It was a day I will never forget. I was still-hunting along a brush- and weed-choked power line in northern Missouri when I heard a loud crash about 100 yards distant. A small doe emerged from the far side, wheeled about and sprinted toward me with her tail held high and off to one side. She was obviously in estrus, and as I scanned the brush behind her, I caught several glimpses of a huge-bodied deer with a tall, wide rack in hot pursuit.
The buck did not break cover, but nonetheless followed the doe’s progress, stopping behind a wall of thorns just 25 yards away. The doe stood motionless in front of me with her head down and hind legs askew, while the buck snorted and “clicked” in the brush.
She was in heat all right, and her bleating made her needs sound quite urgent. The buck was frustrated, however, at the long wait and emitted a series of sharp “clicks,” followed by a loud snort-wheeze. I didn’t know it at the time, but there were TWO record-book bucks in pursuit of that hot doe, the larger of which was of Boone and Crockett status!
I’d like to tell you I arrowed one of those deer, but the truth is I blew a shot at the smaller animal, not knowing the 170-class behemoth was also in attendance. I also misread the scenario, thinking the two distinct clicking sequences followed by a snort-wheeze came from the same buck. I know better now.
What Is Buck Clicking?
There’s no doubt buck clicking is an awesome sound. Unfortunately, like the grunts of a trailing buck, buck clicking often goes unnoticed in the deer woods. I suspect this is because most hunters simply don’t recognize the clicks as having anything to do with deer or deer hunting. Indeed, a long series of evenly spaced clicks sounds more like a kid dragging his thumb along the teeth of a plastic comb than part of the courtship ritual of whitetail deer.
But that is exactly what the series of staccato clicks represent. According to Adirondack Mountains deer hunter Dave Oathout, creator of Legend Lures and one of the first to publicly recognize buck clicking as a form of whitetail communication, a buck vocalizes his maturity and the fact he is sexually experienced to the opposite sex just prior to mating. And he does this by inhaling air to create a four- or five-second series of loud, evenly spaced clicks.
“A mature buck will do everything he can to pass on his genes,” explains Oathout. “One of the ways he does this is by communicating to a doe in heat that he is indeed a mature, sexually experienced buck — a prime specimen. And he does this by first emitting a contact grunt and then clicking, which in effect tells the doe, ‘I am a mature buck, and I know the mating rituals. I am not going to hurt you, and I will not be overanxious. I will remain calm, and wait until you are ready to mate.’
“This is what I call the true tending grunt,” says Oathout. “On the other hand, a young buck or a even an older buck with limited sexual experience will simply start walking towards a potentially receptive doe hoping she will stand still and be bred. As of yet, I have not seen an adolescent buck in my herd of penned deer initiate the process with a contact grunt — a true sign of a mature buck. Nonetheless, when he gets to within 15 yards or so, he will begin clicking his intentions to her. If she is ready and willing to be bred, she will get into a submissive posture.
“More often than not, however, he will not exhibit the right body language, and being in a rush to mate for the first or second time in his life, will become overanxious and start to hyperventilate. That is, he will click by inhaling AND exhaling air. Don’t forget he is full of testosterone and anxious to pass on his genes before another buck enters the scene.
“If the doe is mature and sexually experienced herself, she may just flee, knowing the buck approaching her is neither mature nor sexually experienced. She may even sense he may harm her in the process.
“A mature buck will emit of a series of clicks and then wait three or four minutes for the doe to get in position. Keep in mind that he is pumped up with testosterone himself, so much so that he is sick to his stomach and has very little interest in eating.
“If she will not stand to be bred, he could get a little impatient. Indeed, even though he is trying to maintain his composure, his next series of clicks will be a little more intense.
The doe, however, will not stand to be bred until her hormonal levels tell her it is time.
This may be too much to ask for even a mature buck. He will invariably increase the tempo of his clicking again, ending with an electrifying snort-wheeze signifying to the doe that he is a dominant animal and that he is getting very impatient.
“A mature buck could also lose his composure after he has been with a doe that is not quite ready to be bred for a couple days. She may be bedded down for the morning, but when she stands to urinate, her estrus odors get him very excited. She may even start to wander off, maybe into the path or territory of another buck, which only further frustrates the buck she has in tow.
“A mature buck, however, will keep his distance until it is time to breed,” adds Oathout.
“He will follow a hot doe wherever she goes, keeping her in sight if possible, but he will always stay at a safe distance. If a sapling is at hand, he may give it a thrashing, stopping periodically to just stare in her direction.
“An adolescent buck, on the other hand, will constantly penetrate her safety zone, causing her to move away or even bolt. If she does flee, a chase may ensue, which of course will attract any nearby bucks. This is Mother Nature’s last-ditch effort to ensure any nearby mature bucks with better genes are taken into consideration. Survival of the fittest!
“Keep in mind that the hyperventilating clicks of an immature buck can travel a great distance, especially if the leaves are down and the wind is blowing in the right direction.
This sound undoubtedly draws older bucks to the scene.
“Of course, a yearling buck is most vulnerable to losing his girlfriend when he does not exhibit adequate control. After he loses out a couple of times, or is witness to how a mature buck mates, either by seeing the actual coupling or hearing the proper prenuptial vocalizations, he wises up. A whitetail buck learns fast, and the next time he encounters a hot doe, she will recognize that he has calmed down.”
Buck Clicking Strategies
The best time to try your hand at buck clicking is during the late pre-rut and all during the peak of the rut, when bucks are actually on the prowl looking for a doe in heat. Its effectiveness wanes as the rut winds down.
“Start out by clicking slowly, and then quicken the pace by inhaling and exhaling to simulate a hyperventilating yearling buck,” advises whitetail expert Ray Eye. “If you are in a treestand, ‘throw’ those clicks back and forth in a wide arc in an effort to make the target buck think the young upstart is pushing the doe too hard. If you are hunting from the ground, stomp and rustle the leaves to add more realism to the ruse.
“Another option is to position a buck and a doe decoy in the open near your stand,” adds Eye, “with the doe decoy easily visible from a bedded position. A small rise in the corner of an open field or a farm lane near the junction of two hedgerows are both ideal locations. Keep in mind that the buck decoy should be standing over her, and sporting a small-to-average-sized rack. You want him to look like a yearling buck so that any passing mature bucks will not only realize that he is probably sexually inexperienced, but also not be intimidated by his size. In other words, you want any roaming mature buck to throw caution to the wind and come rushing onto the scene to take charge of the hot doe without fear of getting mauled by a bigger buck.”
If you see the buck and he still will not respond to your ruse, or you hear a buck clicking in the brush but he remains out of sight, try emitting a snort-wheeze. It might frighten an immature buck, but it will be seen as a challenge to any nearby mature bucks.
Just be ready to shoot before you call. Last fall, I almost got run over by a 130-class 8 point behind my home in upstate New York after using the snort-wheeze. He disappeared before I could get an arrow nocked, leaving me with nothing more than a great memory.