The roe rut isn’t always magical – half the time it’s fruitless and frustrating. Dominic Griffith unravels the mystery around this key period in the stalker’s calendar
The rut is commonly perceived as the ‘duffers week’ of roe stalking, but is that really a fair description of that short and intense period, which can be overwhelmingly successful or, on another day, deeply depressing?
As ever with roe stalking, weather is everything. As you watch June turn to July with temperatures soaring and periods of bright sunshine, you can’t help but anticipate the rut. The truth, however, is that for every hot and sultry week in late July and early August, there is a corresponding cold, wet and windy one. If your important week turns out to be the wet and windy one, you are probably going to be disappointed.
I remember taking a BBC crew to film the rut. A strong wind blew for the entire two days of filming, and as every stalker knows, calling in a strong wind, even a warm one, is almost impossible, and general rutting activity becomes much reduced. In the end we got the shots, but the film crew were pretty unforgiving and made me feel as if I was wasting their time – such is the truth of much modern wildlife filming where the show is more about the presenter than the presented.
Hot, sultry days bring the best calling conditions – but in a UK summer these are far from guaranteed, and you are almost certainly going to have to reduce your expectations. The trouble is that we always remember success and soon forget frustration. We remember the fantastic morning when we called six bucks in two hours, but forget that long day when absolutely nothing happened and it felt as if we were vainly calling with no deer within 100 miles. If you have guests on a day like this, doubt can swiftly build up, with self-fulfilling consequences.
Early in the rut, adult bucks, so-called travellers, may be seen crossing open spaces in search of a mate. These are often the younger middle-aged bucks and should be treated with caution. Older bucks tend to remain close to home and wait for the action to come to them.
On approaching a likely territory, proceed upwind and find a calling site that offers concealment but is open enough to observe an approaching buck – just enough cover to make a buck confident in its approach while offering you the best chance to observe and select if appropriate. Then wait. The noise or disturbance you have made, though not obvious to you, may well be enough to alert the buck and bring him in. So wait five minutes before you start to call.
Much is written about the technicalities of the various noises made by the various calls, but my results have been far less scientific – different calls work on different days. The Buttolo squeezable has been probably the most successful and most versatile through the progressing stages of the calling season, particularly in inexpert hands. I have seen stalkers make their own calls from beech leaves or barley stubble, which make the purest sounds and have the benefit of bringing the whole process closer to nature – and yes, they can work magic. My own favourite is my reeded roe antler call made in Germany, which has a purer sound than man-made materials and is a pleasure to use. Is it better than a Buttolo? Not necessarily. Would I prefer to use it? Undoubtedly yes. If pushed, I would say the Buttolo may have the advantage in the early rut, while reed calls may have the edge as the rut progresses to its climax.
How to call
Start with a short series of gentle squeaks, leaving several minutes before repeating more loudly. The book will tell you to remain at the stand for up to one hour to give time for a really old buck to approach. My personal feeling is that if you wait long enough something is bound to come in the end, whether called or not, so using that argument you might as well stay all day. But the thrill of the rut is when a buck ‘springs’ to the call, and I find it more successful to move to a new stand after about 20 minutes if nothing happens. That way you increase your chances of experiencing the excitement of the rut with only a limited restriction for those few bucks who want to take their time. Even those may well come immediately if called on another day or even at another time of day.
Over-calling, particularly early in the rut, is self-defeating – you are simply educating your bucks, to the detriment of that special day. I have also had little success calling from high seats, and often wonder whether the deer recognise that the noise is not emanating from ground level. Calling in the presence of buzzards is also very frustrating – their call is entirely consistent with that of a Buttolo and using one will often bring in more buzzards than deer.
One of the restricting factors of the rut is in the shot. In normal circumstances we are used to stalking a feeding deer that moves slowly and presents a broadside. More often than not, a buck reacting to a call comes quickly and straight on. Selection must be instant. Sometimes the decision might be for a low neck shot into the chest when it stops – a shot not normally recommended for beginners but perfectly acceptable at close range and if steady on the sticks.
Sometimes the conditions are perfect and the call works every time – wherever you go, a buck comes running, and along with it the opportunity for a shot. On days like this, don’t allow yourself to take advantage of the deer. Remain selective. It is a brilliant opportunity to take out those elusive old bucks that have had the better of you all season, but it is equally an opportunity to do a lot of damage if you don’t exercise self-control.