Whitetail Deer: Call Smarter This Season

As far as I can tell, rattling in a buck is fairly simple. You just hold the antlers shoulder-width apart, slam them together a couple of times, hang them on a hook or nearby limb, grab your bow, shoot the giant buck that sprints to your tree, and pump your fist as you whisper/yell your catchphrase. Fade to black.

That's the way it seems on television, anyway. Trouble is, that never seems to work where I hunt. Mark Kenyon, a fellow Michigander and founder of WiredToHunt.com, hunts the same type of ground and deer that I do—ground surrounded by other hunters and deer that are called to, rattled at, and shot at. A lot.

“I’ve found that in heavily hunted areas, calling and rattling can sometimes do more harm than good. I think that by October and November, bucks associate those noises with hunters.”

Chances are good that you hunt in an area that’s more like what Kenyon describes than what you see on TV. So does that mean you shouldn’t bother with calling and rattling? Not necessarily. Nor does it mean that those TV guys can’t teach us a thing or two.

Daniel McVay is one of the personalities on BuckVentures. He can be seen hunting in some pretty incredible spots where rattling and calling has proven to be highly effective.
McVay spent several years as a guide in Illinois, putting hunters on bucks that had seen—and heard—it all. Prior to that, the West Virginian tangled with some heavily hunted deer in his home state.

“You can’t blow on a grunt call or bang antlers just anywhere,” McVay says. “In reality, there are only a few places and situations where blind, aggressive calling will work at all. And those are places where deer aren’t pressured hard and there are numerous mature bucks to begin with. You have to call differently if you want anything positive to happen.”

Rattle Right
A few years back, I killed a buck on public land in Kansas after rattling him in—twice. The first time he committed to calling he circled and caught my scent and dashed off. Less than two hours later, after a blind rattling sequence, that same buck popped out of a tree row and headed right for my doe decoy.

That same season—just a few days prior, in fact—I saw one of the biggest, oldest bucks I’ve ever come across in Michigan. He was the dominant buck of the area without question, so when I saw him cruising through a cut bean field about 200 yards out, I decided to try and grunt him in. He didn’t respond to the grunts, so I banged my rattling antlers together. He heard that.

His head snapped up and he peered in my direction for about 15 seconds before hunkering down, tucking tail, and walking quickly in the opposite direction. That’s the first lesson of calling and rattling to bucks in the real world: You will seldom get the type of response you see in areas where deer aren’t called to often.

“I think you really have to understand the deer you’re trying to call to. If I’m in a relatively low-pressure area and the age structure is well-balanced and bucks are in frequent competition for breeding rights, I’m going to rely on rattling and calling more,” says Kenyon. “But I’m still going to do it in a manner that mimics a real-world situation as much as I can.”

“Don’t blind call,” offers McVay. “The only deer I’m going to call to is the one I can see. I’m going to give him one or two soft grunts or lightly tick those tines together when he’s facing away from me. If he looks, I’m done. He knows where that sound came from. Just because he continues to walk away doesn’t mean he’s leaving, though. A lot of guys assume that buck is gone when, in fact, he might circle back in.”