Bowhunter’s Sound Advice

Matt Adcock talks rattling, grunting and even turkey calls to help your bowhunting.

Matt Adcock | September 19, 2006

This Treutlen County 8-pointer was killed Thanksgiving morning in 2002. Matt killed the buck using a grunt call.

Although it was the opening morning of the 2004 Georgia firearm’s season, I once again found myself headed to the woods with a bow in my hand. Walking before daylight in a flooded oak flat, I slowly crept along looking for the perfect tree. I quickly recounted my game plan. Sitting in the flooded acorn flat, I would be hunting a location that previous bowhunters had avoided, and I might catch deer walking through the shallow water going back to their bedding area. I would be able to hear any approaching deer well before they got close to me. At least I was half right.

It was almost 8 a.m. when I heard a noise to my right. I took my BowTech Liberty from its bow holder and hooked my release on to the string loop. I scanned in the direction of the noise and slowly stood for a potential shot. I was not sure exactly where the noise came from, and after several minutes of intense investigation, a squirrel finally materialized as the culprit of the clatter.

I rotated my head and upper body back to the left, and when I did a deer blew and ran from only five yards away. As the deer accelerated away, I gave my best owl hoot, and the mature doe froze in her tracks. She went from fleeing at full speed to being completely at ease within two seconds. She flicked her tail and began browsing on greenbrier. I had to do something because she was now 30 yards out and slowly browsing away from me.

I took out my grunt call and blew one soft grunt. She looked in my direction but kept browsing away from me. I blew another soft grunt.

This time the doe not only looked my direction but turned around and started browsing back toward me.

Every time the doe would look away, I would grunt to attempt to get her closer. With each grunt, she would angle a little more toward me to investigate the sound. She was walking parallel to me at 22 yards when I grunted softly with my mouth. She stopped perfectly in a shooting lane, and I took the shot. After a short run, I heard her go down.

This hunt was a great example of what I’ve learned in 20 years of bowhunting’s trials and errors. The sounds a bowhunter makes are crucial to his or her success. Without doing the owl call or blowing the grunt tube, I would have never gotten a shot at that mature doe.

Learning a few simple calls and sounds will greatly increase your bowhunting success.

Rattling Antlers

No other sound has been as successful for me over the years as the sound of rattling antlers. What I have learned is that deer might respond to antlers during any time of the year, but certain types of sounds will work better during the different times of the season.

In the early season, a light tickling of the antlers has worked best for me. Also during the early season, less rattling means a better chance at calling up a whitetail. Just let the deer hear the tickling antlers for a second or two and stop. Wait 15 or 20 minutes and repeat.

This worked to perfection on a 135-class, 10-pointer on the Milk River in Montana several years ago. Every time I’d tickle the antlers, he would look. I would remain motionless until he looked away and then I’d tickle them again. After several rounds of red-light, green-light, his ego got the best of him and he came over to investigate. This has also worked multiple times for me here in Georgia, and if you believe curiosity can kill a cat, it can kill a deer, too.

You might have read Tim Knight’s article “Radical Rattling” from the September 2004 issue of GON. Tim hangs antlers on the end of his pull-up rope and bounces the antlers off the ground to create the sounds of two bucks sparring. I promise you that this technique works.

After reading Tim’s article I went to work experimenting with this technique. The most valuable thing I learned from my rattling experience was that different antlers make different sounds, which makes deer respond in different ways.

I used a pair of shed antlers and only got one buck to respond in an entire season of shaking antlers on a string. What I later learned is that Tim uses the synthetic antlers from the top of a McKenzie deer target. They don’t even sound like two bucks fighting when you hit them together… until you do it in the woods.

The first time I used Tim’s technique with the synthetic McKenzie antlers was during the rut last season. I was sitting in a bottleneck and saw a nice buck chasing a doe in the pasture 100 yards away. It was getting late and I knew I only had a limited amount of shooting light left, so I picked up the string and started bouncing the antlers off the ground. The buck stopped, looked in my direction but continued pushing the doe. Another buck in the pasture immediately began coming toward me. I bounced the antlers off the ground a couple more times as the buck started to circle downwind. About that time, I heard a deer trotting up behind me. I rotated my head and a 6-pointer stopped five yards away looking for what made the sounds. As I rotated my head back toward the other two bucks, the 6-pointer saw the movement and took off at full speed. I quickly gave an owl call and stopped the buck on a dime. I had not fully convinced that 6-pointer that I was an owl, so he stood at 20 yards and stomped his foot for at least five minutes. The buck that circled downwind of me finally caught my scent and bounded away, but the big buck in the field with the doe couldn’t stand it any longer. He came to me straight as an arrow. The combination of antlers clashing, leaves rustling, and that 6-pointer stomping was more than he could take. He made his way to me and eventually walked within one yard of my antlers on the ground. Unfortunately, by the time he got to me, it was then too dark to shoot, and he and the 6-pointer slowly walked away.

During early bow season try a light ticking of rattling antlers. “Less rattling means a better chance at calling up a whitetail,” said the author. “Just let the deer hear the tickling antlers for a second or two and stop. Wait 15 or 20 minutes and repeat.”

For early season, I often use a one- or two-second tickling session with McKenzie deer-target antlers followed five minutes later by a single grunt. I will repeat this every 20 or 30 minutes.

For me, early season rattling works best when hunting in or near a thicket. If the deer you are hunting are bedded more than 100 yards away, this tactic is not effective. Deer must be close enough to hear your calling and have time to respond before it gets dark. If a deer hears a long calling sequence, it knows exactly where the noises originated. Short calling sequences can sometimes prevent them from knowing your exact location, which can make a deer more curious about the noises.

As the pre-rut begins, I like to add a 15-minute raking sequence in the afternoon as the sun reaches the tree line. A raking sequence should be a natural noise that deer often hear in the woods. Rake an antler across the bark on the tree in a slow and methodical motion. I don’t like to get aggressive or overly loud early in the season, and I try to mimic a buck slowly making a rub. Rake the antler for 10 seconds, wait one minute, and repeat. After several pauses, add one grunt to your sequence.

For the rut, a funnel or travel corridor works best for rattling, and long and loud is the way to go. A fight between bucks is a pushing match where antlers happen to collide. The initial contact is often loud, but the subsequent pushing is more of a grinding and heavy tickling sound. Be sure to pause often like deer often do when fighting. Have a place where you can quickly put your antlers because if a buck comes charging in, you won’t have much time to shoot.


My encounter with the mature doe is a good example of how grunting can benefit a bowhunter. Early in the season, I usually will grunt one time, wait 20 minutes and grunt once more. This is more of a social grunt, and I have seen both bucks and does respond to this type of sound. It is just letting a deer know another deer is around.

As the rut nears, I grunt three or four times quickly and aggressively. This worked to perfection several years ago when I saw a large buck making a rub in a stand of hardwoods. After a quick grunt series, the big buck picked his head up and ran straight to my position and stopped eight yards from my tree. The 220-plus-lb. 8-pointer had broken about 10 inches off of his right G2, and when he looked the other direction, I slowly let down my bow and declined the shot.

For a deer to respond to a grunt, it must sound natural. Think about it this way — how many deer have you heard grunting in your lifetime? I have deer hunted for more than 25 years and have heard only a few dozen, and most of those occurred during the rut.

However, grunting can be a very easy and effective way of deer hunting all during the season, but there is some finesse required. A good example of this came years ago when I was still gun hunting. I got to the woods late that morning so instead of climbing up in my tree stand, I just sat down in an open stand of pines. I took out my grunt call, blew two or three short grunt bursts, and before I could put the grunt tube down, a big 8-pointer ran straight up to me. Somehow, between the laws of physics and buck fever, that deer completely dodged my bullet, and I missed.

Most of the time, a deer will only get overly vocal with loud grunts during the rut. Any other time of the year, the grunting sounds are often soft. Your grunts should sound the same.

Go outside with a friend and have them blow their grunt call like they do when they are hunting. See how far away you can hear him grunt. A deer can hear the same grunt over three times that distance. I’ve had deer hear me grunt over 300 yards away. You can bet if I am going deer hunting, I will have a grunt tube with me, and I’ll be using it, but I’ll make sure it sounds natural.

Turkey & Owl Calls

Many times in my hunting career, I have had a deer see me move in a tree stand. I learned through trial and error that if a deer sees you in the tree and becomes alarmed, they will often calm right down and continue their previous activity if you owl hoot. When a deer sees a movement up high in a tree, they don’t know exactly what it is and it scares them. When you owl hoot to them, you let them know that an owl made the movement. That seems to put them at ease. I have used both the one-note barred owl call and the full cadence barred owl call. The full cadence has worked the best, but my full cadence sounds better than just a single note call. This works great on mature deer, and the only time it has not worked for me was on a yearling doe. I don’t think she was old enough to know what an owl was, and she sure didn’t stick around to find out.

On the way to his hunting area, the author will often pause and throw in a few turkey yelps or clucks. He said his goal is to not sound like a human.

Along with owl calls, a deer hunt should also include the sounds of a wild turkey. When walking through dry leaves, you need to alter your stride and gait so you don’t sound like a human. I like to take two steps, pause for a couple counts, take one step, pause, then continue.

You want to be quiet as possible, but the speed of your steps is much more important than the volume of noise. The goal is to not sound like a walking human, and by throwing in a few turkey clucks at each pause, the deer will often think you are a walking turkey. I like to yelp also, but mainly because I need the practice.

You will be amazed at how close you can get to a deer using this method. Just think about it — deer hear other animals walking in the woods every day and do not get alarmed. It should be your goal to sound just like one of those animals.

Other Noises:

I hunt on a Laurens County farm that has thickets right beside the food source I am hunting, which is often a food plot. These deer will bed anywhere from five to 50 yards from the plots, and if you want to have any chance at shooting one, you must get to your stand undetected. I’ve learned over the years that the deer are accustomed to hearing tractors on the farm and don’t run to the next county every time they hear one. So when heading to certain stands or putting up a lock-on or ladder stand on the edge of these thickets, I’ll often leave the ATV at home and drive the tractor. I drive it right up to the exact spot I wish to put the stand and leave the tractor idling while I put up the stand. The idling tractor will mask the noise you might make while putting the stand up. I’ve done this early in the season and had deer come in just to see what the tractor was doing. They’ll still keep their distance from the idling tractor, but they’re still curious enough to come into view.

If a chugging tractor is a common sound on your hunting property, the author said hanging a stand with a running tractor nearby helps get into a thick bedding area without spooking deer.

If I think the deer are bedded on the field edge, I’ll drive the tractor to the field edge to make the deer move deeper into the brush. Then I’ll park the tractor 50 yards from the field edge and walk to my stand. This also minimizes human scent near your stand.

Between tractors and chain saws, it’s a tough call as to which one arouses a deer’s curiosity more, but for me it’s tractors.

These are not all of the noises that will help you be a better bowhunter. Experiment with different noises to see which ones help you where you hunt. Some noises will help, some noises will not help. If you make a mistake, don’t make it again. Hunt and learn, and if your goals are like mine, you will be a better bowhunter.

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