T.R.'s Hunting Tips: Whitetail Deer
From the Deer Addict's Manual ($19.95 + $5 s&h), by T.R. Michels
T.R.'s Tips: Deer Calling
Determining what deer call to use is not a matter of which rut phase you are hunting, but which sex and age class of deer you want to attract. Does respond to distress calls and Maternal/Neonatal calls primarily out of maternal instinct. All bucks respond to any call, which may lead them to an estrus doe; particularly a Social Grunt or a Low Grunt. Dominant bucks also respond to Mating calls and aggressive grunts out of the desire to exert dominance. Subdominant bucks may respond to these Mating calls during the breeding phase, but they may not respond because they are afraid of encountering a dominant. If you are hunting for any legal buck it may best not to use mating calls or aggressive grunts.
There are four basic techniques for calling deer that can be used anytime during the rut. The fourth technique is not as effective during the Rest Phase and Post Rut because the bucks are exhausted, not as aggressive, and not as interested in breeding.
1. For does and young bucks; Distress Call or Fawn Bawl.
2. For any deer; Social or Low Grunt.
3. For all bucks; Social/Low/Tending Grunt.
4. For dominant bucks; Social/Low/Tending Grunt or Grunt Snort.
Which Calls to Use
For calling whitetails I use Haydel's DB-85 Deer Bleat to imitate the bleat of does and fawns, I use the DG-87 Deer Grunt and distress to imitate the grunt or distress call of a doe or bucks, or the NT-02 Non-typical Inhale Deer Grunt, that won't freeze up. All these calls are available in the Haydel's section of the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products catalog.
T.R.'s Tips: Deer Rattling
1. Rattling for deer is most effective in areas with high buck to doe ratios. It is also effective in areas with high numbers of dominant bucks; in limited habitat such as urban areas; in the marginal habitat of prairie river bottoms; and on property managed for trophy quality.
2. Bucks respond to rattling out of curiosity and dominance; they want to find out which bucks are fighting, and if there is an estrus doe with them. Rattle near areas bucks regularly use; buck feeding/sparring areas, buck bedrooms, doe feeding and staging areas, and dominance areas of rubs and scrapes.
3. Rattling works any time during the rut, but works best during the peak of the rut, when bucks are most aggressive.
4. Rattling works best in the morning when bucks are still searching for does or heading for core areas, and is less effective during midday when bucks are bedded. Older dominant bucks may respond best in the evening.
5. Rattling, like calling and using scents, works best when Security Factors are high. Deer prefer to move during low light conditions, when there are low wind speeds, and when few hunters are afield.
6. Bucks that respond to rattling are intent on discovering the source, which leaves you vulnerable to discovery. Take precautions to conceal or disguise unnatural sights, scents, sounds and yourself from the deer.
7. Rattling is most effective where you have a chance of seeing the buck before it discovers you. Use treestands in dense or brushy habitat. Natural cover or blinds can be used to conceal you and your movements in open country.
8. Wary bucks responding to rattling or calls generally approach from downwind. Use buck in rut, tarsal, forehead, doe urine or estrus scents to add realism and bring bucks into range after being attracted by rattling and calls.
9. Hang a second set of antlers from your treestand. When bucks get close these antlers can be jerked and rattled, keeping movement to a minimum and away from you.
10. Thrashing brush and rubbing trees near buck high use areas also attracts bucks, especially mule deer that express dominance by thrashing.
11. Rustling leaves and pounding the ground with a stick or rattling racks, and grunting and blowing add realism to the sound of rattling and thrashing.
12. Larger antlers and some imitation racks work best because their sound carries farther. Be sure to use racks with a neutral color so they aren't seen by the deer.
13. If bucks are not nearby the initial contact of the antlers should be loud to get their attention. When bucks are nearby rattle softer.
14. When you rattle loudly bring the racks together with a crash, then roll your wrists and grind the racks together, simulating two bucks pushing and shoving each other for 1-3 minutes. Then stop and listen for a buck's approach for 3-5 minutes before beginning again.
15. If a buck shows up, but won't come into range, rattle softly while it can't see you, or use a grunt call to coax it into range.
16. If the buck starts to leave before you get a shot, or won't hold still, use a grunt call to stop it.
17. If you don't get a response when you rattle, wait a half hour and try again, then move a 1/4-1/2 mile away and try again.
18. Before leaving the stand site check the area thoroughly, especially if you have been watching a deer. More than one buck may have responded and be nearby.
19. A buck or doe decoy added to rattling, calls and scents provides the final visual stimulus to bring in reluctant bucks and distract their attention from your position.
20. Patience is an asset in rattling. Bucks may respond from as far as 1/2 mile in calm weather in open country, and may take up to a half hour to come in. Rattle every 10-15 minutes to keep the /buck interested.
21. During the pre-rut use long, loud rattling sequences to attract wide ranging bucks.
22. During peak rut, when the bucks are most active, use short, loud rattling sequences. Long rattling sequences make you prone to discovery.
23. During post-rut use quiet, long rattling sequences. Bucks are not as aggressive after the rut and don't travel as much, give them time to respond.
24. Don't try to rattle the same buck from the same site on successive days. If the buck comes in and you don't get a shot wait a couple of days before rattling from that site gain.
25. Try not to rattle to the same buck more than three times if it doesn't see a decoy or a deer when it comes in. If bucks don't see a deer when they respond to rattling they learn that something is wrong.
T.R.'s Tips: Scents
Determining which scents to use to attract deer depends on which sex of deer you want to attract, and the rut phase you are hunting in.
During the Pre-Rut whitetail bucks often engage in sparring matches to establish dominance. They also feed heavily to put on enough fat to get them through the rut. They search out succulent fall greens (clover, new cut hay, alfalfa, grasses that remain green), ripening berries, mast crops (acorns, beechnuts) and ripening agricultural crops (corn, beans, vegetables). If food sources are sparse bucks may respond to food scents, especially if acorn production is poor.
Bucks respond to tarsal and interdigital scents, buck and doe urine, buck in rut and doe in heat scents, and food/curiosity scents at this time. Because they have not begun using their rub routes the "broadcast method" of scent dispersal is most productive. Once you have chosen a high use area to hunt, and a place to put your stand, decide where to place the scent. It can be hung from trees on felt pads, film canisters, drippers or other dispensers. When I archery hunt I place the scent crosswind or upwind of my position, about fifteen yards from my stand and fifteen yards apart, and wait for the buck to come by. I hang up one or two felt pads with doe or doe in estrous scent, but I don't leave scent out when I'm not there. If a buck comes to doe scent and doesn't find a doe he probably won't fall for it again. By taking the scent out every day you don't educate the buck. For gun hunting during the rut five to ten dispensers can be placed in a straight line or arc, upwind or crosswind from the stand site to attract wide ranging deer. The dispensers should be placed 20-30 yards apart to spread the scent over a wide area.
Pre-Primary Breeding/Scraping Phase
During the Scraping Phase bucks regularly travel their rub routes and visit "dominance areas" of rubs and scrapes; and doe use, feeding and staging areas. When I am hunting a previously patterned buck, during the scraping phase, near a rub or scrape, I am fairly confident of the trail the animal uses and I don't need numerous dispensers. Because I have patterned the buck, and I am hunting before the breeding period, I am fairly sure the buck will come by me sometime within a week, unless he meets an estrous doe first, or is spooked by another hunter. I am basically using the scent to position the buck for a clear shot. By using scent I also have a chance to bring in any lesser bucks in the area. If I am hunting an area I have not hunted before I prefer to hunt evenings, because most scenting activity occurs at that time. If I find a rub route I back track it until I think I am near the core area and setup as close as I can without alarming the buck, otherwise I look for staging areas near food sources the does use in the evening.
Because bucks may still be feeding at this time, but they are beginning to proclaim dominance and look for estrous does, food, tarsal and interdigital scents, buck and doe urine, buck in rut and doe in heat scents may all work. You can use the broadcast method of scent dispersal in wooded areas and travel lanes; make a mock scrape or mock rub route; or hunt near existing rub routes and scrape lines, especially those in wooded areas leading to food sources.
To get bucks in close at this time make a mock rub near one of the buck's rubs or scrapes, and a mock scrape. Drip a line of interdigital or tarsal scent across the trail the buck uses and lead it to the mock rub. Remove the bark from the tree with a wood rasp, then drip forehead scent on the rub. Wear rubber gloves and boots while doing this so you don't contaminate the area. The mock rub should be placed in a shooting lane near your stand, where the buck will stop to investigate, often sniffing and licking the mock rub.
I make a mock scrape with the heel of my boot, rattling racks or a stick, under an overhanging branch. I pour forehead scent on the branch and plenty of tarsal in the scrape. Then I hang an Ultimate Scrape Dripper with doe in heat or buck urine over the scrape, or near my stand in a shooting lane. This combination of buck infringement scents and doe in heat scents attracts the buck, either out of the urge to exert dominance or to breed.
Primary Breeding Phase and Post Primary Breeding Phase
During the Primary Breeding Phase setup along the buck's rub route, in areas does regularly use; or in travel corridors between doe core areas. Because the does are in estrous the buck may be either with a doe, or looking for one. If you know the buck is not with a doe, and is staying in his traditional core area, setup as close to the core area as you can. Try to get between the buck and the first doe area he visits. If he finds an estrus doe before he gets to your stand site the chances are he will follow the doe and not his rub route. By setting up between the buck's core area the first doe use area it travels to, you have a good chance of seeing the buck on a regular basis and attracting it to your stand.
Because the buck is looking for does and wanting to protect his breeding rights buck and doe urine, buck in rut and doe in heat scents work. If you have previously patterned a buck and know where it's core area is you can setup near it to intercept him as he goes into it in the morning, or as he leaves in the evening. You can employ the same methods used during the scraping phase. If you don't know where the buck's core area is, and know that the buck may be on the prowl during the day, you can setup near dominance areas of scrapes and rub lines near doe feeding and core areas in the evening, where the buck will be looking for estrus does. I use several film canisters spread out to attract the buck over a wide area. If you know the buck is traveling late in the morning you can use these same techniques on the rub route back to his core area.
Remember that the buck may be traveling anywhere and anytime in search of does during the breeding period or "peak rut." Because the buck is unpredictable at this time you should spend as much time as possible on stand. Hunt three or more days in each area, changing stand sites frequently. If the buck is with an estrous doe it will travel with her for up to three days, and may not return to normal activities until she is out of estrus. If you quit hunting the area after two or three days you may miss the buck when he returns to his normal pattern.
Hunting a buck after the breeding phase can be extremely frustrating unless you know where the buck's core area is. After all the fighting, chasing and breeding of the rut the buck is worn out, hungry and in need of food to supply enough fat to get him through the winter. He is going to look for a secure place to rest with high quality food sources nearby. Between the first and the second breeding phase bucks are not often seen because they rest up. If you know where their core area is, and where available food sources are, you can setup between the two to intercept a buck. By this time the bucks are not as willing to fight, but they are still interested in breeding: estrus scents may work the best. Some bucks may respond to curiosity scents and food scents (acorn, corn and peanut butter).
Pre-Late Breeding Phase and Late Breeding Phase
Three to four weeks after the Primary Breeding Phase there is usually a late breeding period. Some does experience a late first estrus at this time because they are young, old, or unhealthy. In Dr. Larry Marchinton's study in Georgia the oldest doe came into a first estrus in December. A wildlife photographer friend of mine notes that in Wisconsin his yearling does often come into a first estrus in December. I found the same to be true in southern Minnesota. Some does may experience a second estrus at this time because they were not bred during the first breeding period, or did not conceive for some reason. In unbalanced populations where there are few bucks some does may even experience a third or fourth estrus. Does not bred during the first two breeding periods often remain unbred. It's difficult to pinpoint the timing of the late breeding period, because the does don't recycle every 28 days. Marchinton's studies show that estrus cycles range from 21to 30 days. This means does could come into estrus anytime in December. In Marchinton's study there was a first estrus doe on December 1, with second estrus does from December 6 to the 28.
In many areas the bucks will start to travel their routes again two to three weeks after the end of the primary breeding period, traveling through doe use areas and doe feeding sites in search of estrous does. Since most of the does have been bred the bucks do a lot of wandering and searching. Because of the colder temperatures in some areas, the movement of the deer is dependent on the weather. They will travel during good weather, but stay in or near core areas during cold, damp, windy or very wet weather. Expect deer to move and feed for a couple of hours when warming occurs after a cold spell. Hunt buck core sites, nearby buck food sources, rub routes and doe core areas and feeding sites. Bucks respond well to buck in rut and doe in heat, curiosity and food scents at this time.
After the rut the buck's again return to their core areas and seek out nutrient rich food sources to put on weight for the winter. Because the rut is over the bucks are not aggressive and often travel together to feeding areas. Though most of the does have been bred bucks will still respond to doe estrous scents. Curiosity and food scents can attract bucks near core areas, buck feeding sites, and travel lanes between the two.
Blocking scents can be used effectively during any phase of the rut. Blocking works well in large patches of brush or woods that deer move freely through. In dense cover there may be numerous trails with very few animals using each trail regularly. By blocking some of the trails you create a bottleneck, which funnels the deer past your stand. If you are hunting a food source with numerous trails leading to it, block some of the trail several yards from the food source to force the deer to use the one trail where your stand is placed. Good blocking scents include the smell of a dog and a smelly sock.
T.R.'s Tips: Deer Decoying
Where and how you place your deer decoy may determine how successful you are, and which sex and size deer respond to the decoy.
1. For safety use a decoy with blaze orange, hang fluorescent tape nearby, or hunt from an elevated stand.
2. Don't get human or unnatural scent on the decoy. Use gloves when carrying and positioning the decoy, then spray it with cover-up scent.
3. Place the decoy in a high use area; near trails, rubs, scrapes, bedding, staging or feeding areas with nearby cover.
4. Don't place bedded decoys directly on trails. Deer don't usually bed on trails.
5. Place decoys upwind of where you expect the deer to appear. Bucks like to approach downwind from cover if they can.
6. Place decoys within your personal shooting distance in a clear shooting lane.
7. Place a doe decoy with its rump toward you. Bucks often approach does from the rear or side, presenting you with a shot.
8. Place a buck decoy with its head toward you for a shot. Bucks generally approach another buck cautiously from the front.
9. Don't place the decoy in a direct line between you and where you expect the deer to come from, the deer may see you. Place the decoy off to one side of your stand to distract the deer's attention from your position.
10. To get the buck's attention on the decoy, tape a small piece of white plastic to the tail area, so that it can blow in the wind, or use one of the new tail motion decoys.
11. To keep the buck's attention focused on the decoy place a few drops of deer urine on it, doe in estrous for doe decoys, buck in rut for buck decoys.
12. Use buck or doe scents, and calling or rattling to create the illusion of another deer in the area, and to initially attract bucks to the decoy.
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T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors, PO Box 284, Wanamingo, MN 55983
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