How to hunt the wariest deer in the woods

By Mark RaycroftMark Raycroft

White-Tailed Deer

Photo by Mark Raycroft

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Strategy 3: Make deer sounds

Luring bucks by mimicking deer vocalizations, or reproducing the sounds of battle, is an extremely exciting way to notch your tag. Calling and rattling doesn’t work every time, simply because there may not be deer within hearing distance, or the deer might be of the wrong sex to be interested in the sounds you’re making. As well, a big buck may already be tending a doe and unwilling to leave her side. Under the right conditions, however, calling or rattling in an aggressive buck can be a huge adrenaline rush.

Calling sequences should be brief. I’ve had the most success with a couple of doe bleats, followed roughly 10 seconds later with a buck grunt, then a longer, drawn-out tending grunt that begins quietly and increases in volume over several seconds. The goal is to create the illusion of a buck pursuing a doe in heat, which any nearby bucks will find irresistible. Always wait at least 30 minutes before repeating the sequence.

For rattling, I prefer to use an average-sized set of antler sheds. The first rattle should represent a sparring bout, in case there’s a buck closer than anticipated. Keep it short, lasting just 10 to 15 seconds. Pause for 10 seconds and repeat once, then sit tight for 30 minutes. If no buck dares show himself, assume that none were within hearing distance.

If you’re hunting close to, or during, the rut, ramp it up with another sequence, this time sounding like a full-on fight. Bring the sheds together with force, grinding the tines, main beams and bases together on and off for 30 seconds, but not longer. Bucks that respond to this aggressive rattling can appear quickly, ready to kick butt—it’s best not to get caught holding the sheds instead of your bow or gun when that happens.

If you’re rattling from the ground, also snap twigs and kick leaves to make it sound even more like two 200-plus-pound warriors going at it. The more realistic your bout sounds, the better the chances of raising the ire of the local boss buck. After the second, fight-filled rattling sequence, I let the woods remain quiet for an hour or so.

Never make vocalizations at the same time as rattling. About 15 seconds before the heavier, fight-rattling sequence, however, I’ll occasionally make a brief snort-wheeze. This aggressive call mimics a buck’s final warning before raining down his antlers on a rival. All but the most dominant bucks will avoid this intimidating call—it sounds like a buck clenching his teeth and inhaling and exhaling several very quick, short breaths, finishing with one longer inhale. You can easily make this call yourself without a grunt tube.

Tactical tips: When purchasing a grunt tube, also get an instructional DVD with examples of proper deer vocalizations you can mimic. YouTube also has some helpful videos. Some deer calls work better for some people than others—if you have difficulty producing realistic calls from one type of grunt tube, try another.

Don’t rattle aggressively during the first three weeks of October or during the post-rut, since all-out buck battles are extremely rare during these times; such intense sounds will only spook the deer.

Strategy 4: Look for bottlenecks

One of the best ways to position yourself within range of a heavy-beamed rutting buck is to study your hunting territory’s topography. Look for funnels that offer added cover for deer sneaking between bedding and feeding areas, or from one bushlot to another.

Anywhere the terrain narrows because of natural or man-made obstructions makes for a dynamite ambush site. Such pinch points can be created by the likes of a large fallen tree, a river’s edge, a beaver dam, a small cliff or rock ledge in the hardwoods, a stone hedgerow between fields or a drainage that crosses a field.

Tactical tips: Don’t limit yourself to only scouting for existing bottlenecks—also keep an eye out for places where you can slightly alter the terrain to create a more appealing pinch point for the deer.

Sparsely treed farm hedgerows that separate agricultural fields can provide concealment for cautious bucks. Typically, these hedgerows have at least one location where the rocks have been cleared to allow the farmer’s tractor to pass. If this break is along a sheltered end of the field, you’ve found a potential funnel, or bottleneck. Check for nearby rubs, scrapes and tracks. With permission, you could make an additional opening in the part of the field with the most deer sign—make sure it’s close to a suitable tree for a stand or has ample nearby brush to hide a ground blind.

Another example would be to simply cut a narrow trail through an otherwise dense thicket. Deer follow the path of least resistance, so such a subtle route would be readily adopted if it makes it easier for them to travel between their bedding and feeding areas.

Likewise, if there’s been a substantial snowfall of more than two feet, you can pack down the snow with your snowmobile or ATV to create a trail the deer will follow. Plan the route with care so that it leads from a secret bedding area to a food source—and right past your stand.

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