Once again I find myself working my calls during the rut here in Maine. Calling is not always a instant rewarding adventure, but when it works there's nothing like outsmarting any buck or doe, big or small, if you can call a deer into shooting range you are doing everything right!
From my life's experience of being in the woods and observing everything to assist me with patterning buck and doe behaviors. I have found that each year or sometimes every other year deer will breed and "chase" during the pre-rut, rut and post-rut in the same areas of the woods, almost ancestrally. The best way to recognize breeding behaviors and the start of rut is by keeping a mental note of traffic in a given area, if yesterday the deer tracks were a single track or maybe two to four deer moving in a single line across the area and when you return the next day or two, three days later you begin seeing many random deer tracks all over the oak leaves or forest floor coming and going in all directions...chances are you have found the breeding or the "Chase" zone. Always remember these areas from year to year, as this activity is generally done after legal shooting hours by the darkness of night or moonlight, but these areas make great places to sit the fringes of during the rut. Just sitting there might be productive for your hunt, but you will increase your chances of finding that dominant buck in that area if you do a little calling!
I have mentioned calling in previous blog posts, but my favorite calls to use during rut and post rut are "doe estrus bleat" calls. There are several I have used successfully, from the Lil' Can, Primos adjustable mini deer call, to electronic calls such as Extreme Dimensions Estrus Bleat and my now favorite my cell phone app called HuntPro, the Estrus Bleat works with or without a bluetooth speaker. The only time I use the Bluetooth speaker when calling is on very windy days, but, when all is quiet in the woods just use your cell phone on it's loudest volume setting with no remote speaker. It's perfect volume to call in a buck!
Okay.. you must be thinking... how often, how loud, when to call, how many bleats, do I use scents? The answer to scents is YES, use that doe estrus urine, I prefer the Wilderness Freaks brand and use it on every setup.
When I hunt and call I keep my scent wicks about 18 inches from the ground, not up high in a tree branch because bucks travel with their nose to the ground and scent rises with the heat of a day, keeping it low is very important.
With calling... what has worked for me in the past is that you want to call as soon as you can see well enough to identify a deer and see them in your crosshairs or sights, you don't want to start too early and bring in that giant buck in the dark before you can see him coming, in my area of southern Maine, I like to wait until about 15 minutes before sunrise to actual sunrise to start my calling sequences. I access the wind and noise in my area and if it's nice and calm, little or no wind, I use the estrus bleat call on my cell phone with the phone volume at maximum, or I will use the Lil' Can "Estrus Doe Bleat". Either one works great on calm days! If the wind is blowing causing sound not to travel very far, I step up my cell phone call by using my Bluetooth speaker (I use a Bose SoundLink Micro Bluetooth® speaker, but you can use cheaper ones that do the same thing, I prefer the clarity of the Bose, plus it's waterproof. ) and start on mid volume. My sequence is 3-5 bleats about every 5 minutes and I turn my volume up and down between each bleat, something like this, low volume on bleat one, bleat two up one notch, bleat 3 up two notches, bleat 4 back down two notches and bleat 5 down another notch of volume. This simulates the deer moving her head and body around as she bleats by changing volume. On calm days I stick with about 3-4 bleats of the Lil' Can and do this about every 5 minutes until about an our after sunrise and then I stop all calling until 1/2 hour before sunset, I then use a "Doe Grunt" call with 1-3 soft grunts every 5-10 minutes until end of legal shooting time.
I have had very little success in Maine using the rattle call for big deer, but I have called in smaller bucks, does and yearlings using a fighting rattle sequence a few times when sitting powerlines just in the last 20 minutes of legal shooting time in Maine. Deer have jumped out of the woods looking up and down the powerline to locate the fight I simulated. I have filled more than one antlerless tag using this method in my life. So don't give up on using the rattling call for big bucks, because I know many hunters that have been very successful using rattling in Maine! But always remember when using the rattle call...there has to be at least a couple dominant bucks in the area you are rattling in for it to work, the more big bucks, the better this will work!
Well.. The rut is on and I hope some of my tips will help you out the next time you head into the woods to fill your deer tag! Always remember: Any person that fully enjoys the pursuit of his or her intended species with the end results being an accomplished and happy hunter regardless of sex, weights, bag limits or protruding extremities! Steve Beckwith - The Maine Hunter