Calling all whitetails: When to play it cool with grunt tubes and doe bleats
Earlier this week my wife and I took our daughters for a walk around the neighborhood. We stopped at a neighbor’s house to chat after seeing that they were both in their driveway putting up firewood. As is often the case we started talking deer hunting and he told me that he had called in a large buck twice in the past week. The deer, which he hadn’t actually laid eyes on, had approached from downwind both times after a series of grunts.
He added that he calls nearly every time he goes out, which is something I hear from quite a few hunters. It’s also something that makes me cringe. Here in central Minnesota, we aren’t known for a well-balanced deer herd and throngs of mature bucks mixed in with the rest of the age classes. We also aren’t known for having leased ground with low hunter numbers and controlled management. That’s just the way it is, and because of that, our deer get hunted hard.
This means whitetails hear calling hunters frequently, and can grow call-shy in a hurry. When debating this with my neighbor, he shared three stories about calling in deer during the last two seasons in addition to his recent success. I tried to explain that success five times (out of how many?) isn’t terrible, but that the negative effects of so much blind calling might be hurting him more than the occasional sequence that goes right is helping him.
I doubt I changed his mind, and that’s OK. I hope, however, that he will think about his setups and the reality that blind calling can work, but is not as safe of a bet as good ol’ woodsmanship, which will put you in the right spot more often than not. Scouting, playing the wind, and figuring out what the deer want to do always trumps the latest-and-greatest calls.
This is not to say calling or rattling is bad, it isn’t. Over-using calls is though, just as over-hunting a spot is bad, or ignoring the wind. Consistent deer success depends on doing so many things right at one time that I won’t risk blind calling very often unless the conditions are perfect. Every other time I’ll either call to a buck I see, or more often, play it cool and wait to see if my pre-hunt planning will pay off with an unsuspecting buck cruising by on his own volition.