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You make the call

The beginning of fall and the start of archery hunting for deer is an interesting time. It’s great to be out, sitting in the stand watching the last of summer (and the mosquitoes) fade away while deer begin to make their moves as the mornings and evenings cool off and patterns change. Sits are often quiet and hopeful events, surprised by the sudden appearance of deer that randomly show up and require a sifting through the mental rolodex of trail camera photos as they walk by. Later in the fall, however — the last week of October on up into firearm season of November — my time on stand becomes a bit more aggressive.

Perhaps it’s the vestigial tail of my fidgety nature which I have worked so hard to suppress over the last decade since starting life in a tree stand, but I truly enjoy late October and early November because deer — and especially bucks — become a bit more brazen and perhaps careless in pursuit of their mates, and more responsive to artificial calls. Of which, like any good hunter, I own more than I can stuff in a hip pack. As my learning experience continues, I can only share what I’ve observed after I’ve settled in, hung the plastic-and-wood grunter around my neck, un-slung the homemade rattling antlers from my shoulder, and pre-tipped the palm-size plastic bleat can in my pocket, ready for what’s to come. In the end, each individual hunter makes the decision on what works and what doesn’t, and that individualization of hunting is what makes the experience your own.

By far, my favorite call is the grunt tube. With a bit of practice, I feel my cadences are fairly convincing, or at least good for distracting free throw shooters at a basketball game. I’ve had deer simply walk by on the far side of the field without even turning their heads or acknowledging the burping noise coming from up in the tree, resulting in more and louder grunts in their direction and, ultimately, a case of hyperventilation for me. Other times, I’ve brought bucks in on a frozen rope with a single grunt on the wood-and-plastic tube, ticked that any other male deer would be within a dozen miles of their territory. Sometimes, I’ll randomly grunt throughout a hunt when there’s no deer in sight and nothing will appear; and then suddenly, near nightfall with the last bit of legal light waning, one or more bucks will steamroll into the area, as if they waited out the day’s end to explore all the commotion. I’ve never had deer — even does — take off in terror after I’ve grunted, so I figure I must be doing something right.

The same goes for rattling antlers too. I love the clicking and clacking sound that the rack of the first deer I ever shot makes, and the four-point antlers fit perfectly in my hands, hang easily on a branch or hook, and with their trimmed ends are safe and portable. I get into it, slamming them together, grinding and ticking the trimmed antlers from on high, hoping that the sound emulates the couple of real knock-out style buck fights I’ve witnessed in the wild and the dozens I’ve watched on TV or the Internet. I try to gradually progress from schoolyard shoving match to MMA main event before hanging them up with perhaps a bead of sweat or two forming under the brow of my balaclava. When I’m done, I can’t help but feel like Edward Norton’s narrator character in “Fight Club” after his first tussle with Brad Pitt’s imaginary Tyler Durden (spoiler alert).

That final call, a simple tip-over doe bleat can with its soft, come-hither “baaa,” completes my trio. By itself or coupled with some soft tending grunts simulating the presence of a buck about to steal the resident bruiser’s date, a doe bleat is an essential sound for late autumn. I often wonder, however, what sort of conversation I’m sending out. Is the back-and-forth between the noises coming from my mouth and hand a set of sexy banter filled with really good pickup lines, or is it more like a lover’s quarrel? What I fear the most though is that it is more akin to my Spanish-speaking skills, where I’m not sure if I asked ‘where is the beer’ or ‘where is my head at?’

Poor translation aside, with the shift in the weather, it’s evident that late autumn is here, and if you happen to hear an incredible combination of clicking, grunting and baa-aa-aaa-ing from above, and look up to see me smashing two antlers together and large-cheeked like Dizzy Gillespie, you’ll know it’s time to be deer hunting. Hopefully somewhere a few sections away from me … in our outdoors.

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