It’s difficult to get close a mature whitetail buck. Whitetail bucks are among the most elusive big game animals in North America. The mature ones don’t get old by being stupid. So I am always on the lookout for tactics that can get me within bow-range of these grey ghosts. A few years ago I heard Jeff Danker of Buck Ventures talking about blind calling. I decided to give it a try and it has quickly become one of my go-to rut hunting strategies.
Here’s how I use blind calling to get mature whitetail bucks in bow range.
If a Deer Grunts in the Woods…
A t one point in my progression as a hunter I was fairly doubtful that deer even made sound. If they did make noise I had never heard it. I was still sitting on field edges with my rifle waiting for big bucks to appear. Once I began bow hunting and got up close and personal with my quarry I realized deer are extremely vocal creatures. I’ve heard everything from soft mews between a doe and her fawn to a mature buck bawling like a branded calf. The fact that deer are quite vocal is a chink in their armor, and in the rut it can be used against them.
My first experience calling whitetail bucks was about six years ago. I was hunting my family farm with a buddy in late . My friend picked a spot to set up and I took a seat on a log about a hundred yards away. The log was located on the edge of an old field surrounded by cottonwoods and thick brush. Since my tag was already filled I had only packed my binoculars and a grunt tube that I purchased at Wal-Mart.
It was mid-late November and the Montana rut was in full swing. As the evening drew closer I hadn’t seen a single deer. Finally a buck materialized in the golden light of the fading sun. He was a young buck with three points on each side. His nose was glued to the ground and he was on a mission: find a hot doe.
I put my grunt tube to my mouth and gave a short sharp BURRRAP! What happened next blew my mind. The buck’s head snapped up off the ground and looked straight at me. In an instant he was coming toward me on a rope. I was pleasantly surprised but my surprise quickly turned to fear as he charged toward me. He closed the distance quickly. I figured he would see me but he didn’t. At about fifteen yards I finally waved my arms and made some noise. The buck was so convinced by what his ears heard and so jacked up by his hormones that he still didn’t run away. Instead, he circled slowly around me until he was downwind. Once he caught my scent he snorted and turned inside out trying to get out sight.
My first calling experience put a buck in my lap. Maybe there is something to this, I thought. He was obviously hunting a doe in estrous and I simply tricked him into thinking she was with me. This experience showed me that a buck could be lured within bow range by a well-timed grunt but what about blind calling? Is it really advisable to throw out a bunch of noise and cause deer to magically appear?
Risk vs. Reward:
Many hunting strategies come down to risk vs. reward. If I do “this” what will the intended and unintended consequences be? I believe the old adage “nothing ventured nothing gained” applies here. A lot of hunters would classify blind calling as a high-risk maneuver, and I don’t necessarily disagree, but that doesn’t change the fact that it produces. In my opinion, it all comes down to timing, and implementation. So lets get into it.
Tools of the Trade:
A good set genuine whitetail sheds is my favorite. I’m sure there are many products that work. We’ve all seen them on TV. But I love the sound of natural sheds. The beauty of using sheds to rattle is that you can collect a set all by yourself. Tie them together with a bit of paracord or leather and you have a set of ear-ticklers.
A note about what type of sheds to use: They don’t have to be a perfectly matched set but you want them to be pretty closely matched. I prefer the sheds from a three and a half or four and a half year old deer. Bigger sheds will produce a deeper sound. You better believe that your rattling will sound more appealing if Mr. Big thinks it sounds like a fight he can win. So I like average sized four or five point sheds. You also don’t want your sheds to be old and crusty. Shiny sheds will give a better “clack” and produce a more enticing tone.
It’s important that you remove the brow tines. Rattling with the brow tines intact is a good way to smash your thumbs. I’m currently using a closely matched set that I found with busted off brow tines.
There are many ways to grunt to a deer. You don’t even need a tube. The sound of a buck tending a doe can be produced in the back of your throat. Just like with rattling there are many options. Some will sound more lifelike than others and you may have to kiss a few pigs to find the tube that really sings for you.
Since we’re talking about blind-calling though, there is one feature that stands out as important for our purposes; volume. Some of the smaller tubes on the market require you to “over blow” to get the volume needed. I have a grunt tube made by Primos called the “Buck Roar” and it has excellent tone and volume. To me it has an authoritative sound. It’s exactly the sound I want to speak to the top 20% of older age class bucks. That’s not to say it won’t attract smaller bucks but the come in on pins and needles.
The Perfect Property:
I think the reason some hunters are afraid to blind call may have to do with the property they are hunting. If you are hunting a 20-acre parcel in the Midwest and you’ve got a dandy showing up on your trail cameras your primary concern is keeping that deer on your 20 acres. Wandering into the woods and making all kinds of noise is probably not the best option. However there are some property dynamics that lend themselves to successful blind calling.
The Large Farm:
A large farm is ideal for blind calling. On a large farm spooking a buck will not put him in your neighbors crosshairs. The same deer will most likely just be a bit wary of the area where you were making noise.
The Travel Corridor:
If you don’t have the acreage then this tactic is best employed on a property where bucks are going to be cruising through, not a sanctuary property where they want to feel secure.
Another important component is a high buck to doe ratio. A buck to doe ratio of at least 1:1 means bucks will have to travel more to find hot does and spar more to secure the chance to breed. This increases the odds that a mature buck will be on his feet within earshot when you are calling.
The Perfect Execution:
This is where the light bulb came on for me. When I first started blind calling I would sit through the morning hunt and once the action started to slow down I would throw out a rattling sequence to try to rustle something up. I would do the same with the afternoon hunt. If I wasn’t seeing much I would give the grunt tube a shot. This was almost always unsuccessful as you might imagine.
A minor tweak to the timing has made blind calling my favorite part of whitetail hunting. Instead of trying to jumpstart the action when it’s slow, I started blind calling during the prime times. It makes sense if you think about it. The deer are at the peak of their activity just after shooting light and just before dark. It’s much easier to attract a deer that’s already on its feet than it is to get one out of its bed.
My favorite time to blind call is first thing in the morning!
At the very first ray of shooting light I smash my rattling antlers together and let loose on the grunt tube.
Make sure you don’t get caught sitting around waiting with your rattling antlers in your hands. Pick up your bow (or rifle) and get ready! When it comes together, it happens quickly. Keep your head on a swivel because you never know which direction a buck may come from.
The Perfect Timing:
Timing is everything. Calling during the wrong time of the season will produce no results or even negative results. I’ve hurled a grunt many a buck only to have him pause, look my way, and then carry on about his business. A different time of the year and that same buck will bristle up like an angry porcupine and come stomping in my direction.
So when should you blind call? This will vary depending on where you hunt. You have to know your woods, because the rut is not consistent across the board. In some states the rut heats up around the final week of October. In other states like my home state of Montana, the bucks don’t get hot and bothered until around November 12th.
Consider the whitetail rut. It’s the combination of peak testosterone, and sexual frustration. You want to blind call from as the bucks are ramping up all the way through the peak of the rut.
If you’ve read our Guide to the Montana Whitetail Rut then you know the Seek Stage in Montana begins around November 12th. Bucks will be increasingly turned on and annoyed until they finally connect with a hot doe, so that means they are extremely vulnerable and that makes it prime blind calling time.
B lind calling has produced the last three bucks that I’ve shot, and many more that I’ve let walk. This year it was part of a very special hunt.
My 6-year-old son and I brought in a nice young whitetail buck this year. I rattled and my son Rio, grunted. Three bucks appeared from nowhere. The buck I shot came almost 300 yards across an open field. I shot him with my .270 at 75 yards. He was turning to engage one of the other bucks that had also come to the sound of our call.
We went from literally nothing going on in front of us to an absolute firework display in the field. It was the first time my son has been with me when I’ve close the deal on a deer. Blind calling made a memory we will share forever, and every time I tell the story I make sure I emphasize how he blew the grunt tube, and I watch his chest puff with pride because he helped dad get a deer. It doesn’t get any better.