Using Deer Calls & Scents: An All-Season Guide

Deer season is here! See more bucks from stand with this guide detailing when, how, and where to use grunt and bleat calls, rattling systems and scents.

by Josh Honeycutt

HuntStand Pro Contributor MORE FROM Josh

DeerCalls4 900Using deer calls and scents while deer hunting is a complicated subject, especially considering how these tactical approaches change throughout the season. Calling, rattling, and scent use are complicated tactics, but each has its place.

For example, perhaps you’re targeting a big pre-rut buck. It hits your mock scrape daily, thanks to the Magnum Scrape Dripper hanging above it. Eventually, the deer begins daylighting, and you move in to hunt it. The first afternoon in, the buck shows, and you fill your tag.

Likewise, imagine it’s the first week of November. A cruising buck walks down the ridge line, well out of bow range. It’s heading away from you, and there’s no hope of a shot opportunity. Then, you grab your grunt tube, send a few subtle vocalizations its way, and pull that deer right into range. That’s a common occurrence each year, and makes the difference in many hunts.

DeerCalls11 900Lean On HuntStand For Help. When it comes to these deer-attracting techniques, sometimes it’s hard to know how to react when the pressure is on. We don’t always make the right call, but sometimes, we do. Still, it’s always best to be prepared. And there are many ways that HuntStand helps hunters packing grunt and bleat calls, rattling antlers, and scents lure more animals.

First, use the app to mark stand locations that are especially suited for calling and rattling. These might be areas where sound carries better, such as ridge lines, ridge endings, etc. Choosing spots close to known cruising routes that bucks use to find does is another possibility. And don’t forget the downwind sides of doe bedding areas.

DeerCalls12 900Huntstand is also great for mapping out potential scent drag routes. For example, being able to walk in a shallow ditch or stream, all while using a scent drag up along the bank. This keeps your scent away from the drag trail.

Those who choose to make mock scrapes, and use scents or scent drippers, can keep track of these with app markers. It’s easy to lose track of something, especially if it’s something as obscure as a specific scrape.

All things considered, deer season is here. And hunters will use calling, rattling, and scent lures every day of the season. But it’s best to use them in the right situations. Knowing the ins and outs of implementing deer calls and scents is important; what follows is your all-season guide.

DeerCalls3 900Hunting The Early Season (Opening day to October 15). The early season is best described as a calm time. Deer haven’t been pressured since last season. They aren’t as jittery or anxious as they were months ago. These deer are focused entirely on food, not love. And they’re extremely patternable on bed-to-feed routes. Life is good for them, unless they cross paths with a hunter.

Daylight activity gradually increases throughout summer and fall, also peaking during the rut. But the early season is a great time to experience that daytime movement due to limited pressure. Fresh out velvet (or about to be), testosterone levels are beginning to rise, finally breaching the threshold that triggers velvet shedding. Still, testosterone levels are relatively low compared to the rut. It gradually increases, peaking during the big event.

Bachelor groups are part of this phase. Bucks are largely in groups, spending their time with others of their kind. This is a period when deer sort out the bulk of the pecking order. Fights still break out throughout the season, but these are usually between bucks that didn’t size each other up earlier in the year. Or, perhaps they decided on round No. 2. Regardless, deer spar and fight throughout the season, even though much of the hierarchy is determined during summer, and the early season.

Calling: In most situations, calling is ill-advised during the early season. If you call, it should be a low-key vocalization.

Rattling: Personally, early season rattling hasn’t worked out well. But it isn’t impossible. Use it sparingly and in high-odds situations, such as when you see two bucks already fighting.

Scents: This is the perfect time to jumpstart a mock scrape with some buck urine. Or, use it in an existing scrape. Great options are Active Scrape and Mega Tarsal Plus.DeerCalls8 900Hunting The Pre-Rut (October 16-31). Things are starting to change. Bachelor groups have separated. Of the 50 percent of bucks that have different summer and fall ranges, these have likely relocated to the latter. New patterns are emerging as food sources change, which are largely hard mast (acorns), soft mast (apples), and other things, such as browse.DeerCalls13 900Rub and scrape numbers are starting to amplify, too, signaling the oncoming rut. Testosterone levels are building rapidly, necks are swelling, and bucks are getting frustrated. Deer are still on patterns, and very few does have entered estrus.

Daylight activity continues to climb as we move deeper into October. This is the phase when bucks start venturing out of their bedding areas a little more (and longer) each day. Things are starting to get good for deer hunters.

Calling: Now is the time to start thinking about using calls but stick to soft to moderate buck grunts and doe bleats.

Rattling: Rattling can work, too. But focus on light sparring. Don’t clash them too hard. No all-out fights.

Scents: Continue ramping up the scent use but reserve it for scrapes and mock scrapes. Perhaps use both buck and doe urine.DeerCalls1 900Hunting The Early Rut (November 1-10). Now it’s really getting good. This is the favored rut phase for most hunters. The first does have entered estrus, but it’s still a small percentage. Most are still unreceptive, and bucks are frantically searching because of it.

This is the period many refer to as the “seeking phase.” This is due to bucks’ increased daylight movements. They’ve largely abandoned bed-to-feed patterns, and instead, are cruising for does.

Expect most deer activity to be focused near doe bedding areas, food sources, and traditional rut stands, such as pinch points, saddles, etc. Bucks are likely working hard to find a female to partner up with.

Calling: Now is the time to really ramp up calling. Bucks are on the prowl, but most does aren’t very receptive yet. Calling plays to a buck’s rising testosterone.

Rattling: The same goes for rattling. But start with calling, and if that doesn’t work, try rattling. Always start more passive, and then get more aggressive.

Scents: Continue using scents, but don’t be afraid to use a doe estrus scent drag in addition to scrapes.DeerCalls9 900Hunting The Peak Rut (November 11-20). This is the peak rut, which oftentimes gets a false label as being a great time to deer hunt. Sure, you can tag a big one during this window. Hunters do every year—a lot of them. But it’s not guaranteed.

You see, this is the phase when deer are locking down with does. And a buck will pair off with one for 24 to 48 hours before breaking off in search of the next one. So, it isn’t like bucks are locked down for this period, and not all bucks lock down simultaneously. But the bulk of does do enter estrus during this window, making it harder to catch bucks up on their feet.

All things considered, expect a slight decline in action from the week before. You’ll still see plenty of cruising, chasing, and tending, but you need to be where the estrus does are. If you aren’t, it’s generally a slow time to hunt.

Calling: Bucks and does are pairing off frequently, and when that happens, it’s hard to call a buck off the real thing. But don’t be discouraged—it’s possible to provoke a buck with a doe, and to capture the attention of a passing loner.

Rattling: Same here. Don’t be afraid to get aggressive with it. It can work, for sure.

Scents: Continue using scent drags in hopes of getting the attention of passing deer.

DeerCalls10 900Hunting The Late Rut (November 21-30). Things are cooling down now. Most hunters have filled their tags, or are tired of trying. And to be honest, it’s hard to blame them. Months of social media photos makes it seem that all bucks have been hauled off to taxidermists and meat processors. And if you haven’t killed a buck by the rut, there’s no chance of tagging one afterward, right? Wrong.

Most does are now unreceptive to bucks. That’s true. But a few remain, and older bucks know it. Younger ones depleted their energy and fat stores earlier in the month, but mature deer still have some gas in the tank, and they’re carefully using it.

Even better news? The recordbooks show that a large percentage of top-end bucks are taken during this phase. That’s good news for hunters still packing tags.

Calling: It’s time to start toning down the calling, but don’t completely abandon it if you see a buck that’s out of range and going away.

Rattling: The same with rattling. Start with calling, but if that doesn’t work, use the antlers.

Scents: Continue using scent drags, but make sure your own scent isn’t tarnishing it. And start paying attention to scrapes and mock scrapes again.DeerCalls5 900Hunting The Post-Rut (December 1-10). Most of the rutting is over now. Bucks are worn down from a long month of maximum energy usage and minimal nutrient intake. They’re tired, beaten, bruised, and highly pressured. They’re not up for confrontations anymore.

That said, some missed does and doe fawns will enter estrus during this phase, or later. Bucks that tend these deer are opportunists, though, and usually aren’t actively seeking. Instead, most of the herd is focusing on food, and trying to recoup lost body weight.

As a result of these changes, hunters should shift their tactics to match the deer behavior. It’s all about staying ahead of changes, not behind them. That’s crucial, especially for consistent success.

Calling: Perhaps leave the calls in the pack now. If you call, make sure it’s toned down.

Rattling: Rattling rarely works at this point, but exceptions are always present.

Scents: Throw a drag line down if you want, but the best scent-related plays are scrapes and mock scrapes now.DeerCalls2 900Hunting The Late Season (December 11 to Closing Day). Very little rut action is occurring now, and if any is, it’s likely driven by doe fawns. In some places, as high as 50 percent of doe fawns enter estrus, but that’s in areas with the best habitat and food sources. Most states see a far lower percentage.

Because of this, bucks are focused on feed patterns. Similar to the early season, deer are all about food sources, and might even bachelor back up. In some cases, where quality bedding areas and food sources are limited, they might even yard up, which is a term used to describe large gatherings of deer.

As a result, deer are being much more tolerable of one another. Posturing, fighting, and other forms of animosity are virtually nonexistent. Remember that.

Calling: Leave the calls in the pack, and only pull it out as a hail Mary.

Rattling: At this point, rattling is an even bigger hail Mary.

Scents: Use if you want, but food sources are way more important.DeerCalls6 900Every Situation Is Different. While the above descriptions and tactical approaches are general rules for each phase of deer season, most every situation is different. It’s OK to operate outside of these suggestions if you find yourself in a situation that calls for it.

For example, let’s say it’s early October. A doe is obviously in estrus, and bucks are running around like it’s November. That’s an opportunity to get aggressive with the calls, and maybe even some rattling. Likewise, if a similar encounter unfolds during the late season, it’s probably best to get aggressive then, too.

Good luck and have fun out there this season.



HuntStand is the #1 hunting and land management app in the country. It combines advanced mapping tools with powerful map layers to allow users to create and share the best hunting maps possible.