Start practising your calls for the rut, advises professional stalker Chris Dalton, but use this power wisely and at the right time or you certainly won’t spot any bucks
I am sure there are not many roe stalkers out there who do not look forward to the end of July with eager anticipation: The sight of a roe doe doing a figure of eight around a tree stump, a buck following her like a steam train; calling a buck to you from deep in the woodland cover. Just a few brief weeks when normally alert and shy deer become so engrossed in matters of love that they become oblivious to all else around them, including the hunter.
The prospect of some nice weather is also welcome, although never guaranteed. Also welcome are the more sociable stalking hours (the best time to be out is often between 10am and 6pm). A lot of these romances are conducted under the cover and relative safety of darkness. Dawn breaks and the loved-up does and exhausted bucks are commonly enjoying a nap and cigarette after their exertions. So for us, it’s often better to enjoy those extra few hours in bed and have a leisurely breakfast before heading out mid to late morning – the roe will have gained their second wind and be up for another go. This is also the time you are likely to catch a buck on patrol round his patch, checking that competition isn’t hanging about, which is an excellent opportunity to entice it with your call. But remember there is no hard and fast rule and, if you begin thinking you can predict them, they will make a mug of you in no time. It’s always worth changing your routine and trying something different.
Here in the south-west of Scotland, I find the peak of the rut will normally be early August. Looking back through my records, most success has been achieved around 5-12 August, which is probably a bit later than further south. As I go north, into Angus, I find this peak of activity is a day or two later still. It is generally accepted that rutting intensity is governed by the weather conditions at the time (as, indeed, are many things with deer). The conditions that are considered best are warm, humid and thundery weather, which are unfortunately also the conditions loved by the midge.
Again, this is not to say that you won’t get rutting activity in other conditions, because you will. Personally, I think the fact that sound carries a lot further in these still conditions has a lot to do with rutting bucks responding to the call – simply because they can hear it from further away.
Perhaps to illustrate how things can differ across the country, Peter, our illustrious editor, contacts me and various other outfitters across the country for an assessment of the rut each year. Here at South Ayrshire Stalking, Tony and I had a good rut last year. Bucks responded well to the call and weather conditions were favourable. However, I gather this was very much the exception. Most of the other stalkers contacted reported a poor rut, little activity and only sporadic response to calling – so you never know.
On the calls themselves and how to use them, there are many books covering this subject and excellent materials on DVDs and CDs demonstrating the different types available and methods of operation. However, nothing is better than watching and listening to someone who has mastered the art – if you get such an opportunity, grab it. It is also vital that you have a basic understanding of what you are trying, whether it is the high-pitched squeak a kid will use as a contact call for its mother, thereby drawing a doe (and hopefully an attendant buck) to you, or the agitation call a doe will make when a buck starts to press her too hard. Nothing beats actually watching and hearing these calls and the action that precedes them in the field, but you don’t often get the chance.
The type of call you should select is mainly down to personal choice and needs to be one you can use to make a noise vaguely resembling a deer with some degree of success. I don’t think there is any harm in having a couple of different calls, but I think a pocketful is over the top. You should practise (not in the forest), and become confident in the use of your chosen call. My own preference, and certainly the call I have most success with, is the Buttolo. I find it easy to use and like that I can operate it from inside my coat pocket. I also think the muffling effect of the coat produces a good imitation. I also use a Hubertus cherry wood, which gives a nice high squeak. Again, I find it effective, and it has a slightly different tone to the Buttolo.
The biggest mistake folk make is that, as soon as July approaches, out of the drawer comes the call and off into the wood goes the stalker, calling in earnest. All you are doing is educating the deer – and they quickly realise that something odd is going on. Practice all you like, but make sure you are nowhere near roe. You are much more likely to succeed if you wait until you have seen some rutting activity, and if you stick to the period around the last week in July and the first two weeks in August you should be around the right time.
I distinctly recall, a good few years ago, travelling from Yorkshire to my stalking ground close to Newton Stewart. On the way I was listening to a tape (one of those old things you used to put in a car cassette player) of Richard Prior demonstrating excellent use of a Buttolo. Having listened to this several times during my drive through the night, and arriving close to my ground a bit early, I pulled into a layby, got the flask out and, while having a coffee, practised my best technique on the Buttolo. I was so engrossed in my attempts to replicate a female roe that I didn’t notice the lorry pull into the layby, but jumped half out of my skin at the tap on the window and polite question from a trucker enquiring if I was all right. It was quite difficult to explain why I was sitting in a layby at 2.30am, squeezing a little black rubber thing. You have been warned!