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Secrets for Callling Deer

Understanding The Rut Phases
EDITOR'S NOTE: Jerry Peterson is the founder and product designer of Woods Wise Products, the makers of quality game calls in Franklin, Tennessee.
QUESTION: What are the basic facts a hunter should know about the rut?
PETERSON: Most importantly, you must understand the phase of the rut you are hunting. If you don't know, you can make two simple observations of the does, and also look at scrapes to determine the rut phase. Generally, when bucks make scrapes, they are looking for, but not finding does. During the prerut, bucks work scrapes to their maximum. When they stop tending those scrapes, you know you are going into the peak of the rut. The bucks no longer have any reasons to tend scrapes because they are finding what they are looking for. Secondly, you can look at the doe's tarsal glands on the inside of her hind leg and gauge the phase of the rut by the color of the glands. For example, a solid-white tarsal gland means there is no rutting activity whatsoever going on. The prerut phase is marked by a chocolate-brown center in the white tarsal gland. And during the peak of the rut, the doe's tarsal glands are jet black. The fourth point about the tarsal gland is once she has bred, she licks it clean. So you can gauge the progress of the rut by looking at every doe you see.
Once you know what phase the deer are in, by gauging scrape activity or studying the does' tarsal glands, you can begin to determine what calls to use.
Secrets For Calling Bucks
EDITOR'S NOTE: Jerry Peterson is the founder and product designer of Woods Wise Products, the makers of quality game calls in Franklin, Tennessee.
QUESTION: How do you call bucks during the prerut?
PETERSON: During the prerut, use only social sounds. To remember which calls to use, think of ABC -- (A) attention grunt, (B) bleat and (C) contact call. The attention grunt is a simple, short, soft, little grunt. The bleat is not the long, drawn-out estrous bleat but is short. The contact call starts low and rises in pitch then falls off. It is a form of a bleat.
You can use these calls year-round, and they work effectively on both bucks and does. You can make prerut calls on a variety of products. I would use the Bullseye Buck (for all ABC sounds) from our product line. To make the attention grunt, use the tube at its shortest length. To get the highest-pitch grunt out of it, don't cover the holes. Again, just blow short and brief. Make the bleat with a short inhale on the tube. Make the contact call by starting the plain bleat, inhaling, covering the hole midpoint, and letting it up. You also can use the Blue Doe to make the bleat and the contact call using the same hole in the tube feature.
One other favorite call of mine, especially during bow season, is what we call the Bite Me Buck/Doe. It has soft-rubber, removable cartridges so they are very comfortable to use inside your mouth.
QUESTION: When doing a calling sequence with a grunt call, how many calls do you make, how often do you make them, and what sequence do you give?
PETERSON: That depends on how much the wind is blowing, how open the woods are, and how well the sound will carry. As a rule, I usually call blindly on a three-call sequence. The first call is to get their attention and hopefully to stop the deer. The second call gives the deer the general direction. Then, I usually wait perhaps 30 seconds to a minute and give the third call to reinforce the direction to a deer that has heard the first two calls. In the early season, I make short calls without much volume to them. I call more often and softly because when you up the volume, you change its meaning. The louder the call, the more aggressive the call you're making. In the early season, you want to be as sociable and unaggressive as you can. And don't underestimate how far a deer can hear.
QUESTION: What about rattling for deer in the early season?
PETERSON: Rattling is probably one of the best-kept secrets of the early season. Most people wait until the prerut or the rut to begin to rattle. Around 60 percent to 65 percent of the bucks I rattle up every year are rattled up while the bucks are still in bachelor groups well ahead of the season. Bucks spar first. The key to effective sparring sounds is to keep the activity in short little clinks, stopping and starting. I once decided to spar until the first buck came in. I sparred for over an hour before he made a beeline over to the tree. As soon as the bucks come out of velvet, they start sparring with each other. Sparring as opposed to all-out fighting is a sport among the bucks that has its social purpose. Each buck learns a little bit about the other bucks and where they fit in the pecking order. This behavior is like kids wrestling in a school yard. Even though they are best friends, after a little sparring match, they come away with an understanding. John says he can whip Bill, and Bill secretly hopes he never has to fight John.
QUESTION: What about the bleat call (the cow-in-the-can call)?
PETERSON: You should use bleat calls in the prerut. The can call is more of a longer bleat and more appropriate to the type of estrus bleating the does are doing during the rut itself. There is one call, or form of bleat, which bucks make. It is a bawling sound. It sounds very much like a calf as opposed to the nasally bleat of a doe. This is great buck-to-buck communication when the bucks are still in a bachelor group. In fact, I like to use the bawling sound with my sparring as opposed to the grunting, because the bawling is a louder call than a grunt. And I know I get a little more distance with it when I'm using that call. To get the bawl sound, you have to have a call tuned specifically to make this sound. It is a grunt, not the rumbling sound you would get when you blow a grunt call. If you blew a grunt call for a longer amount of time, then you'd have an aggravated grunt call, which has an entirely different, negative meaning
Prerut Calling
EDITOR'S NOTE: Jerry Peterson is the founder and product designer of Woods Wise Products, the makers of quality game calls in Franklin, Tennessee.
QUESTION: Let's talk about the grunt call during the prerut.
PETERSON: In the prerut, the bucks are much more interested in doe communication. In the prerut phase, you'll have the most success with the long bleats, such as those done with the cans or a call like the Blue Doe. These are breeding sounds. Another favorite of mine is a call we produce called the Breeding Bellow, which is a punctuated in-heat sound.
At this particular time, the bucks have broken away from the bachelor group because it makes more sense for the bucks to travel by themselves and find their own does than for a whole group of bucks to find one poor little doe. They key in on the sound the does are making to help them find those does. That is why, as a hunter, it becomes highly productive to use the doe sounds when going into the prerut and on into the rut phase.
I still use the ABC sounds I mentioned earlier along with the estrus bleat and the Breeding Bellow. At this time, the buck's attention begins to build with other bucks, and you can start some serious fighting and rattling sounds. In the prerut phase, you have a small percentage of available does and virtually the entire buck population looking for those does, so competition is at its highest. This is usually when rattling pays off. This is also when you will see scrapes worked to their maximum.
QUESTION: Can you become a little more aggressive with your rattling in the prerut?
PETERSON: You must remember that when you use an aggressive sound (like rattling, aggravated grunts, snorts, sniff wheezes), the deer will respond in one of two ways. He'll either come running to you, or he'll leave the area. So my advice is to always begin a calling sequence with something non-aggressive. I'd start with one of the ABC calls, following with a breeding sound, then the rattling and grunting series. If you have a buck, which has just had his tail whipped by another buck, I don't care how big he is, he will probably go the other way.
Remember fighting is the last resort for deer. They'd rather use intimidation or body posture because injury at this particular time would be very detrimental in terms of participating in the rut. Fights are usually brief and infrequent. When you do see a knock-down, drag-out fight during this period, it is between two bucks that are highly confident and figure they are the top dogs. They have sized-up their competitors and in their own minds, they think they can beat them. Those conditions are very rare. Most hunters will see a lot of sparring, but never an all-out fight.
The Rut and Post-Rut
EDITOR'S NOTE: Jerry Peterson is the founder and product designer of Woods Wise Products, the makers of quality game calls in Franklin, Tennessee.
QUESTION: What do we do during the rut?
PETERSON: Most people think this is the time you get the most aggressive deer. Actually it isn't. Scrapes have gone cold, and the does have started cleaning their tarsal glands. The edge the bucks have had is greatly diminished for a couple of reasons. Number one, the does are available. Secondly, they have been chasing does for three or four weeks by this point, and their stamina is low. They've lost about 30 percent of their body weight. Now it is all about trying to guard the does they find. Maybe more than anything else at this time, the bucks are less willing to travel and more willing to stay tight with a particular doe. Your calling at this point actually starts to revert to less- and less-aggressive calls. Stick with the breeding sounds, like the long estrus bleats, such as those made with cans. The Breeding Bellow is still an excellent call at this time. And of course, the ABC sounds, which are the attention grunt, the bleat and the contact call, are universally always a safe bet.
The more I see the bucks fatiguing, the less aggressive I become with my calling. This is where a lot of guys make mistakes. It is almost impossible, in a typical roaming deer herd, to stimulate a buck to come to aggressive rattling during the peak of the rut. The reason for that again is there are so many does available and his stamina is down. Again go back to the observations to know exactly what phase you are in.
QUESTION: What about the post-rut?
PETERSON: Post-rut is the toughest of all of the stretches of the season, but bucks are still very callable if you change your tactics. Again, you are back to the ABC sounds. However, from my experience, the most-successful sound you can make in the post-rut period is the bawling sound. We make a call called the Breeding Bellow. The Breeding Bellow is specifically tuned for that sound when you inhale (only) on the call. It sounds very much like a calf bawling.
QUESTION: What about rattling in the post-rut?
PETERSON: You should spar but not rattle. The reason again is because at this time, and this is the key behind the bawl sound, the bucks are beginning to reform their bachelor groups. Sparring is part of the ritual of re-bonding for bucks that had spent the summer together and are now regrouping with the remaining buck population. One of the first parts of that bonding is to spar. They spar fairly frequently the first few days or so when they are back together again. Sort of like saying, "Hey, good to see you again. Glad we are back running the woods together." So the sequence should include light rattling, the bawl, very light grunts, contact calls and short little bleats
The Importance Of Calling
EDITOR'S NOTE: Jerry Peterson is the founder and product designer of Woods Wise Products, the makers of quality game calls in Franklin, Tennessee.
QUESTION: When do you use clicking?
PETERSON: The clicking is really more during the peak of the rut. With bucks I've videoed over the years, the click is really an extreme aggravation sound and usually rolls into the classic aggravated grunt. You get that tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, grrrrruuuuunnnnnnttt, and usually at that time, he makes a stiff-legged rush at the doe. He makes the aggravated grunt as he bounces forward. He is very frustrated at that point and displays his aggravation and frustration in the form of the clicking and rolling grunt.
QUESTION: Everybody who has ever tried to call in deer, regardless of the technique, has seen deer turn and walk away from it. Why is that?
PETERSON: That is probably the No. 1 question people have asked me since the mid 1980s when I first started talking to people about deer calling. "I made the call, and the deer did absolutely nothing," they'll say. Usually the deer will respond to a call with body language. For example, it may tuck its tail tight up against its rump. The deer is telling you that the call is making it very nervous. If you grunt at it again, it will leave pretty fast. You need to learn to read the deer's body language. A buck will raise its tail in a sexually stimulated position if he likes the sound he's heard. If he throws his head up very erect, you have to be careful because it may mean he's interested or he may feel threatened.
Generally, when I see a deer with a tail in a sexually stimulated position or a head in a very high position I'll revert to a call that's less aggressive. If I grunt at a buck, and he throws his head up in a head-high position, indicating he feels threatened, I may keep threatening him if it's during the prerut. If it is post-rut or prerut, I'll revert to a bleat instead because it is less aggressive. Remember that sometimes deer just don't want to be around other deer. We have all had a neighbor or someone we work with whom we pretend not to hear. Well, deer do this too.
QUESTION: What percentage of the time is deer calling effective in your opinion?
PETERSON: Early on, people used to ask me if some kind of magic was going to happen when they called. I always remind them that when you blow a turkey call, the turkey doesn't always come. When you blow a duck call, the duck doesn't always set its wings and come down and land for you? It is the same thing with deer calling. The call will work, depending on the buck's frame of mind and the time of the year. Nothing works all the time. If it did, the calling would be illegal. Years ago, people asked me, "How long do you think hunters will depend on deer calls? Is it just a passing fad?" At that time, I said, "No. Turkey callers get better and better every year. I think in the years to come, deer hunters will get better and better at calling." Here we are 17 years later, and that is absolutely the truth. The guys who are good at calling are more effective than guys that just stab at it. But everybody can do it.

John Phillips

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