show say that many of the deer called in are never seen by the hunter, especially if you hunt from the ground. I have learned a few lessons over the years, although I am far from an expert. Hopefully some of this can help you gain more confidence with calls. I am constantly amazed at the number of hunters I know that just can’t bring themselves to make the racket necessary to rattle in a buck. I use three calls, horns, grunt tube, and bleat can. I’ll cover all 3 and show how they have helped me kill more deer.
My “go to” call is a grunt tube, and I NEVER hunt without one close at hand. I only grunt at cruising bucks that are not going to come into bow range. I don’t blind grunt ever. I have had bucks turn on a dime and walk straight to my tree, like a yo-yo coming home, I have had bucks leave a doe to challenge me, and I have had bucks totally ignore me like they were deaf. What I have never had is a buck run away when I grunted. On several occasions, I’m embarrassed to admit, I have actually missed a buck with my bow. On at least 2 times that I can recall I have grunted that same buck back into bow range for a second chance. I didn’t miss twice either time. I blow my grunt tube all different ways, maybe never the same twice. I’ll use any cadence to get a buck’s attention, and continue to turn up the volume and vary the length until I get the result I want or the he walks out of view. Unless a buck is coming within range, I’m grunting at him. Yet I do not grunt at bucks I don’t want to shoot. As much fun as it is to call young bucks in, I have no intention of educating them until they’ve grown a rack I want to harvest.
I was sitting on the edge of a mowed hay field in Iowa with about 100 yards to the next wood lot. A big old 4 x4 walked out of the opposite edge at mid-day stayed in the mowed field for about 15 yards then popped back into the woods. I had this new Primos bleat can that I had never used. I put my finger on the hole and turned it over. That perfect eerie bleat resonated from my hand. I did it again and his head appeared out of the woods. I did it again and he started straight for my tree. I did it again and he continued his bee-line right to me. As he came into range I realized he was not a buck I was going to shoot and watch him walk right under my stand and continue on behind me looking for the bleating phantom doe that he never did find. I have had only limited success with the can, but always try it when the grunt tube fails. It is great for calling in does, and I do use it often to fill my doe tags. A little know trick is to gently blow in the finger hole. This makes a long drawn out bleat that sounds great.
For years I was convinced only big real horns worked, ignoring all the convenience and variety offered by synthetic versions. Two years ago I switched to a rattle bag and maybe the deer population has exploded or maybe I’m a better hunter, but I have called in more bucks in the past 2 years than in the 8 years total before that with my real horns. I haven’t carried those big, bulky antlers for awhile and love the compact size of the rattle bag. I also appreciate the lack of bruised knuckles I’ve had over these past two seasons. I usually only rattle from about the last week in October on, but did have some luck earlier 2 years ago. I blind rattle about every ½ hour or so whenever I hunt, especially those first 2 magical weeks in November. I also rattle well into December and have great luck late in the season. The studies show bigger bucks often respond later in the season. Last year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving I was hunting in the afternoon and decided to rattle. Almost immediately a young 8 point showed up at my tree. Then a 6 point appeared in the creek bed I was hunting over. The hair bristled on their backs as they squared off right under me. Since neither was a deer I was going to shoot, I sat back to enjoy the show.
I wouldn’t call it a knock-down, drag-out fight to the death, but they were banging their antlers together pretty hard. It was just about last light, and there was crashing in the thicket I was on the edge of. I was fully ready when a giant of an 8 point burst out directly under my stand. He never got a chance to assert himself to the 2 younger bucks. I didn’t miss at 10 yards.
Don’t be afraid to get out and experiment with different calls. It will add a whole new dimension to your deer hunting and is about the most fun you can have in the deer woods.