Deer Calls 101


By David Link

Whitetail season will be here before we know it, and a few good calls in your hunting bag might just up the odds of snagging the big boys this year. While there’s no doubt that deer calls can be of great use during certain parts of the season, you’ll need to select the right variety and use it at the right time to maximize your success. Let’s touch on the four main call varieties and when and how they are used.

Grunt Calls

Grunt calls are designed to attract mature bucks, and they primarily involve exhaling through a tube to create the grunting noise. Some calls use a two-way exhale / inhale system to create grunt noises with the exhale and hyperventilating noises with the inhale, but the grunt noise is the most important component. You can find grunt calls in both hand-held models that are strung around the neck and hands-free models that are held in the mouth, and they can be blown through softly for close bucks or harder for distant bucks. Calls should be used with varying pitches and aggressiveness to sound dynamic.

Hardwood Grunter by Primos.

Grunt calls are the most effective in the early season pre-rut that lasts the month of October for most regions. You can use them to attract a passing buck or you can blind call with them to hopefully attract a nearby buck that isn’t in your field of vision. It is a good rule of thumb to keep your bow or firearm ready when you start to grunt, and grunts are best spaced out every five minutes or so. Does and bucks both grunt, but buck grunts are deeper in pitch than doe grunts.

Rattle Calls

Many hunters are familiar with rattle calls, and they come in four variations. The first are actual re-purposed antlers harvested from deer seasons before. The best re-purposed antlers are those from a smaller buck, and it is best to tie them together with a short length of rope so you don’t lose them when rattling. The second variety are imitation antlers that are designed to make the same noise as real antlers. These are lighter than re-purposed antlers, but they aren’t as “natural sounding” as the original. The third variety is a rattle bag, and it is designed to create a rattling sound without the need to rattle two separate antlers together. The final variety is a rattling system that has a star-like shape with a top and a bottom that can be rattled together in a smaller space than the real or imitation antlers.

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Big Buck Bag by Primos.

Rattle calls are best utilized in the short time right after the rut begins, usually early to mid November for most hunters. Rattle calls simulate two fighting bucks, and with luck you may be able to attract a nearby buck into joining the conflict. Bucks will either charge in or cautiously approach a rattle call, and it is best to space rattles out every 30 minutes or so to allow time for cautious bucks to show up.

Snort / Wheeze Calls

Snort calls are similar to grunt calls in that they are designed to stop and/or attract a nearby buck. However, snort calls can prompt a territorial response from a buck and perhaps attract him more effectively than the grunt call. A common response to a snort / wheeze call is a buck charging towards the direction of the call in an effort to repel an intruder into his territory. Snort and wheeze calls work like a grunt call where you blow through a tube and the appropriate snort sound is produced. Snort and wheeze calls are best used around the rut.

Challenge Wheeze call by Primos.

Doe Bleats

Doe bleats are different from most calls because they mimic a doe not a rival buck. The exception of this is the doe grunt call mentioned above, which can be used alongside a doe bleat. Bleats offer a distinct advantage because they can be used later in the pre-rut phase all the way to the post rut phase, and the other calls are generally effective only during the pre-rut and early rut phases. Doe bleats are blown calls similar to snort and grunt calls, and they should be used sparingly, typically every 30 minutes or so. Ideally a doe bleat will attract a nearby buck looking to mate. Many doe bleat models are blown like the rest, but there are also bleat can models that are operated by hand.

Bleat Estrus Can by Primos.

There is an additional bleat that can also be of use throughout the entire deer season: fawn bleats. A fawn bleat mimics a fawn in distress, and it has the potential of bringing both bucks and does near, although does are far more effected by this type of call. If you’re looking to fill that second or antlerless tag, this could be the perfect addition to your call collection.

Fawn Bleat by Primos.

Closing Thoughts

Like any game call, moderation is always the key. Calling continuously will likely drive the deer away from you rather than attract them. You should also cease calling anytime a deer is already engaged and heading your way or is looking in your direction. Keep them curious and only call when they are at a distance. Finally if you call and the deer continues to head in the opposite direction, it probably hears you but is not interested in checking out your call. Whatever call you choose, be sure to read and watch videos on how best to use it. Calling is an art and you’ll have to work at it to get the best results.

Thumb courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.