The Rut Arsenal

By Billy Pryor

The whitetail deer can be illusive, stealthy, and undoubtedly a challenge. However, we have many products to make hunting deer a bit easier. Whether it is scent covers and attractants, realistic calls, or visually accurate decoys, we have an arsenal at our fingertips to bring whitetails straight to us. Knowing when and how to use these products is more than just reading their instruction manuals. Instinct will be your most useful tool in the field. Your instinct will become stronger throughout your years of hunting because you will have learned tips and tricks from these experiences. Experience is built by succeeding moments, failures, mishaps, and close calls. With each of these, your instinct will become honed over time. However, your instinct is not only limited to what you have experienced, education and common sense will play a large part of that “gut feeling”.

There is an array of tools you can bring to the field, and the one I must have is scent control. I am a firm believer that attractants are useful but a quality scent eliminator is essential. If you have set your stand or blind in an area that is almost guaranteed to present an opportunity due to travel, food, or bedding then an attractant is not necessary. The elimination of your natural human odor is key. Deer have adapted their senses to accurately pinpoint human odor and will avoid it at all costs. If you do not have calls, attractants, or decoys make sure you have your natural scent covered. I use Hunters Specialties Scent-A-Way spray. I use the odorless option as opposed to the fresh earth scent. Both work great, but I feel more confident knowing that I smell nothing on my skin and clothing, rather than wondering if the earthy scent is just masking my human odor.

If you dig a little deeper into a sportsman’s pocket, you will find what I consider to be the most useful call… the grunt call. I prefer using a call with the ability to make a variety of tones. The different calls range from a fawn, to a doe, all the way to a mature rutting buck. Inside the chamber of the call there is a notched shaft with a plastic reed attached to it. Around the reed is an o-ring. When the o-ring is slid to different notches on the shaft, it restricts the amount of vibration from the air that is passing through the chamber as you blow into it. If you slide the o-ring closer to the tip you will get a higher pitched fawn tone. If you slide it to the base of the reed, it will give you a much lower, throaty sound of a buck.

The most important rule for any calling technique is – never over do it. Deer are not especially vocal animals (they are not silent but more or less conserved). If you are calling deer that you can see, make sure to watch their body language. If it is too loud or aggressive, it may scare them. Also, just because they do not come to you does not mean they do not hear you. After a call is presented, deer will usually circle around and come from downwind to smell for any threats. Calling in a whitetail is tricky because after you know how to work your call, then you need to know when to use it to make it seem like another live deer. Once the rut is in full swing the calls will become more effective as deer become more vocal. Grunts, rattling antlers, tending grunts, doe bleats, and snort wheezes are also great choices to bring in a lone buck or a doe with a buck trailing behind her.

Grunting is used in and around the rut by both bucks and does to establish dominance, communicate locations, and to attract other deer to a group. I use a Primos Hardwood Grunter. This call is made from select hardwood and features a corrugated flex tube that gives your calls the throaty realistic sound. Early in the rut, I like using short, quiet grunts in the morning. Right after sunrise is the time the deer will group after bedding to scout for food. If I have been sitting with little to no activity, I will do a quick grunt 2 to 3 times every 20 to 30 minutes. If I am watching deer out in the field and attempting to call them in, I will grunt every 10 to 15 minutes with a slightly longer and more aggressive sound.

Rattling antlers or a rattle bag will mock the sound of 2 bucks hitting their antlers together. This is called sparring and it happens for a variety of reasons. In the early season it can be a fun way for young bucks to practice fighting. They will lightly hit their antlers together and follow up with pushes and twists. Once in the rut, bucks of all sizes will spar to establish dominance and impress a doe in estrous. This can become brutal. Bucks will slam their antlers into each other, pushing and twisting until one submits. Whitetails use this impressive strength as a breeding right to pass on the strongest genes. If you want to re-create this sound, you can use real antlers, polymer imitations, or a bag of wooden dowels made to create a realistic rattle. Simply hit the antlers or bag together in a series of crashes, twists, and rubs for 7 to 10 seconds. Start slow and become progressively louder. Stay still and alert after this type of call because it seems to bring bucks from out of nowhere.

Tending grunts are a sound you will hear from rutting bucks as they follow a doe in heat. This style of grunt call is a long drawn out series of grunts that will start out slow and become more aggressive. It will last roughly 3 to 5 seconds. When rut is in full swing a buck that is tending a doe will follow an estrous scent and most likely be making this call. The tending grunt is a very important call to understand during the peak rutting season because it is sure to bring in a territorial buck to steal a doe away from any intruding buck in hopes of taking the breeding rights for himself.

A doe bleat, simply put is the common sound of a doe. Doe bleats are effective during the rut because bucks are looking for does to breed. When a buck hears a doe, he will usually head straight towards the call. With an adjustable call, simply slide your o-ring to the doe position and cup one hand over the end of call to baffle the tone. Cup the other hand over your first hand to adjust the distance and volume. Using tone variation is vital to making your calls sound natural.

Last but not least in the arsenal of calls is a snort wheeze. The snort wheeze is the most threatening sound made by a male whitetail deer. Do not confuse the snort wheeze with the blowing alarm sound of a spooked whitetail. The alarming blow is a single, loud blow through the nostrils. It will make a single “TFFF” sound. The snort wheeze will be a quick double “TFFF TFFF” followed by a long “TFFFFFF” dropping off at the end. Certain calls will have a special chamber for this unique sound, while making it with your own mouth is also a popular choice. The snort wheeze call seems to work on more mature bucks that are not necessarily seeking to fight for dominance but are set on finding a hot doe in the area. This is my go to call when all others are failing.

Another useful item that is not as common among hunters is the decoy. Decoys will be more effective the more you understand how to use them. You can choose from bucks, does, or feeding deer. But what is the right choice? The time of season and what you know about the deer in your area will play a big role in this decision. I try to understand what is motivating the bucks behavior. If they are acting aggressive then I will try to get their attention with a young buck that may seem like an easy fight. If it is peak rut then I will try a doe decoy that has an estrous scent applied to it. If the deer are mainly focused on safe feeding groups then I will try a feeding doe decoy. The outcome of a decoy is all in presentation and visibility. If you have not tried a decoy, then you are missing out.

Practice and time in the field will allow you to face multiple situations that need a quick gut response. These events will sharpen your instinct over time. From safety and patience, to shot and stand placement. Whether it is facing your stand away from the sunrise or the ability to make it to your hunting spot quietly, we will learn and grow with each of these experiences. It will become second nature to handle these choices without having to over think them. If we can understand our gut feelings then we will be able to utilize the best weapon ever – human instinct!