The Basics of Calling Deer

Deer CallsOver the last couple decades, the practice of calling deer has gained recognition as a go-to tactic among deer hunters. As the vocalizations of deer become more widely understood, more and more hunters are realizing that getting in on the conversation can pay huge dividends.

Whether you're hunting whitetails, mule deer, or blacktails, calling can be a potent tactic to add to your arsenal. In this article, we'll cover the basics of calling deer, including the history of calling, ways to use calling, types of calls, and the basic principles of calling.

Introduction to Calling Deer

Long before the arrival of Europeans in North America, Native American hunters were using hollow wooden tubes to imitate the vocalizations of deer in order to lure them within bow range. However, over the course of European colonization, the practice all but died off. In the 1960s, the first manufactured deer calls appeared, but a widespread belief persisted among hunters that deer were silent creatures, and sales of these calls languished. By the early 1990s, that had all changed. Numerous studies had confirmed a wide range of deer vocalizations, and the tactic of calling deer began a dramatic rise in popularity that continues today.

The first important thing to know about calling deer is that it will be more consistently successful in areas with low hunting pressure. Where deer movement is primarily due to natural factors, calling may be a great tactic to use. In areas where deer are moving in response to hunting pressure, calling will typically be less effective.

However, that doesn't mean it won't work on pressured deer. Even highly pressured areas have times when the pressure decreases and deer may relax and return to movements dictated by more natural factors. If you're hunting on public land, the first few days of gun season will probably not be your best bet for using calling successfully. But during other times, such as the early bow season and the late season, when there are far fewer hunters afield, calling can become an excellent gamble.

Ways to Use Deer Calling

Calling is a very versatile deer hunting tactic, and there are a number of ways you can utilize it in order to close the distance on a deer. Here are the most common ways to use deer calls:

  • Blind Calling - You can use calling to attract deer to your position that you wouldn't have seen otherwise.

  • Bringing Deer Closer - Calling can work to bring deer that you can already see into range. This is especially useful for bowhunters.

  • Calming Down Spooked Deer - If you jump, spook, or otherwise disturb a deer, but it has not yet positively identified you as a human, you can use calling to calm the deer down.

  • Stopping Deer - If a deer is stepping through a shooting lane, you can use a call to stop the deer in its tracks long enough to take a shot.

  • Covering Your Movements - When you're walking to your treestand, or any other time you're traveling through the woods, making an occasional call can convince the deer to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you're another deer.

  • Adding Realism to Rattling - When rattling, you can spice up your sequences by throwing in some calling.

Types of Calls

Deer, as it turns out, are very vocal animals. Biologists have identified 12 different types of deer vocalizations. However, let's focus on the calls that are the most useful and versatile. The buck calls most commonly used are the contact grunt, the trailing grunt, and the tending grunt. The most popular doe calls are the doe grunt, the doe bleat, and the doe estrous bleat. There are also two fawn calls that are very effective: the fawn bleat and the fawn distress bleat.

It's really a waste of time to attempt to describe these sounds in print. The best way to learn the sounds of deer calls is to purchase one of the many instructional CD or DVD sets available. Also, check out our Calling White-tailed Deer page for a more in-depth discussion of which calls to use, when to use them, and how to use them.

When it comes to buying deer calls, most experienced hunters agree that the brand doesn't really matter. All the major brands of calls will work just fine. However, you'll want to make sure you get calls that will allow you to make all of the deer sounds listed above.

A good variable tone grunt tube will allow you to make both buck grunts and doe grunts. For doe bleats, many hunters turn to the "call in a can" models that allow you to make the call by simply turning the can upside down. Then round things out with a fawn call and you're good to go. The good news is that most deer calls are relatively cheap, so try out a few brands and models until you find some you like. Oh, and there's one type of call that's by far the cheapest -- your vocal cords. Many hunters learn to use their voices to imitate the sounds of deer so they can call hands-free.

Regardless of which calls you choose to buy, you'll need to practice quite a bit in order to expect success when using them in the field. Calling is a subtle artform. When you're in the woods hunting, the more realistic-sounding you're able to make your calls on the first blow, the more likely deer will respond. The way to get there is with lots of practice.

Basic Deer Calling Principles

Calling deer is a complex skill that may take you years to master. However, if you embrace a handful of key principles, you'll save yourself a lot of mistakes and dramatically cut down your learning curve. Here are some rules of thumb for calling deer:

  • Know What You're Saying - Only call if you know what you're trying to say and why. If you're not sure, hold off until you are.

  • Less is More - Always err on the side of less calling. When in doubt, call less or not at all.

  • Keep it Subtle - While there are exceptions to this, the vast majority of effective calling will utilize calls that tend toward a softer volume.

  • 15 Minute Rule - If you're blind calling, always wait at least 15 minutes between calling sequences.

  • Take Their Temperature - Every deer will respond differently, so you need to read their reaction to your calling carefully. Call just enough to keep them interested and no more.

  • Know When to Quit - Once an animal appears, or you get the attention of an animal you already saw, stop calling. Never call to a deer that is moving in your direction.

One of the best reasons to incorporate calling into your deer hunting is because it is just pure fun. There's nothing like the thrill of communicating with deer and fooling them into believing you're one of them. If you start using the tactic of calling, you'll very likely see a lot more animals than you would have otherwise.

To take your calling to the next level, try combining it with one or more of the other attraction tactics: rattling, decoying, and scents and lures.

Further Reading:

Introduction to Calling White-tailed Deer


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