Calling & Rattling Whitetails
Whitetails are secretive by nature. Eleven months of the year, big antlered bucks ghost about under the cover of foliage and darkness. Their innate ability to evade predators, not to mention human encounters, makes them one of the most challenging game species on the continent.
By Kevin Wilson
But each fall brings the annual rut, beginning in early September as velvet sheds and peaking in mid-November with the doe estrus. Driven by their biological urge to breed, for a short time, even the most dominant of bucks throw caution to the wind as they eagerly search for hot does. It is at this time, that many whitetail hunters employ rattling and calling to coax otherwise wary bucks into range.
Calls & Calling
Serious whitetail hunters generally maintain an inventory of at least three or more calls. I like to carry as many as four calls; two grunt calls and two bleat calls, particularly ones that allow me to vary the pitch and volume of each vocalization. One of my own favourite deer call manufacturers is Hunters Specialties. They make a variety of deer calls, but my favourite is the Tue Talker. It is a versatile call that allows the hunter to project different tones and pitches, emulating an assortment of buck grunt calls and doe or fawn bleats. Likewise, it’s tough to beat the tried and true can calls. As far as pure doe bleat calls, I’m a firm believer in Primos’ doe estrus can calls. For almost a decade now, I’ve seen consistent success with two in particular, the original can and the Lil’ Can. The Original Can call emits a mid-range volume good for most situations, when conditions are calm and deer are further away. The Lil’ Can is, in my opinion, best used when there is no wind, and bucks are at a distance of less than 70 yards away. As a bowhunter, I’ve coaxed more trophy-sized bucks to within bow range with this call than any other. As an outfitter and guide, I always make sure my guests have one of these calls in hand while on stand. It has indeed closed the deal on more big bucks than any other call we’ve used.
Consider proximity to the deer you’re attempting to communicate. Call too loud and you risk blowing the deer out of the area. Call too quietly, and they may not hear you, especially in windy conditions. Calling is always an exercise in interpretation and discernment. Remember to alter the volume, rhythm and inflection as you call. Your goal is to sound as realistic as possible. While many deer hunters like to use a grunt call to capture a buck’s attention, I’m a big fan of using a doe bleat first and foremost. Calling can be used on its own or in sync with rattling from as early as mid-September on through to early December, with late October and the first two weeks of November traditionally being the most productive weeks. In my experience, as a preamble to any rattling sequence, I like to call a few times with a doe bleat, follow with several soft grunt calls, and continue with these sporadically throughout each rattling session.
With a good set of antlers in-hand, learning how to rattle is simple, as long as attention is given to detail. In my experience, an increasingly aggressive sequence usually outperforms the haphazard approach. As you begin your rattling sequence, imagine you are two bucks sizing each other up. Most often bucks will first posture, then slowly approach. Initial contact is usually with caution, sliding their racks together as though they are evaluating each other’s rack. This may continue for up to a minute and then they separate. A common encounter might involve a two-to-five minute break during which time each postures, grunts, rakes branches, urinates and circles the other. As they come together again, it is usually with more aggression. Consistent with this, as you rattle, mimic this increased aggression. As antler-on-antler contact is made, rarely do the bucks separate. This is where many hunters make a mistake. Just bashing bone on bone isn’t normally enough to entice a curious buck, nor is separating the antlers and hitting them together haphazardly with no rhyme or reason. This in fact may sound unnatural. A natural confrontation involves twisting and grinding, with periodic clatter of antlers. This second portion of the sequence should similarly last for up to a minute. If nothing has responded by this time, then following that deliberate physical confrontation, separate cleanly. At this point wait a bit longer and go at it with everything you’ve got. If a curious buck has been listening but reluctant to come in to inspect the commotion, following a seven to 10-minute break, you’ll then want to emulate a final phase of the confrontation. To do so, bring the antlers together as loudly and aggressively as you can. Your goal is to mimic an all-out antler-splitting fight to establish dominance. Then after a full minute of loud and intentional rattling, again separate with a clean break and continue with grunt sounds and raking of branches or leaves. Aggressive rattling of this nature will often force nearby bucks to make a decision. Sensing the growing tension, they will either vacate the area or come in for a closer look.
Each year I call in many bucks using this technique. With prime time being November 9th through 16th, the odd one is even drawn in throughout the latter weeks of October and infrequently during the last week of November. To clarify, when I say “call in”, I’m referring to bucks that approach to under 50 yards and most within 20. Some come running in like a freight train and others sneak in. The fact is, when the buck-to-doe ratio is high, this method can be just like ringing a dinner bell!