As peak of North Carolina’s deer rut approaches, aggressive tactics sometimes produce wonderful results

Grunting and rattling should be part of every North Carolina deer hunter’s arsenal.

For two months, hunters armed with arrow-slinging devices, blackpowder cannons and assorted other modern weapons have searched forests, fields and riverbottoms in search of a trophy buck. Even though a few bucks may have already begun their annual mating ritual — rubbing trees, pawing the ground and sniffing their future mates’ backsides — the glory days of the deer season in the Tarheel State have arrived. And there is never a more perfect time to pull out the stops and shift to a more active strategy with a grunt call and a pair of antler sheds.

Rattling and grunting to attract whitetails is not limited to the South Texas brush country or the banks of Montana’s famous Milk River. North Carolina can speak the language and coerce a shooter buck into range.

Deer calls range from soft doe bleats to aggressive, loud crashing antlers with snorts, wheezes and grunts in between. Any of these calls can be used throughout the season at different periods of the rut to bring deer into range, but the sounds of aggressive deer behaviors reverberating throughout the forest this month will trigger an instinctive response, and savvy hunters can reap the rewards.

Shake, rattle and roll your way to a buck this month.

As the mating season begins and hormones flow, mild-mannered bucks quickly turn into crazed maniacs. They put on their game faces, with all of their senses on high alert 24 hours a day. Mating and passing on genetic material to further generations soars well above all other daily duties, and any vocalizations or noises that may indicate a mating possibility close by will, with little doubt, draw bucks into an area.

Harold Knight, the founder of Knight and Hale game calls, began making calls over 40 years ago for one reason — to vocally lure game into range. And hundreds of thousands of bucks have been drawn into range by happy hunters using a Knight and Hale deer call at the right time of the season.

“(The) best time to call to deer is during the first half of the rut,” Knight said.

Early in the rut, does are coming into estrus everywhere, and bucks are on the lookout for anything that may better their opportunity to mate. Knight will use a variety of calls, including grunters, bleats and snort/wheezes, but he will surely pull out his Da’ Bonehead rattle bag and shake it into action.

“Bucks are excited with does coming into season, and they know if they hear rattling off in the distance, it must be about a doe,” said Knight, who said rattling is all about instigating a confrontation with any buck in hearing range.

“It is a lot like a dog pack in the street fighting or a fight on the school yard. Everybody wants to come to see what is going on and watch,” he said.

This is primarily why many immature bucks come in to rattling, and quite often, many of these immature bucks can get away with the girl while mature bucks are battling it out.

Rattling bucks into range is, unmistakably, the most exciting way to encounter a trophy buck, as bucks will often run full speed towards the action. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of rattling wanes as the rut peaks and many of the does become pregnant. Grunting, on the other hand, can be effective from the first few weeks of the season to the last hour of legal shooting light on New Year’s Day.

Stay still while using deer calls; movement is the No. 1 way you are detected.

Knight is a huge fan of grunt calls, having developed dozens and sold countless thousands. On a personal level, he very seldom hunts without his antler-shaped Da’Bone grunt call around his neck. He can blow it very loud or very soft and produce realistic sounds.

“I have had so much success with a grunt call,” Knight said. “You can try to turn a passing deer or bring one just out of sight into killing range.”

Richard Edwards of Wilmington, a life-long hunter and member of the N.C. Wildlife Resources commission, never leaves home without a grunt call when he’s headed to the deer woods.

“Besides my weapon, my grunt call is my most important equipment I bring with me into the stand,” he said. “I have killed more bucks over the years due to grunting in the stand,.Deer are curious, and they come in to see if there is a doe ready to go.”

Edwards will blow his grunt call intermittently from the time he sits in his stand to the end of his hunt making five consecutive grunts, with a 15-minute rest period. His best success using grunt calls is early in the day when deer are on the move.

“As long as the deer are on their feet and in the right mindset, they will come to you no matter what time of day,” he said.

Often, bucks will grunt back at a hunter, or a hunter will hear a buck grunt first. Edwards tries to mimic the duration, volume and aggression of any bucks he hears.

No doubt, deer will respond better to calling when they are already in an active mode, traveling to feeding areas, checking scrape lines or just in search for a hot mate. While the early morning and late evenings are known as high-activity periods for deer, hunters should never ignore the rest of the day for calling in whitetails, especially during the height of the rut or during periods of exceptionally cold weather. During November and December, it is not unusual to see deer moving throughout the day, and calling can be very effective during this time.

Deer grunts are natural sounds, and vocalizations by themselves will rarely spook deer. But when grunts don’t sound natural, deer quickly become weary.  Hunters should use just the right amount of volume to pique the interest of buck within auditory range.

Knight adjusts his volume and duration of his grunts to match the conditions.

“Your acoustics will vary depending on the day. I generally blow louder and longer on windy days, and then softer and shorter on those crisp, calm days where sounds are able to travel long distances,” he said.

The sound of rattling horns is a come-on to any buck within hearing, because it means two bucks are fighting over a doe.

Grunt calls should be used just enough to turn the deer and get them heading in the hunter’s direction.

The leading cause of calling disasters is often the deer becoming alerted by a hunter’s movements or odors. When hunters are making noise in the woods — whether from a deer call or any other sounds — deer will try to locate the source by looking hard, and then often by making the dreaded circle downwind. Deer will use all of their senses to figure out where this other buck is located — and if there is a doe in heat in the mix as well.

Beyond grunt calls, doe bleats and the snort/wheeze can be excellent tactical maneuvers to bring bucks into range. When a buck hears a doe bleat in the distance, there is no question a doe is in the area, and he will usually come to investigate. And then there is the snort/wheeze, which can have bipolar effects on bucks within auditory range. Subordinate bucks will choose to go the other way to avoid confrontation, but the dominant bucks will come in to defend their territory. Knight recommends that hunters only use the snort/wheeze when a dominant buck is in sight and a little extra effort is required to get in into range. Edwards will use wheeze in combination with a series of grunts.

“A combination of several calls can be very effective when bucks are rutting hard,” Edwards said.

Calling to bucks can be a very effective and exciting method to harvest bucks during the season whether using rattle bags, sheds, grunters, bleats, and snort/wheeze calls. While most deer-hunting methods are categorized as passive, integrating a more-active approach can bring the big boys out of hiding and into the crosshairs.

About Jeff Burleson 1312 Articles
Jeff Burleson is a native of Lumberton, N.C., who lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He graduated from N.C. State University with a degree in fisheries and wildlife sciences and is a certified biologist and professional forester for Southern Palmetto Environmental Consulting.

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