Early on, I discovered that the primary way to see game in the woods is to detect movement. The twitch of a squirrel’s tail or the flick of a deer’s ear would alert me long before I could make out the whole animal in a maze of trees, branches or brush. Likewise, of course, it was my own movements that often spooked game I had not yet spotted.
All critters that walk in the woods make some noise, depending on their activity at the time and the cover on the ground. I’ve had very successful days when the ground was covered with a thick layer of dry, crunchy leaves and everything from chipmunks to deer could be heard at a good distance while going about their business; I guess my steps just added into the mix.
So, in my opinion, slight movement may well be the most important sense to both hunter and hunted, but sound is often a close second (I’m not forgetting the deer’s nose.) I’ve known several avid hunters who say they can usually tell whether they’re hearing a squirrel rooting through the leaves for an acorn or a deer feeding slowly through the same woods. I thought I was pretty good at identifying footsteps in the leaves until I heard an approaching deer in New York archery season that turned out to be stray cow from a neighbor’s property.
Anyone hearing a flock of turkeys scratching through the leaves and yelping softly to each other isn’t likely to forget that racket. There are of course, a lot of distinct sounds that we learn to identify easily. The snort of a suspicious doe, the agitated chatter of a red squirrel or a gobbling spring turkey are quickly learned and become familiar. The calls of common song birds, blue jays, hawks and owls add to our outdoor experience on a daily basis. A drumming grouse is always a wonderful sound and another one never forgotten.
I remember my daughter, Suzi, waking up one summer morning and announcing that she was hearing a bunch of puppies yelping and howling. This was, of course, a persistent family of coyotes a short distance behind our house. She will probably know that sound if she hears it again. The howling of wolves in northern Canada certainly has a lasting place in my memory of nighttime sounds. I well remember the first time I ever heard a grunting buck chasing a reluctant doe all over a side hill in the late October leaves; until I finally caught sight of them, I couldn’t imagine that two deer could make that much noise.
So, there are lots of sounds that can alert us to the presence of wildlife, but there are other sounds out there as well. Some of the most important sounds are those we bring with us, especially those made on purpose.
I remember a description of the first deer call I ever heard being used. A friend and I were hunting in the Sugar Run area decades ago. We had split up, with plans to meet later near lunchtime. After a while, I heard some faint sounds coming from the general direction I had seen my pal walking. I was too far away to be sure, but it sounded like some regularly repeated sequence of animal calls, but nothing I could identify. When I met my friend later, he was discouraged. It seems he worked his way quietly to a spot he liked in a mixed stand of beech and hemlocks.
He just got settled in against the trunk of a big hemlock when he heard a loud noise that startled him. Hearing it again, he spotted a hunter’s orange hat less than 100 yards away. My pal had tried so hard to approach this place quietly; now there was “some nut in the deer woods blowing a duck call or something”.
At that time, neither of us had known of anyone using a deer call. Whether this guy was trying to imitate a doe bleat or what, I’ll never know, but I heard no shots coming from his direction that day.
Since those early days, I’ve made plenty of noises myself. Crow calls, predator calls, turkey yelps, moose and buck grunts and more have been produced in my attempts to lure critters into my ambush. Sometimes these efforts have worked, sometimes not so much. I remember one old-timer I met on a clear, warm day in turkey season when neither of us had any luck. I spotted him walking toward me in the oak woods and I waved him over.
We had a pleasant visit and I asked him what type of call he used. He had an old slate call in his vest, but he seldom used it.
Being an old Pa. hunter, he did his fall turkey hunting with an old Winchester model 43 in .218B caliber and usually got a chance to snipe at a bird well out of traditional shotgun/turkey calling range. His theory on calling was interesting. He felt that if you used any call in the woods, one of three things could happen. One: the call is ignored completely. Two: the critter turns and runs away. Three: it might actually come towards your calls. He was right; I’ve seen all these things happen more than once. I guess knowing when to make noise and when to be quiet will always be confusing to me.