Stalking guide Chris Dalton shares his secrets of successful roe calling and recalls a situation in last year’s rut when the plan came together perfectly
The anticipation of ‘the rut’ is certainly infectious for all who follow the sport. It’s also invariably a time when lots of stalkers ask me about which calls I use, how I use them, where and when. Many drop into the conversation that they have been out in woods practising their calling for a few weeks already. I just shake my head. Don’t do it! All you are doing is educating the deer with little chance of any response. Roe deer do not respond well to some human wandering around and squeaking, trying to make like a fawn. You will just push them into cover and make them all the more wary – better to leave them quiet until rutting behaviour is evident.
The rut in not an exact science. It will happen, but some years, owing to many factors, usually the weather, we see little of it, with most of the activity taking place at night. Secondly, peak activity can occur in a long period of perhaps four weeks, usually from mid-July to mid-August and sometimes beyond. This can also vary massively between areas; normally I would expect rutting in the south of England to be 2-3 weeks earlier than here in the south-west of Scotland, but this is not always the case. Take last year, for example – we had a near-perfect rut with deer responding well to calls, but this was by far the exception.
So what do I do? Well I don’t start calling until I have seen some rutting activity and I already have a good idea of what bucks and does I have, and their locations. Watch your mature bucks, and at the same time note any pretenders to the throne, along with any nervous yearlings. Also, ring the changes of your stalking. During the rut, it’s often better to get out mid-morning to mid-afternoon. A second burst of rutting behaviour will often take place around this time – the deer are often laid up after dawn after strenuous activity during the night.
The two calls I prefer are the Buttolo and the Hubertus cherry wood. I keep trying the Nordic Roe, but with the latter I seem to struggle – I just can’t yet make a consistent noise but others swear by it.
Do not go into the woods expecting instant success. You will invariably be disappointed. But persevere, and by following the basic pointers above you will be narrowing the odds. When you first get to your chosen calling position, wait a while before calling. The disturbance of your arrival alone may be enough to bring in a buck in close proximity who may think you are an interloper – if you have the wind. And when you do start calling, be aware that a wary buck may try to come in from behind to test the wind if he’s a cautious one – and the bigger bucks usually are. When you eventually succeed it is magic – calling your first buck is something you will never forget.
Last year, a regular stalking guest asked me to take out his son Tom during early August, and try calling a decent roebuck for him. Our first morning saw me drive to a farm with some small conifers that had been planted with pheasant shooting in mind. This is great roe terrain – big open valleys bounded by conifers and hardwoods, which is also ideal for calling. You can quietly get into some high ground with a great view across both sides of the glen.
I had been watching this particular spot and noted a decent six-point buck hanging around a doe. She was not particularly interested but nor was she getting stroppy with him, so having given it a few days, I thought there was a good chance of things having progressed in the amour department. I had seen several rutting chases on this estate already, so females were certainly coming into season.
The weather was warm and a bit breezy, which kept the midges off. We were in position around 9am. I settled Tom down and we got into a comfortable calling position, trees behind us and the rifle rested on the sticks ready for action.
I sat for 10 minutes to let everything settle down and took time to glass the area carefully. The new Swarovski EL Range binos are great for ranging various references points. Nothing apparent, so I gave three gentle peeps on the Buttolo, squeezing the call from the inside my coat pocket to give a gentler, more realistic note.
I had not even finished the third ‘peep’ when a lovely six-pointer dashed out of the trees 500 yards above us and stood looking intently in our direction. Roe have an uncanny knack of being able to pinpoint the exact location of a noise. Experience told me he couldn’t see us, but I felt I was being stared at. I nudged Tom but he had seen the buck already and was slowly, as briefed, bringing the rifle round to the buck.
At this instant the buck ran at us full tilt down the valley, to disappear out of sight below us. This allowed Tom time to get into a good rest and I pointed to where I thought the buck would re-appear on our side of the Glen. This he duly did, still running at top speed; he was now in danger of getting too close, so I whispered to Tom to be ready and I barked at the buck. He slammed on the anchors and turned beautifully broadside to a halt. The bullet hit him fair and square, knocking him to the ground dead.
The whole thing, from start to finish, probably lasted no more than two minutes. I wish it was always like that – more often it’s a no show, but boy, when it does work it’s great. Be observant, know where your bucks are, practise your calling at home or in the car, and be ready to take a quick but safe shot. Good luck.