Whitetail deer have a complex language that allows them to communicate emotion and information amongst the herd. By understanding what these deer sounds are and what they mean, a hunter can use this information to help them understand deer behavior.
If you want to get an advantage in the tree stand, why not learn what the deer are saying, when they say it, and how to use those calls to control their movements? Don't worry. This isn't a grammar textbook. But it is a pretty comprehensive list of the sounds whitetail deer make and what they mean.
Sounds Deer Make When They Are Alarmed
One of the main reasons deer make sounds is to warn each other of perceived danger. In fact, this is why deer move in herds, because it gives them a group advantage against predators.
It's important to know these sounds because they're usually the ones you don't want to hear. It can be a good way to gauge if you've been spotted or gotten too close to the herd.
The “Deer Blow” Sound
Unfortunately, most new hunters get very familiar with this sound. It's one you've probably heard before without even realizing it was a deer that made it—because you probably never saw it.
The deer blow sound, which some hunters describe as a snort or sneeze, communicates to other deer that there's danger nearby. When one deer snorts, it will immediately take off, along with the rest of the herd.
This is the sound you want to avoid above all others. Because deer have great hearing and smell, the snort means they've caught you before coming into range. Most likely, deer won't return to that area for at least the rest of the day.
This is the exact sound that I heard a whitetail buck make when I was climbing down from my tree stand because I thought it was too windy for deer hunting.
The Stomp Sound
Deer also stomp when they sense danger, and it is often combined with the blowing deer sound to warn other deer that there might be danger. A deer stomp is pretty noticeable because deer usually don't make noise when they move or walk. The stomp sounds like a horse hoof striking the ground in a gallup, just singular. Plus, if you look closely, you'll usually be able to see the deer snapping its leg to make the noise.
The stomp serves two purposes. First, it puts the other deer on alert and lets them know there might be danger nearby. More importantly, it warns a potential intruder they've been spotted and tells them, "Don't come any closer!" As a result, it's most common with does that are looking out for their fawns.
If you hear stomping, you've been detected. You must tread carefully and try to move away from the deer to make them feel safe again. You can still have a successful hunt if you take the right precautions.
Deer Sounds For Non Alarming Communication
Along with warning each other about danger, deer also use sounds as social signals, whether simply for herd bonding or for mating during the rut. These deer vocalizations can actually communicate quite a bit of detail, so they're worth knowing. Knowing the deer's social vocabulary gives you better insight into their behavior, and you can mimic the deer calls yourself to manipulate their movements.
Doe Grunt Sound
Click the play button below to hear the doe grunt sound.
A doe grunt is basically just a social deer call. Deer make sounds to bond with one another and reassure each other of their presence and support—not unlike human beings.
On a more practical level, does grunt to inform each other of their locations. This is especially important for does with fawns. As fawns get older and start venturing farther from their mothers to feed, the does let out soft grunts to let them know where they are so that the fawns can follow the herd. A mother may let out a grunt to tell her fawn she's moving on and that it needs to come back to her.
Buck Grunt Sound
Click the play button below to hear the buck grunt sound.
Bucks grunt like does, but the sound has a deeper pitch and is rougher since they have bigger bodies and longer throats.
During the spring and summer when bucks are in their bachelor herds, their grunts serve basically the same purpose as doe grunts. They're just social calls that let each other know where they are and reaffirm social bonds. These grunts more or less sound like doe grunts too, long and calm, just deeper.
However, during the rut, bucks begin using their grunts to signal dominance and warn other bucks of their presence. Since the depth of a buck's grunt is related to his size, a firm, deep grunt tells other bucks he's a strong, mature male who will defend his territory.
As well as communicating with other bucks, the grunt serves to attract females. If a buck decides he wants to mate with a specific doe in his territory, he'll chase her while grunting at her. This simultaneously communicates his claim to her to any other buck and is also a way for him to try to attract her.
As a hunter, this is a deer call to take advantage of since it can antagonize bucks in your area. This sound is most common just before the rut when bucks are marking out their territory, and that's when it will be the most effective.
Doe Bleat Sound
The doe bleat is another social sound that does usually make when they're in a family group with other does and fawns. Like a cat purring, it basically shows contentment and comfort and bonds the herd. It's a high, soft repetitive sound like a goat or sheep bleat. Does usually let out a bleat once every 15-20 minutes.
Contact Bleat Sound
The contact bleat is basically the deer version of "I come in peace." When a deer comes into an area where there's a deer herd, it will make this sound to let the others know it's there and that it's not a threat. It's a bit more high pitched than a normal bleat and sounds friendly and nonthreatening.
The contact bleat is a deer call commonly used by hunters. That's because it calms the deer in the area down and puts them off their guard. If they heard you shuffling around, the contact bleat can convince them you're just another deer.
Estrus Bleat Sound
The estrus bleat is one of the most important sounds. It's what the does make when they're ready to mate. It's a very loud high-pitched sound that the doe usually makes when she's being chased by the buck and has finally decided he's worth reproducing with.
The estrus bleat is a rare sound, but it's definitely one of the deer calls you can take advantage of as a hunter. As you might guess, bucks come running when they think there's a doe ready to mate and throw all caution to the wind.
More importantly, if the dominant buck in your area thinks another buck is about to mate with one of his does, he'll lose his mind. He'll angrily charge into the area without the usual sensibility most mature bucks have.
Breeding Bellow Sound
The breeding bellow is a sound a doe makes when she's really in the mood. It sounds like a loud moan coming from deep within the throat, much deeper than most doe sounds. It's usually the punctuation at the end of a long series of estrus bleats.
Bucks love this sound, of course, and will come running to check it out. Nevertheless, it can be a difficult deer call to use since it is a rare sound and must be combined with other sounds, namely estrus bleats, so as not to seem suspicious.
Tending Grunt Sound
The tending grunt is specifically the buck grunt used by a buck chasing a doe. It's basically him asking her to stop running so he can mate with her.
Since the buck is running when he makes this sound, it's a series of soft grunts. It also sounds a bit frantic, usually around 10 grunts in a row. It's more common during the chaos of the pre-rut than the rut itself, when young bucks are still chasing does around since the mature bucks haven't stepped in to assert their dominance.
This is exactly the sound that I heard when I harvested this buck in the rain.
The tending grunt is another deer call that plays on a bucks desire and gets them to come looking for the buck and doe making the sound.
This is one of my favorite deer vocalizations to hear while I am hunting because then I know there is a hot doe in my area and every buck in the county will be there soon.
Buck Bawl Sound
A buck bawl is basically a buck's version of a doe bleat. It doesn't necessarily have to do with mating but instead is a social call that a buck makes when he's lonely. As you might guess, it's not so common during the rut when bucks are more independent. Instead, it's primarily a pre-rut call, especially used by young bucks who are confused by their first chaotic rut or who want to spar with other young bucks.
A buck bawl is a loud grunt that essentially sounds like a cow calf bawl, but it's a bit higher and sounds kind of like a kazoo. It's a full sound not as repetitive as a bleat.
Buck Rage Grunt Sound
The rage grunt is the loud grunt that a buck makes when he's frustrated because a doe won't mate with him. He normally makes it after a long chase, so it should follow a long series of tending grunts. It sounds similar to a tending grunt but has both a rising pitch and volume to communicate frustration.
Again, a buck grunt like this is going to be more common during the pre-rut. Mature dominant bucks don't have to deal with this kind of frustration as much, so it's more likely to be a young buck making it. Nevertheless, it's a sound that can attract other bucks in the area who want to see who's bothering does in their territory. Just beware, it can potentially scare away does who don't want to be bothered by aggressive bucks.
Deer Coughing Sound
Yes, deer cough, and it sounds very much like a human cough. I believe that deer cough for the same reasons that a human coughs. They either have a cold, or virus of some kind, or they just have something caught in their throat.
The difference with the deer coughing sound and other deer sounds is that the coughing sound is not used for communication.
Fighting Deer Sounds (Rattling)
Vocalizations aren't the only sounds deer make. Another important set of deer sounds are the rattles made by bucks' antlers when they're sparring or fighting. Bucks compete for does and territory by knocking their antlers together, and the sounds of a fight are very noticeable and intriguing to other deer.
Rattling is my favorite method of deer calling and can be very exciting at the right time of year.
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Sparring Bucks Sound
In the pre-rut the bucks, especially the young ones, spar to establish a kind of pecking order among themselves. They aren't actually fighting necessarily, just sparring. It helps them learn how to fight for actual combat in the future and lets them know who can beat the other so they don't get into a fight they can't win during the actual rut.
Compared to actual fighting, sparring is not as loud and the sounds are less consistent and frequent. Usually, two bucks will look at each other, take a bite of grass, rattle their antlers a few times, go back to eating, rattle again, etc.
Sparring mostly happens during the beginning of the pre-rut. As a deer call, imitating this sound isn't as effective as full-on fighting, but it can still work to attract other bucks who also want to know who's the strongest and who to stay away from when the rut arrives.
Fighting Bucks Sound
At the beginning of the rut, bucks actually fight to establish dominance and territory. These clashes are much louder and more violent than the sparring of the pre-rut and can lead to some serious fights among rival bucks. The sounds of two bucks aggressively knocking their antlers together are also more frequent and consistent since the bucks will basically fight until one of them gives up and runs away.
Aggressive rattling sounds are one of the best ways to attract other bucks since most will come to see what's going on. This is especially true of mature bucks who want to know who's fighting in their territory, who wins, and who's a threat.
Just keep in mind that the sound of rattling antlers in a buck fight is usually accompanied by other sounds as the bucks try to intimidate each other and scare the other one off. Primarily, you should combine rattling antlers with buck grunts and the snort wheeze sound.
This is one of my favorite ways to get big bucks up and moving during the day.
The snort wheeze is the quintessential buck call. It's the sound a mature buck makes to assert his dominance and let all the other deer around know that he's the boss. This sound will scare away young, non-dominant bucks, but of course it can also attract other mature bucks who want to compete for the territory.
It sounds like the name implies. It's several rapid successions of air pushed out through the buck's nose followed by one long wheeze.
As a deer call, you can use it to hunt both the pre-rut and the rut. You'll probably have more success in the peak rut when mature bucks have established their dominance. While they're not mating with does, a dominant buck will patrol his territory and warn off young bucks trying to sneak in. If he hears another buck snort wheezing, he'll think he has an interloper trying to take his does. Just keep in mind that this sound may scare away younger bucks.
Many people hear this deer noise and cannot figure out what it is.
Baby Deer Sounds
Since deer mate in the fall, most fawns are born in the spring. In fact, this is the whole point of the deer's mating season. As a result, fawn noises are rarely useful in hunting unless you live in one of the few places that has a whitetail hunting season that extends into this timeframe. That said, they're still worth knowing, especially if you have a herd on your property and want to keep track of their wellbeing.
Fawn Bleat Sound
Fawns bleat just like the does. It sounds the same but is a much higher pitch since the fawns are so much smaller. Fawns usually make this sound when they're in a large herd, playing with other fawns and near their mothers. It's a sound that means they're happy and feel safe.
Nursing Whine Sound
A lot like a human baby, a fawn whines when it wants to nurse and even while it's nursing. This gets its mother's attention and creates a bond between the two. It's like any whine, with a rising pitch that's easy to hear.
Fawn In Distress Sound
When a fawn gets scared, it makes a very noticeable cry that's loud, high pitched and vibrates like a kazoo. A fawn might make it because it's lost or because it has encountered a predator or other threat.
When a fawn makes this sound, all the does come running, not just the mother. As a result, if you can hunt the spring for whatever reason, it's a great sound to call does with. Otherwise, it's good to know yourself in case one of the fawns in your herd gets in trouble.
Deer have a language all their own. Some people claim to have even heard whitetail deer whistle.
If you know this language, you can better understand their behavior and even use the language yourself to attract them. Whether you're a new deer hunter or an experienced one, pay attention to the noises you hear from the deer in your area. Learn how they talk, and it will give you an advantage in hunting, herd management and overall whitetail appreciation.
Deer communicate with more than just sounds, but knowing the sounds and what they mean is an acquired skill that will help you as a deer hunter.
2 thoughts on “Deer Sounds – The Guide To Understanding Whitetail Communication”
While taking an evening walk though the dark woods behind my home. I noticed a couple of mature does, casually headed Northward. A common sight as I do this most evenings. They’ve gotten so used to seeing me, I am of no concern. There are parallel paths about 40′ apart. I was on the path to the East of the two large does as we head Northerly. Walked about 20′, and we all stopped. In THEIR path, there was two bucks. One huge buck and a much smaller one. They were bushing themselves on the low branches of a big pine tree. The does left the path very quietly and headed Westward, silently out of sight. I stood still as the trunk of a tree, and watched the bucks. They didn’t seem aware of the does. Their quiet departure was a success. The bucks walked a little further North and the big buck began loudly banging his antlers against the trunk of a small tree. Not rubbing, not removing bark, but making a lot of noise. He continued for about two minutes. It seemed to be his only intent. As if he the banging was a signal he was sending out. It echoed through the woods. The much younger buck, did not participate. Just stood there nibbling on stuff. They kept moving slowly North out of sight.
I was wondering, John, if you have ever witnessed this type of behavior before, in a buck. Was he indeed sending out a signal. Is this rare or typical behavior? If it is typical, I was wondering why I couldn’t find it in the list of ways deer communicate. Thank you for reading my little story. 🙂
Thanks for reaching out!
While I have never personally witnessed a buck banging his antlers on a tree, I have used that exact technique to call bucks, in association with a rattling sequence. This makes me believe that it is not an uncommon occurrence.
I would also bet that the bucks were very aware of the does presence. I have witnessed whitetails completely ignore other deer, but I was sure that they knew they were there.
You did not mention what time of year this was, as that would have an influence on the behavior as well.
Thanks again Terry.