Calling all Critters — November - December 1999

by Gary Clancy

fox squirrel

At sunrise on a cool, quiet fall morning, my father and I slipped silently into a patch of woods. As we sat shoulder to shoulder against an old oak, I reached into my pocket and brought out the lid from one of my mother's quart fruit jars and a 4-inch-long screw I had found on my grandfather's workbench.

Then, as my father had taught me, I chopped at the lid with six short, sharp strokes of the screw, imitating the excited bark of a squirrel. Within seconds a gray squirrel came racing down the trunk of a nearby tree. At the crack of my father's .22 rifle, the squirrel toppled lifelessly off the stump. Five minutes later I made another call. This time a fox squirrel came running in. A while later I tricked two more squirrels into rifle range.

Our family dined on squirrel many times when I was growing up. But those four pan-fried squirrels were the best I ever ate because I had called them in with my jar lid and screw. I was 5 years old that fall. I've been hooked on calling wildlife ever since.

Most wildlife calling is done by hunters, who use calls to lure game animals in close enough to make a clean kill. But you don't have to be a hunter to call wildlife. It's a great way to get photographs or videos of birds and mammals, or you can call just for fun. Most calls can be bought in an outdoor sporting goods store.

A word of warning: Don't call during hunting season unless you are hunting, and then follow all clothing and safety regulations. If an animal comes too close for your comfort, stand up and shout to scare it away.

Outfox a Fox or Coyote

Foxes and coyotes live all over Minnesota -- even in the Twin Cities.They hunt at night and are most active then. Sneak into the area where you plan to call. Make sure the wind is in your face. Predators have an excellent sense of smell and if they are downwind of you, they will smell you and won't come to the call. Wear camouflage to keep hidden. In winter, wear white.

Use a rabbit distress call, which makes a high-pitched wail that sounds like a rabbit that has been captured by an owl or other predator. A fox or coyote will sometimes come running, thinking the sound means an easy rabbit dinner.

red fox Calling Foxes and Coyotes

The sound: A high-pitched squeal.

The gadget: A predator call, which sounds like a rabbit in trouble.

How to do it: The trick is to sound like a rabbit that's caught in the talons of a hawk or an owl.

Sometimes a deer will come when you make a rabbit distress call. Maybe the call sounds like a fawn in trouble, or maybe the deer is just curious. Once, as I called for predators on a cold January evening not far from Rochester, a herd of 27 deer came running in to check out my call.

Talking Deer

Most people think white-tailed deer don't make a sound. But they do. In fact, scientists have identified 12 different deer sounds. With a tube call, you can make one or two of these sounds to attract deer.

The fawn bawl sounds like a baby deer in trouble. Pretend you are a scared fawn when you make this sound. It works best in spring and summer when young deer are in the woods. When a doe hears this sound, she will rush in to help.

Another deer noise is the grunt. Usually a buck makes this sound to let other deer know he is in the neighborhood. The grunt is quiet. It works best when you can see a deer and want it to come closer. If the deer hears your grunt, it might stop what it is doing, lift its head, and stare in your direction, so you need to be well-hidden before making the call. Sometimes the deer will walk right toward you. If it goes back to what it was doing, grunt again.

Calling Deer

The sound: Fawns make a bleating sound like a lamb. A grunt sounds like a quiet burp.

The gadget: A tube call

How to do it: To make a bleat, put your mouth to the call and blow hard and fast. To make a grunt, put your mouth on the call and blow a short, soft breath.

white-tailed deer

In the fall when bucks are looking for does to breed, a buck will sometimes come to the sound of two antlers rattling together. He thinks it's the sound of two bucks fighting. The buck comes because he might want to fight or elope with the doe while they are distracted.

To rattle in a buck, hit two antlers against each other for about a minute. Then wait 10 minutes. Usually, if a buck is coming, he will show up in a minute or two. If no buck shows after 10 minutes, rattle the antlers for another minute and wait 10 more minutes. If no deer appears, move to another spot.

Warning: Don't call deer in November unless you are hunting. If you hunt, wear blaze-orange clothing so that a hunter doesn't mistake you for a deer.

Make a Turkey Trot

Wild turkeys are now common over much of southern and central Minnesota. Male wild turkeys, called gobblers or toms, gobble in the spring to attract hens. Hens do not gobble, but they are very noisy. They make sounds such as a yelp, cluck, or purr. You can make each of these sounds on many different calling devices. The easiest one to use is called the push-button yelper.

The yelp is a sound hens make in the morning to attract a tom. After you yelp a few times, wait absolutely still for at least 15 minutes. Wild turkeys can see extremely well. Wear camouflage clothing and a face mask and move only your eyes.

Sometimes the big tom will make a loud gobble in reply. But often he will sneak in to you without making a sound.

wild turkeys Calling Turkeys

The sound: The yelp of a hen sounds sort of like a dog barking.

The gadget: A push-button yelper.

How to do it: Hold the call lightly in one hand and push the plunger three or four times in quick succession. Pause a moment and then repeat. Wait quietly for 15 minutes before trying again.

Warning: If you are calling wild turkeys during a hunt, be sure you can clearly see your target before firing. Sometimes another hunter will sneak in to your call, thinking it's a real hen that will soon attract a gobbler.

Sing a Song for Songbirds

Not many people know how easy and exciting it is to call songbirds. You can try this anywhere in Minnesota -- in the country, in a small town, or even in a large city. I live in Byron, a small town in southeastern Minnesota. The other day in my back yard I used a $6 birdcall to attract sparrows, wrens, robins, blackbirds, goldfinches, a blue jay, chickadees, and purple finches. They all flew in to find the source of the sound. When I went to a nearby park, I attracted twice as many birds and species.

Later, I played a tape of a screech owl. I was virtually mobbed with birds attempting to harass and drive away the owl. For some after-dark fun on your next camping trip, bring a tape player and play a screech owl tape. You can buy these at outdoors stores. Screech owls will come close to talk back to the tape. Like other types of critter calling, it's a real hoot.

Calling Songbirds

The sound: A chirp or squeak.

The gadget: Audubon birdcall.

How to do it: Simply twist the metal plug inside the wood tube to produce a loud chirp or squeak.

short-billed marsh wren

Raising a Racket for Quackers

You can fool almost all of the 22 species of ducks that nest in Minnesota or travel through our state with one easy-to-use device called the single-reed hen mallard call. The call makes a quack that will call in distant dabbler ducks, such as mallards, teal, or wigeon. Diver ducks, such as scaup, redheads, and canvasbacks, do not quack, but you can attract them using the mallard call to make a loud purring sound.

Goose calls are just bigger versions of duck calls. Geese are found all over Minnesota. They are vocal birds that like to be with other geese. This makes them one of the easiest birds to call.

The best way to learn to call ducks and geese is by listening to a calling expert on an instructional cassette tape or video. These are available in many sporting goods stores, and sometimes come with the call.

mallards Calling Waterfowl

The sound: Dabbler ducks quack. Diving ducks make a purr. Geese honk.

The gadget: Duck or goose call.

How to do it: To make a quack, blow into the call while saying the word wick. To make a purr, blow while rolling your tongue and saying pddddrrrr. To honk, just blow into a goose call.

Gary Clancy is a free-lance writer from Byron. E-mail:

A complete copy of the article can be found in the November-December 1999 issue of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, available at Minnesota public libraries.