With a grunt call in hand and access to ground where rutty whitetails roam freely, you’ll soon be reminded why these are the very best days of the year.
I can’t tell you the exact number of bucks I’ve lured into bow range with the help of grunt calls over the years. The odd-shaped tools have contributed to many of my most-memorable hunts, and I can still recall the fateful afternoon when I fully realized their near-mystical power during the whitetail rut.
Fresh out of college and already a rabid bowhunter with several young bucks and does to my credit, I was still looking for my first “wall-hanger” buck when a deer approaching those specs casually entered the small, sign-laden Central Wisconsin woodlot where I was waiting. It was early November and I was some 15 feet up
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a young oak in a favorite climbing stand, and I knew it was time for action. Seconds after entering the small woodlot the large 8-point, its head on a swivel looking hard for does, had hung an almost instant, hard right—away from me. In mere seconds it ghosted painfully out of sight. No! Almost reflexively I grabbed my vintage grunt call and blew a few deep, staccato notes. That was all it took.
Soon a building crescendo of heavy footfalls on crisp leaves announced the barrel-chested buck had fallen for the ruse and reversed course. Back he came. I watched, awestruck, as the big deer looped around in front of me, obscured just enough by brush. It finally paused in a hastily trimmed lane just to my right. Distance? A scant 12 yards.
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The memory of the encounter is so vivid I still recall holding my vintage compound at full draw—seemingly forever—and then, carefully climbing down, focusing hard, trembling, to examine the blood-stained Easton XX75 2119 aluminum shaft. Yanked from the dirt, I considered its slightly bent, though still intact, broadhead: a wickedly large, three-blade Barrie Rocky Mountain Supreme complete with distinctive red-anodized ferrule—an old favorite. What a moment. Somehow I had managed to convince a mature buck dead set on walking out of my life to abandon its feverish search for hot does—and to instead, hunt me. For one very excited bowhunter, grunt calls would never be the same.When it’s rut-time and you’re looking to encounter and attract as many doe-seeking bucks as possible to your calls, the first order of business is to choose a stand site that will let you get that done. Use your HuntStand app map layers to get a detailed aerial view of your hunt area and pick out those pinch points where traveling bucks will head from one block of cover to the next. If extreme deer-funneling terrain features are involved, all the better. Favorite rut-stand locations in my travels to the public lands of the upper Midwest northwoods, and whitetail meccas such as Kansas and Illinois, are where two separate streams or dry creekbeds intersect—a deer-funneling “X” that will double your chances to intercept traveling bucks.
Effectively using grunt calls is one of those skills most hunters must acquire over time and with experiences, (both good and bad), but I do adhere to a few hard and fast rules—which I reserve the right to break as conditions demand. Nothing about calling game animals is very cut and dried. Ideally, I like to use a grunt call only with a buck in sight, and typically, only if it’s obvious the buck in question is going to pass my location well out of range.With the moving buck in sight I will first reach to get my bow in hand, and likely, my first calling attempt will be a medium-volume two- or three-note grunt sequence—urp-urp—after which I will look hard for his response. It’s important to keep the buck in sight as you do this so you can gauge its reaction, which can be subtle. No reaction means you’ve got to step up the volume in your second attempt that should come immediately.
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If the buck stops at the first or second grunt sequence continue to watch him closely; if he stops and looks around, but not in your direction, hit him with another two-note sequence and pause. With this sequence I like to point the grunt behind my tree to divert as much attention from my location as possible. The buck is likely close enough that he’s now pinpointed your general if not precise location, so it’s wise to remain silent and still as you watch his next move. Any move away from you should be followed by another grunt sequence, with a little more urgency and volume—and maybe sweetened with the addition of a doe bleat can call. One flip should do it. Again, sit tight and let the buck determine your next move. Be ready to stow any calls and clip on your release; if at any time the buck shifts his travel route in your direction, remain as silent and still as possible as you prepare for the shot.A favorite tactic for dealing with a buck that has ignored your grunts and continues walking away, is to wait until it is completely out of sight, and maybe just a bit longer, and then hit him with a medium-tone rattling sequence. Nothing too crazy loud, because you know the deer is still well within earshot. Then quickly stow your antlers or rattling system, grab your bow and get ready. A rutty responding buck will likely be coming in on the run. One last, critical thought on calling during the rut: if you’re going to use a tactic that can literally draw a big doe-seeking buck right into your lap, be sure to prepare your stand site accordingly. Ideally, you’ll have cleared plenty of shooting lanes but at the very least, know where you can and can’t shoot, and don’t force the issue. Sounds simple and automatic, but without some critical thinking and planning, closing the deal on a hard-charging many-tined buck can be easier said than done. Welcome to calling bucks during the whitetail rut, an adrenaline-charged experience that will remind you, time and again, why we consider these the very best days of the year.