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Calling Whitetails

A Deer Hunting Article

Written by T.R. Michels


The calls that white-tailed deer use fall into five basic categories: Alarm/Distress, Agonistic (aggressive), Maternal/Neonatal (doe/fawn), Mating, and Contact. Alarm/Distress, Agonistic, and Maternal/Neonatal calls have limited use by their very nature. Contact calls are used by deer to let their presence be known and to locate other deer, they work well to attract deer at any time. Mating calls are used primarily during the rut and can be used successfully at that time to attract deer.

Alarm/Distress calls are used to alert other deer of danger or used by deer when they are injured, trapped or afraid, which causes them to become cautious or come to the aid of the deer performing the call. The Alarm Snort is used to alert other deer of possible danger, usually when a deer sees, smells or hears a predator or something unknown. I use the Alarm Snort when a deer snorts or stamps its foot after it discovers me, or when it is alarmed by the sight, scent or sound of me.

If the deer does not immediately flee I snort back, imitating another alarmed deer. Deer that hear a snort in response to their own snort often mistake the sight or sound that alerted them for another deer (as long as they don't smell danger). I have had does with fawns come to my snort call, wanting to discover the deer they thought they heard. They often walk into the open for a better look, and stand long enough for a shot. Snorts can also be used while rattling to simulate a fight. The Distress Bawl is used by deer that are hurt or trapped; upon initial injury; or when caught by a predator. The Bawl is a call for help and may attract maternal does and sometimes young bucks out of curiosity. I have had does leave their own young to investigate a long, drawn out Distress Bawl.

The Maternal/Neonatal calls are used by the doe and its fawns to communicate with each other. The Maternal Grunt sounds much like any other grunt, and is used by the doe to tell the fawn it is near or used to locate the fawn for feeding. Because it sounds similar to other grunts the Maternal Grunt will attract any deer, especially bucks during the rut. The Fawn Mew is used by a fawn as a response to the Maternal Grunt, or it is used when the fawn wants attention. The Bleat is a louder form of the Mew and is given when the fawn wants urgent attention (used as a fawn version of the distress call), or when it wants to be fed. The Nursing Whine is performed while the fawn is actually nursing. These calls may attract does out of maternal instinct, and young deer or small bucks out of curiosity.

Agonistic Calls
The Grunt is the first level of aggression, but it is used by all deer regularly and will attract any deer, especially bucks of all ages throughout the rut. The Grunt-Snort is the next level of aggression and is used primarily by bucks during the breeding season in buck encounters. Because it often occurs when two bucks are in conflict over an estrus doe it will attract bucks, especially dominants, from the time velvet is shed until the end of the second breeding phase. The Grunt-Snort can be used in conjunction with rattling to simulate a fight or a buck making a rage rub. The Grunt-Snort-Wheeze is the highest level of aggression and is performed primarily by bucks before a charge, leg kick or fight. It may scare off lesser bucks, while attracting a dominant when used near its rubs and scrapes, or it can be used to stop a buck with an estrus doe. The Grunt-Snort-Wheeze is best used when hunting only for dominant bucks, from the time they shed their velvet through the late breeding period.

Mating Calls
Because Mating calls are associated with breeding they may attract any buck looking for a doe, especially dominants wanting to find out what other buck is in the area. The Tending Grunt is performed when a buck is following, or with an estrus doe, warning all other bucks to stay away. I have heard bucks make one short grunt while with a doe; several grunts (almost with every stride); and a long drawn out (7 second) grunt while trotting after a doe. The Flehmen gesture or sniff is performed by a buck when it is inhaling urine to check for estrogen, often while trailing or with a doe. Because both the Tending Grunt and the Flehmen Sniff indicate a nearby estrus doe, most bucks in the area will respond throughout the rut, especially dominants. However, young bucks may avoid the area of this call, fearing an encounter with a dominant buck.

Contact Calls
The Contact Call or Social Grunt is by nature non-threatening, because it is used to locate other deer. Any deer may respond out of curiosity, especially bucks, throughout the rut. In Marchinton's study no doe in heat or doe breeding call was noted, although many call manufacturers contend there is one. The sound of the call they claim is an estrus doe bleat may actually be the Social Grunt, which is louder and longer than normal and is used to locate other deer, therefore it attracts bucks during the rut.

What Call For Which Deer
Determining what call to use when you are hunting White-tailed Deer is not a matter of which rut phase you are hunting, but which sex and age class of deer you want to attract. Does respond to distress calls and Maternal/Neonatal calls primarily out of maternal instinct. All bucks respond to any call, which may lead them to an estrus doe; a Social Grunt or Low Grunt. Dominant bucks also respond to Mating calls and aggressive grunts out of the desire to exert dominance. Subdominant bucks may respond to these same calls during the breeding phase, but they may not respond because they are afraid of encountering a dominant. If you are hunting for any legal buck it may best not to use mating calls or aggressive grunts.
There are basically four different techniques for calling deer that can be used anytime during the rut. The fourth technique is not as effective during the Rest Phase and Post Rut because the bucks are exhausted, not as aggressive, and not as interested in breeding.
1. Distress Call or Fawn Bawl for does and young bucks.
2. Social or Low Grunt for any deer.
3. Social/Low/Tending Grunt for all bucks.
4. Social/Low/Tending Grunt or Grunt Snort for dominant bucks.