Calling in Whitetail Deer

By Bruce Hancock

To successfully rattle in a whitetail buck into shooting range, you need to have patience, knowledge, and skill. It’s never too early to begin preparation for a successful hunt this fall. Right after the hunting season has finished is a premium time to begin. When you are out hunting predator animals in the winter months, while driving around areas that hold deer, or during the spring turkey season, there are good times to be out there looking and scouting for deer sign.

In fact, I rank “looking and scouting” as key steps to successful hunting and calling. I also advocate a more complete strategy, one that involves using the available hunting technologies that exists to give you the hunter an even break against a deer’s superior sense of smell.

Many hunters don’t realize that it has been shown scientifically that the deer family have about 500 million scent receptors in their noses. A deer smells about 400 times more efficiently than a person and can distinguish between 20 or so scents with a single sniff. When you have an animal with a nose like this, you’re at a major disadvantage. So it’s very important to use a 1-2-3 punch to this whole thing.

This 1-2-3 punch thing includes a combination which includes gland scent on a licking branch, urine scent in the deer scrapes they make, and no scent on yourself. Then, you’re going to be making deer calls to attract deer into your setup.

Deer scrapes, rubs and licking branches will be key signs to look for when scouting your territory. A deer scrapes the ground with its hooves, usually 3-5 feet below a tree limb that hangs above the scrape. The deer will rub its eye and forehead gland scents on the licking branch. The deer usually deposits urine and feces into the scrape. This compliments the scents from glands in the forehead and eyes that are found on the branch. These scrapes and licking branches can be found along deer trails, often where two or more trails converge.

Deer rubs may also be present near deer scrapes. Deer create rubs by scraping their antlers and forehead on shrubs, and low tree branches. When doing so, the bark of the tree or shrub is usually rubbed off, leaving a distinguishable rub mark laced with deer gland scent on the affected tree rub.

Bucks leave the scents this way to mark their home territory, by announcing their presence to other deer in the area, or those who are passing through to either attract them in (does), and to warn other bucks that they are intruding and a confrontation is likely. When I find deer scrapes with licking branches hanging over them, and the surrounding area shows signs with rubs as well, I use these give-away signs to improve my rattling setup success.

When I say use whatever hunting technologies that are available, I am talking about game calls, scent killers, attractant lures and scents, camo clothing, trail cams, tree ground blinds, and the like. For me, I make it as simple and effective as I can. If I’m entering blindly into new territory, I will always have my rattling antlers, my Calls-M-All game call (www.gamecall.net), buck and doe deer urine scents, and , and I make sure that the clothes that I’m wearing are as scent free as possible. Several scent killer products are available. For my deer call I use the Calls-M-All game call because it produces both the deer “bleat”, and “tending grunt” call sounds that deer make with the same call. No switching calls. And I use a set of deer antlers for rattling. Rattling bags, and fake antler products work ok as well, but for I prefer real deer horns.

One of the things I like to do early on, if I know an area where there are some bucks, is to set up some mock scrapes. First, I kill my own scent on my clothes, hat, boots, gloves, etc. I will find a likely place (perhaps an old deer scrape) beneath a licking branch (which is critical) along a deer trail. I will take my scent-free boot and kick away the leaves, limbs, etc. covering the old scrape, or make a new fake scrape below a licking branch. I will then apply the urine and deer scents to the scrape and licking branch. Often times, I will set-up a trail camera to watch the mock scrape. More likely than not, deer will come to visits your set-up. A real buck may find the mock scrape and add his scent to it, and scrape it a bit, and then move on. Then he may return to check on visitors or intruders to the scrape as it represents his marked territory, where does will frequent for breeding, or intruder bucks will infringe in hopes of breeding the territorial bucks  does attracted to, and hanging around  the scrape area.

After establishing mock scrapes in an area, usually 2 or 3 mock scrapes in an area, I will revisit them every month or so and refresh them up with new gland and scent smells.

When you know there are deer visiting your mock scrapes, and when the season comes, move into these mock scrape areas with your deer bleat and grunt call, rattling horns and set yourself up. You know that there are deer in this area. They may be close, or 200-300 away, but they’re there. Having two or three alternative areas to call in is good. I will set up 50-60 yards away from the scrape usually  off of a deer trail leading to/from the scrape. I will get comfortable and prepare to stay in one spot for an hour. It’s a mistake to leave earlier, which I discovered on more than one occasion.

At first I was thinking along the lines of a predator call setup which is in the 20-30-minute wait range. Some bucks show up quickly unannounced, while others won’t show until they’ve sized up the situation as safe before committing to the calls they hear. In most cases, the buck will circle downwind of the caller to sniff out the area downwind of the sounds. If a whitetail deer smells you, they’re gone. Often time what happens is that the deer caller will make a successful calling sequence, only to have the deer get downwind of them and slip away undetected. Remember, a whitetail deer is a master of the wind currents.

I usually set up on my knees behind a tree or shrub larger than me. I look for a place where I can see 80- 100 yards downwind of me if possible. If a deer slips into my calling area, chances he will loop downwind of me and I’ll see him first before he is concealed. It is very important to watch your downwind side, always.

When I start rattling and making call sounds, this mix of sounds creates a “breeding territory” atmosphere for deer. The deer can smell the scrape scents, they hear deer bleats, deer grunts, and deer horns. When I rattle the antlers together, I don’t try to make it any more difficult than it is. I grind them, slam them together, tickle them lightly together. You want to make enough noise so the sounds of the antlers and deer calls you make will carry.

That’s the purpose of rattling the antlers. You’ve got a couple of bucks, and they are sparring over a doe and the rights to breed. All the other bucks and does in the area hear this, and it’s like a couple of people are getting in a fight. It attracts a crowd. Deer are curious and will come to calls and rattling.

My strategy includes rattling the antlers, creating deer grunts by friction with the serrated side of my Calls-M-All, while also mixing in some doe bleat calls. I will just kind of mix this all up. I don’t have any specific pattern. I roughly call for about a one-minute period, mixing the rattling  sounds,  doe bleat and grunt call sounds.

Sometimes I will grunt maybe 3-4 times. Maybe bleat once. Rattle for 45=seconds. And wait two minutes looking and listening for approaching deer. I like changing up. I don’t like to sound like a record player.

In the end, and with persistence and patience, you will call in a buck deer and then your confidence level will increase and you’ll be hooked on Calling in Whitetail Deer.

Editor’s note: Bruce Hancock is the president and owner of the Calls-M-All Game Call Company, located in Prescott, WA. To read more about the Revolutionary Calls-M-All call, visit their website at www.gamecall.net.