Buck calling 101

Credit:JMrocek / Getty Images

Bring them running in with Stuart Wilson’s guide to the basics of roebuck calling

Watching foxes run in to a distress call when the conditions are right is very exciting, and this can prove useful all year round if used carefully.

Calling roebucks can have an even more dramatic result, but it’s not a year-round pursuit – it is only effective in the very tight window of the roe rut, usually late July and early August.

As with any ‘trap’, careful preparation and clinical deployment will always yield better results. What follows is my opinion through interpreting my own findings in the field.

I am in no way an expert or extensively studied, but hopefully I can provide some guidelines for successful calling for stalkers who want to try this deadly technique. 

Establish your ‘stands’

The most basic principle in shooting a roebuck is you have to be able to see him, then line him up in the scope to take the shot, ticking all your own safety assessments.

While that might sound obvious, knowing your ground and where potential bucks – and does – may be holding will help you establish potential ‘stands’ to call from.

The editor, Pete Carr, using a handmade German wooden call

For the most part, my calling will be from a high seat, and to a lesser extent along some choice game strips or smaller satellite woods that offer the chance of luring a testosterone-fuelled buck to show himself.

Bear in mind that while the prime directive of reproduction will on occasion see a buck override the normal rules of avoiding human scent, a favourable shooting position that has taken the current wind direction into account will always work better.

Even better if your position allows some cover to hide your movements as the buck approaches. When a buck has approached very closely, the movement needed can sometimes be significant. 

Choosing a caller

The choice of callers out there is fairly good, with the market seeing some really nice reed-type mouth callers, in both plastic and a some beautiful cherry wood versions.

My own recommendation would be the Buttolo caller – it will produce the pheeps and squeaks required and does not rely on anything other than some practice at home well before the season starts.

Mikey in the high seat. Watching and waiting is just as important as calling

A quick guide to using the Buttolo: A small squeeze of the bulb, which acts as a bellows to the internal reed, will produce a gentle peep or pheep, which is a good representation of a roe doe call.

I will initially keep the caller in my pocket and start with a sequence of three pheeps to get the ball rolling. Allow several minutes between two cycles of the three pheeps, you can always call more, but you can’t do anything to remedy overcalling once it has happened, so go steady and build slowly.

To master the next sound, depress the Buttolo’s bellows, leaving a small pocket of air to allow your thumb to clear this out to produce a pheep that rolls into the much louder, laboured squeak.

This is the noise a doe makes as she is pressed hard by a pursuing buck. I drive my family nuts towards the end of July as the caller gets dusted off and the annual practice sends everyone nearby scurrying for their earphones. 

Time it right

‘Towards the end of July and early August’ is the most accurate answer I can give for when the rut actually takes place. In reality, it varies slightly throughout the UK and from year to year. Judging when it’s started seems to be an art rather than a science, and I still don’t fully get it right each year.

The basic advice is this: If the weather is warm, humid or any combination of the two, just keep watching. You must see does being chased before you try to call.

I actively look for this kind of activity from the second week of July, and keep an eye on social media posts while staying in touch with stalking pals. Intel is key here.

The number of does you have present on your ground and in surrounding areas will dictate on the activity you will see. When the first doe starts to approach and then hits oestrus, your bucks, including neighbouring bucks, will know.

Some areas will see activity year after year. Certain bushes will see does and bucks chase around and round, producing classic roe rings. I have seen this happen around large rocks as well. Hopefully your preparation will see you ready to spring into calling action on suitable stands.

The tried-and-tested method

Watch and wait for solid rutting activity. Your caller is very unlikely to set the rut going ahead of time! If the local area is whispering of rutting action from reliable sources, then feel free to have a go.

As quietly as possible, get set up on your chosen ‘stand’, waiting a full 15 minutes before any calling begins to let the area settle. Give three pheeps followed by another three after a minute or so, and continue this cycle every 5-10 minutes.

Results can be non-existent or immediate. There is no way of predicting it. But when a buck charges over to your call, it is really exciting. Minimum movement is key now as the buck homes in on the call, which could mean he is looking straight in your direction. 

Out in the field

Here’s one example from 2017 of when calling really worked. Mark and Mikey had joined the editor and me to shoot a Yorkshire roebuck, and had timed it fairly well for that year’s rut. Mark was guided by Pete, Mikey by myself.

Mikey’s second buck popped up and approached at speed

Mikey’s first seat saw him bag his first roebuck, which had been chasing a doe in the golden-brown corn field, nearly ready for harvest. The doe did a superb job of luring the buck out of the woodline some 300 yards from Mikey – no calling necessary, and it’s worth adding that you are very unlikely to call a buck away from a doe that is letting him follow closely.

I had seen Mikey to his seat, but had to run an errand before I could join him. Mikey had taken his shot, and as I returned I found Mikey searching through the tall corn. It can be disorienting when you are trying to establish where the shot beast may be.

We tracked straight down the second tramline, and rather luckily straight on to the blood from a clean exit, with the buck hiding two metres from the point of impact. Relieved, we gralloched, took our snaps and moved on.

After a couple of stands that produced nothing, we took to our final seat for the more promising evening time session, with a small wood behind us and a much larger wood in front with perfect woodland fringes – ideal for a buck to be mooching around in.

Following the sneak up into the seat, we waited for 15 minutes, allowing everything to settle back, and a favourable light crosswind was whisking our scent away nicely to our left.

Giving Mikey the nod, I started with the first three pheeps, with the Buttolo tucked in my coat pocket. As I patiently counted through the minute pause, out of nowhere a buck jumped out in front of us around 80 yards away, and ran in our direction.

He was in danger of getting too close, and more pressingly about to go behind the hedge line directly in front of our seat position. I sent a quick glance Mikey’s way as I checked he was ready for a shot; a squeak or whistle stopped him for a split second and Mikey’s .270 Win flattened the eager buck.

With just a second or two to act, Mikey was decisive

This was exciting stuff. You will get plenty of stands with zero response to your call, and while this is difficult sometimes, it enhances the feeling of success when you have persevered and finally got a buck to respond to the call.

Final advice

Plan your outings, and time them well. Be methodical with your own calling and accurately record or remember when you have done things differently – it makes for a thrilling shooting experience, and can prove the downfall of many bucks.

My last tip for any shooter that has a buck charging into the call is that the buck will be desperately trying to find the scent of the ‘elusive’ doe he can hear calling, and often a shot can prove difficult.

While another pheep on the caller might seem like a good idea, my own preference is for a simple verbal BAAAA. This is pretty good at stopping them dead in their tracks.

Good luck and happy calling in the rut. 

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