By Spencer Neuharth
Pre-rut is arguably the most exciting time of year. With bucks breaking their nocturnal ways, and more deer sign popping up every day, the arrival of late October is well-received by hunters. One thing that makes this time particularly exhilarating is a buck’s receptiveness to calling. If you’ve ever lured in a spirited whitetail with a rattle sequence, then you know what I’m talking about.
One guy who’s done just that as much as anybody is Mark Kayser. As a freelance writer and team member of Deer & Deer Hunting TV, Mark has experienced a multitude of whitetail adventures. That’s why I reached out to him to see how he approaches calling during pre-rut.
Q: During pre-rut, what options for calling are on the table?
A: Everything is on the table during pre-rut. Bucks are on edge with a maximum load of testosterone surging through their veins. They’ll oftentimes respond to nearly every call you send at them.
Unfortunately, all calls aren’t created equally and for good reason. Each has specific purpose. I place calls into two categories: long-distance and finishers.
Q: What are the long-distance calls, and how should hunters use them?
Long-distance calls consist of rattling antlers and the snort-wheeze. The snort-wheeze also falls into the finisher category, but its high-pitched character carries well on calm days compared to the lower tone of a grunt or bleat.
These two calls, especially rattling, can attract deer from afar, similar to calling coyotes. How far depends on vegetative conditions, weather circumstances and deer density. Visually, I’ve watched deer run to rattling from more than a ½-mile away in calm conditions. I’ve also had them either ignore or not hear them from that distance, or even closer.
Regardless of my unscientific findings, use rattling to send a long-distance message whether you see deer or not. In thick brush, where you suspect deer to be within 200 to 300 yards, rattling or a snort wheeze has the ability to also draw bucks out.
One rule of thumb I follow is if you believe deer are within that 200-yard distance, tickle your antlers briefly and then wait. See if something slips out of the heavy cover. If not, put on a show that any deer within hearing distance can’t ignore.
Q: What about finisher calls, then?
A: Finisher calls consist of grunts, bleats and occasionally the snort wheeze. Some calls, like Hunter’s Specialties Slam Talker, can produce all three. These calls work when deer are on the fringe of your sight and you want to direct them your way. Use them sparingly and once a deer reacts, it’s best to holster the call. They may walk right into your trap with no further urging.
If not, evaluate distance and mood of the deer. A reserved buck may need just one more grunt or bleat to make it continue. Just remember. Once a deer gets within archery range any additional calling could spark alarm, not inquisitiveness.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get away with calling close. You simply need to evaluate the circumstances. Breezy conditions create additional background noise with banging branches and rustling leaves. Rain also generates extra noise that deer need to sort through to focus on a single sound. Snow even absorbs sound. Moving deer crunch leaves in the woodland duff. Even the sounds of a combine harvesting corn in an adjacent field could disrupt the laser focus of a buck’s hearing. Use good judgement, but you still may be able to direct a deer for a close shot by calling to it in these conditions from as close as 30 yards.
Q: How aggressive should you be calling this time of year?
A: During the pre-rut you can be very aggressive, but I try to determine the mood of the buck before I get overly aggressive. You can watch a buck and see how it interacts with others. If it is a solo buck, try to age it. Older bucks tend to rock and roll more with an aggressive nature while younger bucks are more timid. Bucks generally begin to feel bullish when they reach 3 ½ years of age or older.
When you get a feeling a buck is in a bad mood, you can get by with more aggressive calling such as grunt growls, snow-wheezes and hardcore rattling. As noted above, be careful. You don’t ever want to give your position away. Calling too much or too loudly when deer are focused on you could ruin your day.
Mark Kayser is a veteran outdoor writer who lives near Sheridan, Wyoming. He is an accomplished bowhunter, rifle hunter, muzzleloader hunter and focuses his pursuits on all big game species. You can follow along with his adventures on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.