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How and When to Use a Grunt Call
Don Kisky, an expert Iowa whitetail hunter, relies heavily on grunt calls to bring big bucks within bow range. This buck, his biggest typical buck to date, was brought into range using a grunt call. (Craig Watson photo)
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In much of the whitetail world, grunt calls are as much a part of the hunting uniform as quality, four-point safety harnesses. It seems even in regions where grunts calls aren’t all that useful a grunter hangs around the average whitetail hunter’s neck. I only point out the later because the effectiveness of grunting is generally dependent on several biological stipulations.
A whitetail grunt serves two purposes in the deer’s vernacular. First is the tending grunt. This is a vocalization bucks use while “dogging” hot or estrous does, or hounding a doe close to but not quite ready to breed. The buck is excited by the prospect of breeding and grunts at the doe while trying to bring the situation under control, or more pointedly, to get the doe to stand still and allow him to cover her. Buck grunts are also used in way of challenge, directly defying another buck’s right to dominance, or as a territorial confrontation.
So, for a grunt to bring another buck into range the responding buck must believe an estrous doe is available for the taking—but only if he’s willing to potentially fight another buck for possession—or that a buck is taunting him into to fight. The responding buck must then be confident enough in his physical abilities to take him up on that proposition.
The Right Stuff
This requires preconditions, normally found only in better whitetail habitats. Firstly, buck-to-doe ratios must be high enough competition for available does is intense. When does far outnumber bucks, there’s really little reason to risk bodily harm disputing a single doe when there are plenty more to choose from. Secondly, the deer herd must include healthy age-class structure—more pointedly as it directly relates to grunting, a relative abundance of older age-class bucks physically strong enough and mature enough to be confident in their ability to hold their own in a fight.
A grunt call can be a valuable tool in bringing big bucks closer for a bow shot, but they work best in areas with high buck-to-doe ratios and healthy age-class structure. This is why they work so well in prime parts of the Midwest and South Texas. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Meitin)
These are traits normally found in areas where rifle hunting is limited or hunting pressure light, allowing more bucks to survive three or more seasons (preferably five to six), or areas where centerfire hunting is completely eliminated (certain Midwest states) or greatly curtailed (large, heavily-managed private-land holdings) during the rut when bucks are most vulnerable. In short, grunt calls are most productive in places like Iowa, Kansas, Illinois, South Texas and select Canadian provinces, as examples.
Be that as it may, even in the best habitats—those mentioned above and others meeting those stipulations—there are certainly ways to increase grunt-calling success. To find out more we talked with Don and Kandi Kisky, hosts of Outdoor Channel’s popular Whitetail Freaks television show , Iowa residents and proven trophy-buck takers.
When asked about the best timeframe to employ grunt calls, the Kiskys offer this advice: “Grunt calls can be used with success any time after bucks begin showing interest in does. In Iowa that usually begins around October 15. Interest in grunting normally peaks around mid rut, but after October 15 grunt calls can bring results through to season’s end.”
“Whitetail Freaks” co-host Kandi Kisky used a grunt call to bring this gorgeous buck into bow range. The Kinseys recommend using grunts calls any time after bucks began expressing interest in does—in their area normally after October 15. (Photo courtesy of the Kiskys)
Asked to explain the best approach the Kiskys offer this: “First of all, let me say we don’t do a lot of blind calling. We always have a visual on a buck, so we can read his body language. The first grunt will be loud, but increases in volume until the buck whips his head around and acknowledges the call. We’ll then throw one more grunt his way and that is usually like setting the hook on a fish.
“At that point, if he doesn’t come, we don’t sit and continuously grunt, because we’ve already read his mood. Either he’ll commit to the grunt, or we switch tactics, offering a snort-wheeze or rattling sequence.”
The Kiskys, hosts of the Outdoor Channel’s “Whitetail Freaks,” say they do not engage in blind grunt calling. Instead they prefer to grunt to bucks they can see, in order to judge each buck’s reaction to the call and how to precede. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Meitin)
The Kiskys say bucks that are on the move, trolling for does, typically make the best grunt-call targets. They say they have experienced the best luck with grunt calls while hunting mornings near bedding areas.
The Kiskys also offer a few key pointers to getting the most from grunt calls. “First of all, if a buck is just out of bow range, we’ll let him walk off a little ways before we try to grunt him in. Having a buck at a certain distance is hugely important to getting them to commit. If a buck is too close and you throw a grunt at him, it can scare the heck out of him and send him packing. The minimum distance we prefer to engage is usually from 80 to 100 yards, depending on the situation.”
The Kiskys find grunt calls most useful in three different situations. First, bucks who have just lost their doe and are in a panic to find her will believe another buck has found and is courting that doe, and will come running. Second, any buck anxiously seeking the first estrous doe of the season is ripe for a grunt call. And third, any buck that is obviously worked up—rubbing trees, blowing out scrapes—is in the right frame of mind to respond favorably to grunt calls.
To illustrate how a grunt call can save the day, how they can turn the tables during critical moments, Don Kisky offers the story of his biggest non-typical bowkill: “I initially rattled in my biggest buck ever, a 213-inch non-typical, only to miss the first shot. But he was so keyed up as he ran into the woods I grabbed my Flextone call and threw a grunt at him. He immediately bristled and returned to give me a second shot. That time I didn’t miss. Without a grunt call things would have turned out differently.”
As you can see, grunt calls can work magic, bringing bucks from afar and beneath your stands. Just remember to use them in areas with the proper biological conditions, and using these expert tips according to scenario and buck temperament. Nothing is more exciting than communicating with another species and manipulating them to your needs.