During the heat of the rut, few calls can make the difference between drawing a mature buck within shooting range or having him put his nose back to the ground and wander out of sight. An estrous doe bleat from a can-call, made at ground level, will do just that!
It only needs to happen once before you’re hooked. If you’ve ever observed a Boone and Crockett class whitetail absolutely quiver through every ounce of his body … then you’ve seen what an estrous bleat can-call can do to the primal response system of a dominant rutting whitetail buck. I’ve seen bucks have complete meltdowns and actually stagger when confronted by a well-timed estrous bleat during the peak of the rut. Any buck worth shooting has been exposed to the sounds of a hot doe that’s ready to be bred. Even if he wasn’t the buck doing the breeding, he has most likely held a satellite position within the herd, thus gaining much experience in the pecking-order process.
The bucks that take the rut seriously take the sounds of an estrous doe very seriously as well. Other than an actual hot doe, there’s no better lure than a well-timed bleat produced from a can-call. “Kickin’ the can at ground zero” refers to tipping a can call over to produce a hot doe bleat—at ground level—where real estrous does make their trophy-buck-luring sounds. The power of this call was never more evident than during a rut hunt in Hillsdale County, Michigan, last November. Over the course of a morning hunt, I “canned” four different bucks, each coming from a different area. The largest, a definite shooter, came in downwind, and though I had on a scent-suppressing suit, he still busted me at 25 yards. These bucks each came in at different times, with the big-boy the latest to show at 11:35 a.m. What was so telling about that hunt was the way each buck responded to the can-call with such urgency. All had thrown caution to the wind, and though I never got a shot on the Pope and Young class 10-point, he still had charged in blindly.
Can-calls have been around for a long time now, and still give me my best chances year-in and year-out on mature bucks. Each year more and more of the dominant deer seem to be ignoring or even shying away from my efforts on the grunt tubes, though the opposite has been obvious when I use subtle bleats generated from several of my favorite can-calls. Manufacturers such as Primos, Quaker Boy, Knight and Hale, and Hunters Specialties make quality tip style can calls that closely emulate the urgent bleats of a “hot” doe in estrous.
2006 Illinois Book Buck
The best and most recent testimony to the effectiveness of these calls was my hunt in Adams county Illinois last fall. While hunting in the center of what could arguably be the best golden triangle in the Midwest, I shot my largest archery buck to date, a 125-class 10-point with only two inches of deductions. He was the fourth buck I called to my stand in a mere 3 minutes!
I was hunting on a steep ridge overlooking a “holler” that was bordered by CRP on two sides and bordered on the other two by a huge L-shaped corn stubble field. I was snuggled in a beech tree surrounded by black locusts and Osage-orange trees, overlooking a small creek. I commanded a field-of-view that was unrivalled by any I had previously experienced. On the first morning of the first day, I started seeing deer early and often. The first buck sighting was around 9 a.m., as a small six-pointer chased a doe through the stubble. Minutes later I noticed a stationary eight-point about 100 yards across the hollow on a ridge—just watching the action. I triggered my Primos-loaded GroundGrunter and started to work the 8-pointer towards my stand. Although this buck was not a shooter, I decided to see how close I could get him to my position by using ground-based hot doe bleats. When he was at 25 yards and closing, I caught movement out of my right eye. A trio of shooter bucks, unknown to me at the time, had been called in to the spot as well.
When the largest of the three broke off to zero in to the exact location of the call, I picked up my bow. With the call out in front of me 20 yards upwind, he circled in behind it, no doubt scent-checking the source of the “hot” doe he’d heard. I drew my bow while he studied the spot where the call was staked. A classic double lung pass-through shot sent him rocketing down the ridge to the creek, where I soon heard him crash.
I looked up and saw that the two lesser bucks were still there, looking at the spot where the now fallen buck was and then back to where the hot doe sounds had originated. If so inclined, I could have shot them as well! Talk about holding power! I triggered the call one more time, and the larger of the two came even closer! I knew then that I was on to something special… I had just witnessed something that very few hunters get to see, three mature bucks called to a fixed spot and held there while one was shot and killed! Adding to the shock of the whole scenario was the fact that I was calling a different buck when they took the backdoor into my setup!
The Ground-Sound Theory
Let’s look at several hard facts: Deer scrape and rub on the ground, they fight and breed on the ground and all of their sounds are made at ground level. They live there as well. So why do we still call from trees? Well, up until now we’ve had to … with electronic calls being illegal in most states where great deer hunting is available, our only other option is to hunt and call from the ground. This is effective at times, but one only needs to look at treestand sales figures to know that we, as a hunting fraternity, prefer to be elevated when we are enjoying our sport. Keeping our scent, movement and noise above and out of our quarry’s attention zone is a huge advantage for us when we pit our skills against the well-honed survival instincts of mature bucks.
We spend hard-earned dollars on knee-high rubber boots, scent-eliminating hunting suits, detergents, sprays, gums, rinses and the like to make ourselves invisible to the deer we hunt. Then with the first few calls of a grunt tube, bleat can or rattling antlers, we set off flashing neon billboards advertising our exact location! Does this make sense?
Frustrated with older, bigger deer circling my tree and looking up at the sounds created there, or simply bolting for cover, I decided to do something about it. The invention of the GroundGrunter and BattleGround remote calling systems have given all treestand hunters what they need to successfully hunt the bigger bucks—a treestand advantage with natural calls made at ground level where the deer make and expect them! The GroundGrunter lets you use any type of can-call at ground level and place it up to twenty yards from your treestand! A simple pull of the camo tether produces perfect bleats upwind of your elevated position and still lets you hold your bow or gun in your other hand. When the deer comes to the call he usually circles downwind to scent-check the sounds he just heard, putting him between you and the call with the wind in your favor!
The BattleGround remote rattling system works much the same way, with the added advantage of producing pounding hooves and rustling leaves to the sounds of two bucks fighting. Many big bucks hang up just out of shooting range when they hear two other bucks fighting, but not producing the associated sounds of a ground fight. This is why the biggest bucks generally won’t close the gap and come into shooting range. Now they hear what they want and need to hear—the most realistic calling and rattling setup in the history of hunting—and it’s legal in all states! A famous deer-hunting figure on TV explained treestand hunting this way, “I cup my hand over my calls for two reasons. First, it helps the sound go off to the side of my tree, and secondly, it throws the sound toward the ground.” So with all due respect for our efforts to take the buck of our dreams from a tree, let’s take scent control, scouting weapons accuracy, and hunting in big buck areas to the next level.
My bowhunting season started slow in October because of unseasonably warm weather. The deer weren’t moving much in my areas, and it appeared that the other hunters I knew were staying out of the woods waiting for cooler days. I hunt in Jackson and Hillsdale counties, two of the better-known big-buck areas. In my quest to get video footage of the GroundGrunter doing what it does best, I had chosen to let my best spots rest until movement picked up. As a result, the third week of October found me in northern Michigan, chasing deer in the Manistee National Forest … an area not known for huge racks.
During the first sit, I had good success calling in some small six-points and a spike in the morning, and does were also responding well to the setup. That evening a decent eight-point came rushing into the call, but he was not what I really wanted. With cooler weather and a front coming, things were looking better than I’d expected they could be in the area I was hunting.
The setup was perfect with the wind in my favor. The GroundGrunter was set upwind of my treestand, which was on a bench between two oak-laden ridges, with a babbling brook in the distance completing the scene. With my cameraman sitting over my shoulder and temps in the 40s, it was indeed a bowhunter’s utopia. Does were moving well that morning and the front was approaching. Content watching five does gorge themselves on plump white oak acorns, I triggered the call every 15 minutes. The beauty of the setup was in the fact that my calling was not spooking the does, never seems to.
I was making perfect doe-in-estrous bleats, and with a pod of real does within shooting range, any buck that was close enough to hear the calls also had a great visual. Soon after 9 a.m., a small six point meandered into range. Recognizing him from the previous evening, I was content to let him do his thing. As he scent-checked each doe, I heard a loud crashing down the opposite side of the nearest ridge. Unable to see the deer that was making the ruckus, I triggered three long calls on the GroundGrunter. Suddenly, it sounded like a freight train was barreling over the crest of the hill as a mature, wide-racked eight pointer charged in to assert his dominance over the now humble six-point. Even while the six-point vacated the area, the big deer was making his move to the call. We actually captured video footage of him standing a foot away from the GroundGrunter.
I almost passed on this deer because he had short tines. But after guessing his spread at 20 inches with great mass—and remembering the rarity of a deer like this in this area— I realized he was probably the best buck around for mile! My velvet-smooth Whisper Creek bow seemed to come to full draw automatically, and my single pin found his vitals quickly. With the go-ahead from my cameraman, I squeezed my release and followed through with the shot. He rocketed over the ridge and I heard the rewarding sound of a large body crashing into to pallet of colorful leaves on the other side of the ridge. He was down! A series of high-fives and confirmation of good video added to my euphoria.
I don’t claim to be an expert trophy hunter, a pro or anything like that. To be honest, the two bucks I’ve written about her are my best ever. The one thing that sticks hard in my craw is the fact that after bowhunting deer since I was 18 years old, I’ve just recently shot my best two trophies; I’m 45 now. So, what took so long? Bad luck, a longer-than-average learning curve and hunting in marginal areas have all contributed to my lack of big bucks on the wall. Now I’m no novice, I have harvested more than 40 whitetails over my bowhunting career—most of which were small bucks—but the one factor that’s constant in my recent trophy success is the fact that I am now calling from the ground … while hunting in a tree. I still wear my ScentLok, use green soap, rubber boots and set up my stands according to the wind, but I truly feel that I have gained a huge advantage by hunting the dominant deer in a manner that they are not accustomed to being hunted.
Am I on to something? I believe I am. I only know enough to not look a gift buck in the face! So set your goals on the biggest buck you can find, and hunt him like he’s never been hunted before … by Kickin’ the Can at Ground Zero!
For more information on the GroundGrunter, BattleGround and other products from B&C HuntStuff, go to www.bandchuntstuff.com.