Tuesday October 16, 2018 in South Louisiana marked the first real feel of fall weather, at least in one man’s opinion. The first real feel of a true north wind, a little bite in the air. As I sat on the tailgate of my truck observing my two sons go through pee-wee football practice, I can say honestly, I felt a slight chill. Most every other day of the supposed beginning of fall has felt a lot more like just extended late, and wet, summer. Lots of rain!
So this article is about when to call for whitetail bucks, so why am I talking about the weather? Well, a phrase that has recently been coined by a very popular outdoor industry group answers the question pretty simply, “A whitetails movement ultimately revolves around the weather….”. Deer science tells us the testosterone level of whitetail bucks begins to elevate and their tendencies begin to shift towards hierarchy and breeding as soon as the velvet is shed from their antlers in late summer, that is across all regions and subspecies. Velvet comes off in a month (maybe 2 month) window across the country. However, the rut can be found from August – February across the contiguous United States. One word, weather, and not just daily but seasonally and how it impacts the herd and its natural sustainability in a given region. So armed with that basic concept, let’s cover a few basic things about deer vocalization and how to look at them as a hunter and how to plan for when to use them based on your hunting opportunities.
As we consider the idea of calling to or calling for bucks, it’s safe to say we are assuming some phase of rut behavior and relative deer activity associated with these calling plans and strategy. And as an old baseball rat, I’ll tell you that’s good plan, because as any good baseball manager plays the odds over emotion, your best odds with any calling for whitetail deer is to play on the natural instincts of breeding and the competition created within the herd during this period. However, I feel we often times get too caught up in a sensationalized emotion where our imaginations are of bristled angry monster bucks grunting and growling and snorting and challenging like Connor McGregor before his next UFC fight. That’s fun, that is what great hunting films are made of, but deer are not prize fighters, they are a prey animal and they are survivors. The family groups and herd dynamics are crucial to how the live, survive, and thrive. So let’s start by being logical and playing the odds, deer do get aggressive, but typically from the late summer shedding of velvet until actual breeding activities begin, progressive interaction to establish hierarchies in the herd unfold. Aggression happens in close personal outburst, it’s not the entire season and it is most certainly not typical, they aren’t running around throughout the fall talking smack and fighting.
I believe the best strategy is to focus your calling around the weather and highly active periods and formulated around peaking curiosity within the herd at optimal times. I’ve heard it explained this way…
If you were in your home, office, or anywhere of comfort you spend a lot of time and a stranger’s voice came upon you aggressive and booming, how would you respond? I’ll answer, it would scare you or at least startle you and put you on high alert, you would instantly go into the “Fight or Flight” natural response. In another scenario, if you were walking through your living room and you heard a social conversation taking place in the next room that was unsuspected but not startling, you’d almost certainly check it out.
Deer do not operate on ego, or humility for that matter, they are not burdened with that instinct as we humans are. Fight or Flight mentality is a 50/50 proposition for people, for deer it’s safe to assume it’s far more off balance. As a survivor, there is no ego and protective instinct it’s FLIGHT every time. So when you call to or for a deer, especially blindly, take into account this and you can make some logical considerations about how to approach it. Attempt to fit in and be social, engaging but subtle, don’t’ be weird and out of place. Think like a deer and remember that if you startle a deer with your calling the reaction will likely not be what you hoped for.
Calling when and how often and what times is also very different in different locations. I personally believe this has more to do with herd density than anything else. If you walk into a private office with 2 or 3 people, likely you won’t hear much, even if there is some communication ongoing it’s subdued between small numbers of people. Inversely, during even the observing a “moment of silence” at a well attend sporting event, it’s almost never really silent. That many people and constant verbal communication is almost guaranteed. During a recent early season archery hunt in Oklahoma, I was privilege to spend 4 days on a private ranch with a very high density of deer. I was shocked at the number of deer vocalizations I heard from deer of all age ranges during the first week of October! I’m lucky to hear that much deer talk during best rut hunts of the year back home. It dawned on me quickly, the social interaction I was witnessing was easily contributed to that fact that rather than see 2 or 3 deer pass by or feed in my presence, I was watching 4 to 5 times that many come to food sources and once congregated, the natural interaction was inevitable. I can only imagine what it sounds like when breeding vocalization comes into play on that place! For what is the majority of hunters, don’t go into an average or low-density area where deer aren’t in large congregation and start yelling at everyone. Simply put, that will probably freak them out, just like the folks in the local insurance office would probably be a bit taken back if you walk into their lobby and started yelling like you did when you and your buddy were trying to communicate among a large group of friends at a party.
There are some occasions when aggressive calling could be the right call, my opinion is that its limited and should be used judicially. If you can see and gauge the temperature of a whitetail buck during your rut and he is in your presence and hormonally driven to breed, you might coax him into a fight with aggressive calling techniques for dominance or coax him into falling in love with bleating and grunting techniques. However, I feel this should be done only at very certain times and with very certain purpose. It is high risk for majority of hunters and places they are hunting, it can ruin a hunt as fast as it makes one and your odds of blindly stumbling into such a scenario aren’t high! The better odds with a deer in your area unseen is social and curious interaction, curiosity kills cats and bovines. Being invisible works WONDERS as well…. I’m just saying, play your odds.
It’s a hard picture to paint, but I think it comes with experience and when you see deer respond and you see deer act naturally without your interaction you begin to understand their communication better. Always remember you are trying to fit in, there is no product on the market that hypnotizes an animal into its own version of language and sucks them in. Deer are not birds, and they are not human…. your best chances are to identify the deer herd you are hunting, how it’s established and when it’s most vocal, then attempt to subtly draw the curiosity of your mature deer in the heard by being social and being real. Deer don’t walk around bellowing like cattle and they don’t aggressively communicate with one another like a turkey. Use logic, play on the deer instincts to be social and then to breed in order to survive. And don’t let a call company ever convince you their sound is the end all be all that will trick them into acting in a way the we know is not instinctual for a whitetail deer…. it’s a grunt, it’s not a complicated sound!