Tools of the Trade and their Usage Techniques
By Jason Smith
When it comes to deer hunting today, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all of the different products on the market. Each making claims of bringing in more and bigger bucks. Many are just variations of one another, and it’s tough to make up your mind about what you should spend your money on. And then there’s the learning curve of how to use everything effectively. Today, I’m going to talk about some hunting equipment that I’ve had personal experience with, and provide you with some firsthand knowledge about techniques that have and have not worked for me.
Scent Control Clothing
I’ve found that no matter how careful I am with keeping my clothes scent free, (washing, storing, transporting, spraying, etc.) if deer get downwind of me, they smell me. They do tend to be less spooked if I’ve taken all of the appropriate precautions to minimize my scent, as compared to hunting in my farm coveralls, but they still present signs that they smell something foreign in their territory.
Deer put a large amount of trust in their noses. Many times, when deer have subtly signaled that they are on to me, I’ve witnessed them backing off and out of the area entirely, or circling around further downwind of me to see if they can pick up a stronger scent.
I’m a big believer in scent control, usually at least wearing scent controlling base layers and spraying down prior to the hunt, but I know it all has limitations and I try to play the wind accordingly whenever possible.
When I first got into bow hunting, I was sold on a quality ghillie suit. I was super excited for the season to start, confident that my new suit would give me an extra advantage. Well, it did and it didn’t. It’s true that I could completely disappear in that suit, but it was heavy, soaked up and held moisture like a sponge, and was impossible to maneuver through thick timber. I swear I had ten pounds of twigs, thorns, and burs after a couple of hunts. Because of these things, I rarely washed it and eventually stopped wearing it altogether.
What I’ve come to realize over the years is that deer eyesight triggers more off of movement than it does off of objects that are out of place. They can and do pick up on stationary solid patterns and outlines, but depending on what may be preoccupying their minds, they may pick them out from a half mile away, or they may walk within feet before noticing something is out of place.
Good camouflage for deer hunting is anything that breaks up large solid spaces on your body and your outline. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or super realistic. You don’t even have to completely match your surroundings. If you’re still and quiet and are wearing random stripes and patches of subtle greens, grays, and browns, eyesight won’t be the first sense that a deer picks you up with.
Today, I tend to wear camo denim cargo pants with whatever camo top is appropriate for the weather. I like to break up my big ol’ pumpkin head and face with a camo, mesh, full face mask, and my hands with camo gloves, (also weather appropriate). I stay away from fleece, or any other fuzzy material, for my outer layers, in an attempt to keep from bringing clingy and pokey things home with me.
I admittedly am not extremely confident in my rattling skills. With that said, I have learned a few things. Deer have busted me rattling real and artificial sets of antlers, as I tend to move too much when I rattle them. Because of this, I use a rattle bag or my personal preference, a Pack Rack (Knight Hale). I can better conceal my movement when I use them, plus they are easy to pack and keep silent when not in use.
I like to hunt properties a time or two before I rattle on them. The reason I do this is that I have found that deer in certain areas are more aggressive than they are in others. Rattling on my small home property does nothing but scare bucks off, but I’ve found other areas where bucks are more cooperative. I don’t know if the difference in aggression is caused by lack versus surplus of does in different areas, or if it can become a predominant genetic trait in areas over time, or what exactly, but I have noticed that different areas do produce different responses to rattling tactics.
I tend not to rattle on a property until I hear rattling in that area for the season. My rattling sequences usually correspond with my boredom. If I haven’t heard or seen anything for at least a half an hour, I will blindly rattle for a thirty-second sequence. Time of season will determine how aggressively and loudly I rattle. I try not to rattle more than once every half hour.
It can be frustrating when nothing occurs following a rattling sequence, but it’s a really neat experience when bucks respond by trotting in looking for a fight.
I’m not a big believer in using my grunt call without targeting deer within eyesight. I will sometimes do an aggressive blind grunt sequence quickly following a rattling sequence or a blind snort wheeze, but typically, I don’t grunt blindly. I’ve seen many deer I fail to pick out until they’re moving off, that I didn’t know where in the area, pinpoint my location after I grunt blindly.
Usually, I grunt only after I have deer within eyesight. I’ve learned that if they’re making their way toward me, or just meandering around in the area, not to make a sound. I’ve put off deer before that probably would have come within shooting range if I hadn’t intentionally made noise and altered their course. Now, I wait until deer are moving away from me, and not looking in my direction, before I grunt. When they look, I stop. When they turn or drop their heads, I grunt again. Just enough to get their attention, to look in my direction, but not allow them to pinpoint my location. If they’re interested, they’ll begin moving in my direction or circle around me. If they’re not interested, I’ll repeat and throw in a doe bleat or two, and a snort wheeze if those don’t work.
I like to simplify and downsize my gear whenever possible, so I use an all-in-one grunt call, doe bleat and snort wheeze. The elastic strap of the Up Roar (Primos) allows me to wear it on either wrist, and I can wear it around my neck like other mouth calls when I attach it to a lanyard.
The doe bleat is such a quiet sound that it doesn’t carry very far, and it’s not supposed to. If the wind is howling, deer are going to have to be on top of you in order to hear it. It is the one calling technique that I believe is the most forgiving.
I usually don’t blindly doe bleat, but will use it in an attempt to lure something out of cover if I hear or see movement nearby, but can’t make out an animal. I’ve coaxed out bucks, does, fawns, and coyotes with this technique.
As mentioned before, I also like to throw a doe bleat in with my grunting sequences in an attempt to get a response if the grunt alone isn’t working. In conjunction with the grunt, a doe bleat makes it sound like the buck is tending a hot doe, and the idea of that hot doe may be more enticing to the buck I’m trying to call in, than its curiosity of a grunting buck in the area.
The snort wheeze is a sound that I don’t think that I’ve ever heard a deer make in real-life. With that said, I use it and know it works, sometimes… I will use the snort wheeze blindly, directly prior to or following, my rattling sequences. This is an aggressive noise usually made by a dominant buck when he’s good and angry with another buck encroaching on his territory and does.
Depending on the area and time of the year, I may do a blind snort wheeze in place of a rattling sequence. This works for me about as well as the combination of blind rattling and snort wheezing, or blind rattling alone.
Another time that I use the snort wheeze is as a last-ditch effort on a buck in sight that I’ve been trying to lure in with grunts and doe bleats. This usually either works or spooks the buck off entirely. I’ll wait until he starts wandering away before I hit the snort wheeze. I’ve had bucks jump into a dead sprint away from me, and I’ve had bucks stop, turn and aggressively stomp toward me, all bristled up and ready to scrap.
I’ve used silhouette deer decoys, but haven’t used them enough to have developed any real thoughts about them or develop any successful techniques. As I mentioned before, I like to streamline my gear as much as possible, so decoys usually don’t make it out the door with me when I go hunting, but I should try to put more time into using them in the future.
I have however read and seen videos that prove they work, especially when it comes to luring in those stubborn bucks that just won’t close the distance with rattling and calling alone. Don’t let me not using decoys that much deter you, as they can and do work. When they do I can only imagine the rush it provides watching a big buck walking in with his hair bristled looking for a fight.
Using deer scents, doe or buck, has never worked well for me. I believe I have put off more deer than I could have ever possibly lured in. I think, the deer I hunt anyway can tell the difference between what’s real and what I’ve put down, and they steer clear for a while. This is something else that I may have to learn more about and utilize more in the future.
I failed to state this earlier on; I’m not a professional hunter. I love to deer hunt and have been doing it for many years now, but I know that I still have a lot to learn. I continue to pick up new techniques and modify my tactics every season. That’s part of the fun of hunting and that should be a goal of yours. IF you haven’t had experience with any tool I discussed above don’t be afraid to try something new. The most important thing you can do is learn from your experiences. If something doesn’t seem to be working don’t force the issue time and time again. Let the results dictate your usage.
I hope you have all enjoyed some of the advice that I’ve shared and get a chance to put some of it into practice for yourself soon.
Have a great hunting season and God bless.