Gary Clancy: Talk like a buck — or a fawn in big trouble
From what I have seen, most archery deer hunters call too often and too loud early in the season — or they go to the other extreme and don't call at all.
Neither one works real well, but if you are set on joining one camp or the other, then I strongly suggest you choose the don't-call-at-all-camp, because at least that way, you won't be scaring deer off. Hunters who insist on calling loud, often — or worst of all both — run off a lot of deer that they never even see.
So am I suggesting that you forget about calling deer until late in the pre-rut? Absolutely not. Calling can be very, very effective those first couple of weeks of the season, if, you don't go at it the same way you would in late pre-rut or the rut itself.
This is not the time for belting out a string of tending or trailing grunts. Nor is it the time to use the so-called estrous bleat. And it sure as heck is not the time to be scaring the heck out of every deer within hearing with the increasingly popular snort-wheeze or buck roar.
If you absolutely must use one of these relatively new-on-the-scene and rarely-heard-in-the wild calls, at least do yourself the favor of waiting until later in the season before you experiment with these very aggressive buck challenge vocalizations.
For now, and for the first two to four weeks of the season, there are two calls to use.
One is just your standard grunt call. Use it to make the contact grunt whenever you see a buck that is out of range and is not going to come within range on his own. The contact grunt is a low-volume, single-note, subdued grunt.
That's it. Bucks use the contact grunt when trying to find out if there are any other bucks around. This is not an aggressive grunt or an invitation to fight. The contact grunt does not involve the does. It is simply a buck's way of possibly getting the attention of another as-yet-unseen buck.
Remember, the bucks have been hanging out together all summer. Many of them will still be winding down the bachelor party when the bow season opens. It is common for anywhere from two to a dozen bucks to be together all summer and into the early fall.
When they do split up, even though the deer do not create bonds of friendship like you and I might, my guess is that for the first week or so after the herd breaks up, some of the bucks at least are still looking to buddy-up with their old pals. You know, the old "Hey, let's go on down to Lefty's, have a couple beers and catch up on things" deal.
Of course this is looking at the contact grunt with my human mind. To a buck, the contact grunt might mean something completely different, or maybe nothing at all. I do know this — I've grunted in a lot of bucks during the early weeks of the season using the contact grunt. You can, too.
If you are looking for a fat doe, forget the doe bleats and so-called estrous bleats. These calls are marginally successful during late pre-rut and the rut when trying to lure in bucks, but they are pretty much worthless when it comes to calling in does.
The best call for luring in does is the fawn bleat call, or what is sometimes called the fawn-in-distress call. By either name, what you are doing is trying to imitate the frantic squallering of a fawn in trouble.
If you have ever heard a bellering fawn that is hung up in a fence or maybe stuck in the mud of a pond or creek, you won't soon forget the sound. It will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
That is exactly what you want to strongly represent when you mimic a fawn in trouble. You can purchase fawn bleat calls, but if you already have a predator call that mimics the sound of a grown cottontail, jack-rabbit or snowshoe hare in distress, I have found these calls to work just fine.
I stress "grown" cottontail, because some cottontail in distress predator calls are designed to emit the higher pitched cries of a baby or juvenile rabbit. These are a little bit too high-pitched for my ear.
Whether you use a cottontail in distress call or a fawn bleat call, you want to be sure to put the bleating and baaing of a panicked fawn into the call. Remember, you want to imitate the terrified cries of a fawn in big trouble.
When a doe hears the cries of a fawn, her maternal instinct kicks in and she will often come charging in to see what she can do to remedy the situation. A doe will leave her own fawns to rush to the rescue of a fawn in distress.
Because these does expect to be running head-long into a coyote, wild dog, bobcat, wolf or black bear, they are very agitated and very quick when they come charging headlong into the fray. That is why when I am using a fawn bleat, I hold the bow in my left hand while I call with my right. If you insist on leaving your bow hanging from a limb stub until the doe shows up on the scene, there is a good chance that she will dart in and back out without ever giving you a shot.
I often use a doe decoy, usually an easy to carry Montana silhouette in the set-up, just to slow the doe down when she arrives on the scene. I have tried fawn decoys, but they are just too small and difficult to see. Most of the time the doe never spots them, so if I use a decoy it will be a doe.
The simple contact grunt will attract early season bucks, and the fawn in distress will bring the does on the run. These two vocalizations have worked for me many times and I see no reason why they will not work for you this season.
Good hunting — and hey, let's be safe out there.
Gary Clancy is a full-time outdoors writer from Stewartville and is the author of nine books.