A fox squirrel checks out a deer hunter in a tree stand. A bark from the squirrel would warn others of an intruder into its habitat.


Active, careful listening to and deciphering of nature’s sounds should be applied to any animal or bird when we are deer hunting.

These wild creatures live around white-tailed deer and have something to tell us, if we are willing to quietly, intently listen.

As a deer hunter, you need to be an intense listener of sounds that point out the movement of larger mammals. The area around your deer stand or blind gets noisy when you arrive because the animals have heard you coming and sounded alarm calls. After you sit still and quietly for about 10 to 15 minutes, the area will come alive with the more comfortable, normal sounds of small animals and birds going about their daily routines.

Listen to the rhythm and volume of wildlife calls and take notice of any changes, however abrupt, rapid and expressive.

Squirrels: Fox squirrels offer first-rate natural alarm systems and warn of intruders entering their area. When deer hunting, if you spot a squirrel frolicking and feeding normally on the ground, but it instantly stops and hightails it for the closest tree while barking and chattering, something is up. Bark and chatter calls emitted by fox squirrels serve as an anxious awareness of danger to warn others of intruders or predators in their respective areas. If a squirrel hears a deer coming through an area, it most likely will sound a warning and hit the nearest tree. On the other hand, one of the best signs that deer are close by is that squirrel activity and vocalizations will quickly cease, and the squirrels will vanish with no warning or sound.

Birds: Know your birds and the sounds they make. They are tattletales. Bluejays, cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, sparrows, killdeer, Carolina wrens, crows, turkeys, ducks and other birds have vocal language that are great indicators of deer movement. Birds get particularly excited around white-tailed deer and utter this anxiety often. They have distinct calls when they are disturbed or being pushed through timber or along the edge of cover. When hunting woodlands, for example, the bluejays are among the most easily identified and vocal of all birds. They are consistent at letting the hunter know when white-tailed deer are on the move. Their calling will become much sharper with a lot more emotion.

Visit the online Nebraska Bird Library at nebraskabirdlibrary.org for specific details about Nebraska birds.

Deer: Whitetails make up to 400 different vocalizations; most of them are made so softly and subtly that only skilled listeners can recognize them. Hunters should be familiar with certain groups of calls. These include alarm calls (snort) and bawl calls (when deer are traumatized or stressed). Generally, deer flee when they hear both these sounds. Mother-fawn calls include a maternal grunt, bleat, mew, nursing grunt or whine, and a contact call used when deer become separated. This is a moderately pitched grunt and can be used by hunters to draw deer to them.

Hunters should note the three aggressive calls bucks make during the rut — low grunt, grunt-snort and grunt-snort-wheeze. In addition, there are mating-related calls such as the tending grunt, trailing grunt, flehmen sniff and bellow. Of these, the tending grunt — of moderate volume and often longer duration than a contact grunt — can be used by hunters to bring in bucks during the rut.

The countryside and the woods are talking to us; as deer hunters, all we have to do is listen.

Greg Wagner is a public information officer in the Commission’s Communications Division. Contact him at greg.wagner@nebraska.gov. Read his blog, In the Wild, at OutdoorNebraska.org.


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