Calling and Rattling: When To Do It

Calling has revolutionized the way I hunt whitetails and increased my success immensely.  When I began calling deer, I only used antlers.  Though there were successes, it wasn’t until I began using a grunt tube, alone and in conjunction with antlers that my success at luring deer close increased significantly.  During the last 20 years, I’ve discovered that deer are more responsive to a call than anything else.  For this reason my grunt tube goes with me whether I’m hunting with gun, bow, or camera.  Regardless of where I hunt in North America, I find that for every buck I rattle in, up to 20 will respond to grunting, bleating, and wheezing.

Bow hunter full drawn on a huge whitetail buck

Whether you are a novice or seasoned veteran, it’s important to realize that you don’t need to know how to make every vocalization a whitetail is able to make.  Researchers have isolated between 200 and 400 different sounds deer make (depending on which research you look at).  You do not have to know them all.  There are four basic sounds (with variations) that whitetails make: bleat, grunt, wheeze, and snort.  Master these and you will be amazed by how many bucks you can call within shooting range.

My favorite calls are the bleat, fawn bleat, basic grunt, trailing grunt, tending grunt, wheeze and aggressive snort.


Bleat:  I find the bleat to be a good locator/coaxing call much like a turkey yelp.  I often use the bleat a couple of times just before and after I do a rattling sequence.  I’ll also use it when the action is slow and I haven’t seen deer in a while.  Basically it sounds like neeeeaaah.  A bleat is easy to learn on most grunt tubes and a no-brainer if you have one of the gravity bleat cans that are very popular.  These canisters have holes in the top of them and when tipped upside down make a whitetail bleat.

Fawn Bleat:  The fawn bleat is very similar to the bleat, but the major difference is that it is high pitched, like you would expect for a young animal.  The fawn bleat is a phenomenal call for photographers who hunt whitetails throughout the year and for the late season deer hunters.  I’ve called countless does and bucks within camera range during the summer months using this call.  During this time of the year nearly all adult deer will be on high alert when they respond.  When used during the autumn months the fawn bleat is an excellent locator call.  Bucks that hear it will often come to check it out because they know there must be a doe in the area.

Basic Grunt:  Grunting is the vocalization of choice for whitetails.  Bucks, does and fawns grunt.  When it comes to the grunting sound that deer make it should be noted that all grunts do not sound the same because of each deer’s physical difference.  No two deer will sound exactly the same.  I’ve learned this through in-the-field experience from 25 years of raising whitetails to study their behavior.  By way of example, while in my deer enclosure, out of sight of a deer that is grunting, I’ve been able to know which buck is grunting.

Bow hunter using a grunt call

The tone of the grunt will often depend on the maturity level of the buck.  Older bucks have a lot of bass in their voice, meaning their grunts sound very guttural.  For the most part I will not use a deep-throated guttural grunt unless I know I’m communicating with a mature buck.  If you try using such a grunt on a yearling or 2 ½ year old buck there is a distinct possibility that he’ll turn tail and flee. Unless I can identify the buck’s size, or know from the grunting sound that it’s a mature buck, I’ll give off one to four medium-tone grunts.

If I’m on stand and hear a buck grunt, but can’t see him, I’ll immediately grunt back.  If the buck is not with a doe he’ll usually come looking for the deer that made the sound.  The key is to never be tentative when a buck grunts first.

Trailing Grunt:  The trailing grunt is a short grunt that bucks make when traveling through the woods or when around other deer.  It’s not uncommon for a rut-crazed buck to make a short grunt every 1 to 10 steps if he’s in the right mood.  If I see a buck walking through the woods, I’ll use this grunt to stop him and to coax him in my direction.  This is also a call I use when no deer are in sight.  If a buck is sexually active but not with a doe, there is a good chance he’ll respond to a grunt.

Tending Grunt:  The tending grunt can be a lethal weapon if used properly.  When a buck is with a hot doe and is either frustrated by her rejection or is interrupted by another buck, he’ll make a grunt that has a ticking cadence.  If I’m hunting in thick cover during the rut and a buck walks within sight of the stand, I’ll use a tending grunt to bring him within range.  This is a great call to use when bucks are on the move and the rut is boiling over.

Big buck tending a whitetail doeA buck tends a doe

Wheeze:  The wheeze is an aggressive sound that bucks make when they are irritated by the presence of other bucks.  There are times that a buck will grunt or snort before wheezing, but more often than not, they will only wheeze.  There are a number of commercial calls on the market that can make the wheeze.  I make the wheeze naturally and use it often during the rut when I see a buck on the move.  The key is to make it loud enough to get the buck’s attention.  Making a loud wheeze just before rattling can be lethal.

Aggressive-snort:  The aggressive-snort will put whitetails on high alert.  In spite of this there are times to consider using it.  When breeding parties form (when more than one buck is trying to breed the same doe) aggressive snorting often takes place by bucks attempting to intimidate each other.  Often when I’m doing a rattling sequence I’ll make two to three snorts while I’m clashing the antlers together.  This is not a call you want to use often, but during the chase and breeding phases of the rut it can be worth your time to use it while rattling.  Use sparingly and with caution.

If a whitetail buck is with a doe, especially an estrus doe, he will be very hard (if not impossible) to call within range.  The wheeze, or a soft snort followed immediately by a loud wheeze is about the only way I’ve succeeded in doing so.  A buck that leaves an estrous doe for this aggressive tactic will be looking for a fight when he comes to the sound.

Big buck chasing a doe through water during the rutYou might have to crank up the volume of your calling if you’ve got a buck hot after a doe.


When I rattle I do it aggressively for roughly one minute.  Few fights I’ve witnessed during the rut have lasted longer, so I keep it short and loud and make it as aggressive as possible.  Should you see a buck at long range don’t be afraid to rattle loud to get his attention.  If he responds and heads in your direction stop rattling and think of using your deer call once he’s close enough to hear the call’s vocalizations.

Don’t over-rattle; rather, space the rattling sequences about 40-45 minutes apart.  I’ve also found that rattling during the two-hour period either side of darkness works best.  However, don’t rule out midday.

When rattling, try to do it in the thickest cover possible, especially if you’re bow hunting.  When a buck responds to antlers he may approach on a dead run, a trot, or cautiously.  However, don’t be surprised if it takes up to 10 or more minutes for a buck to come within view.  The key is to be ready for action as soon as you are finished rattling.

Importance of Doe:Buck Ratios

The success rate for calling and rattling will depend on the quality of the deer herd where you are hunting.  If the herd is fine-tuned, meaning the adult-doe-to-antlered-buck ratio is not greater than 2 to 1 and there are mature bucks in the population, calling and rattling will work well.  If the area’s sex ratio is skewed heavily toward does with mostly yearling bucks,Call rattling will seldom work.

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