The Snort and its Variations

The first of the four primary vocalizations that is most often misunderstood by hunters is the snort. It is typically thought of as a sound a deer makes as it is alarmed or running away. Therefore, it is a deer call not used by a lot of hunters. Unfortunately, this is a real shame. The primary snort and its four sub-sounds (cadences) can be the most effective deer vocalization a hunter can make. Like any of the deer vocalizations, however, a hunter must know under what circumstance he should blow a particular sub-call or the inevitable result will be a deer streaking away with its tail flying high behind it.

As soon as you can decipher what each snort call actually means (or, for that matter, what every cadence of each primary vocalization means), you’ll discover how potent a snort call can be. A snort can be used to stop, relax, attract, and even spook or roust deer from heavy cover. The latter is my favorite way to use the snort sound.

As early as 1988, I decided that the different vocalizations of the snort needed to be given specific names in order for hunters to better differentiate each call. I labeled the four cadences of the primary snort: the Alarm snort, Social snort, Alarm-Distress snort and the Aggressive snort. Each sound has a distinct purpose and meaning to deer. When the proper snort is used at the right time and under the correct set of circumstances, a hunter can trick a buck or doe into thinking he is just another deer. Use the wrong cadence, however, at the wrong time and place and the deer you are calling to will turn itself inside out as it tries to get away.

ALARM-DISTRESS

The Alarm-Distress is by far my favorite snort cadence. Why? Because the sound it makes is so effective. It makes deer react out of instinct. Nothing is better than when it comes to hunting a wise, old buck. Locate thick cover, like a cedar patch or a swamp, and then post hunters along the networks of trails that are known deer escape routes. The trick here is to set up hunters on the outer fringes of the cover along escape routes. Don’t let them penetrate too deeply into the center of the cover. After all the standers are posted, wait a good half-hour for things to settle down. Then, walk into the middle of the thickest part of the cover without trying to be too quiet. When you have reached where you want to be, take out interdigital scent and lay down several drops. Then, stomp your foot several times while blowing the alarm-distress cadence of the primary snort.

The call sounds like this, “Whew -- whew -- whew -- whew, whew, whew, whew.” Make the first three snorts loud and hesitate about a second between each sound. Then, make the next four snorts QUICKLY without any hesitation.

As you have and will read throughout this book, always try to create as natural a display as possible when calling, rattling, or decoying. I know this is repetitive, but drilling it into your head is crucial to your success. Try to duplicate the complete illusion of what deer would do when they are vocalizing, responding to antler rattling, or coming in to check out a decoy.

Make an all-out effort to create all the sounds, smells (like using interdigital scent when blowing the alarm-distress) and motions (shaking brush or saplings) that deer make when they are calling. By doing this, it helps to put the deer at ease when it responds. Inevitably, the deer thinks it is hearing, smelling, and, sometimes, seeing another deer. In turn, it responds more enthusiastically and with less caution.

The Alarm-Distress is also used when you are hunting alone. I have had the most success with this cadence of the snort when I use it hunting by myself. I use it to roust deer from cattails, ledges, brush piles, small woodlots, laurels, and standing corn. In addition, I have been very successful with this when walking through blowdowns (areas where the wind has knocked down trees).

Several years ago, I was hunting in a place I call the “honey hole.” The honey hole is a deep bowl surrounded by mountains. It is hard to get to because it takes a lot of effort and time to reach. As the hunting season progresses, I find more and more mature bucks using the honey hole to escape the pressure from the surrounding valley and mountainsides where most hunters post.

Over the years, I have taken several good racked bucks at this location. It is the perfect terrain from which to call or rattle. There is a big swamp in the middle, which is teaming with large blowdowns around its edge. I have often seen bucks rise from behind a deadfall in the middle of the day and feed or move off from the area.

This particular morning, I reached the honey hole after a two hour hike, just as large snow flakes began to fall. I was sitting on a side hill and noticed a doe walk behind a large blowdown and disappear. I studied the spot with my binocular and finally found the does’ face as she lay comfortably under the log, looking back over her shoulder. My gut told me that she was looking at a buck. I kept watching the area intently through the binocular.

About twenty minutes later, I saw, what I thought was one side of a set of antlers. I was not sure, however, if my strained eyes were playing games with me or, if in fact, there was a buck bedded with the doe. My options were two-fold. One, try to outwait them and see if they eventually would rise and move. Or, two, I could take a pro-active approach and try to make something happen without having the deer explode out of the cover and run off before I could get a shot.

I decided my best strategy would be to blow an alarm-distress call. I put out several drops of interdigital gland scent and from behind the large oak at which I was sitting. I stomped my foot several times and blew the alarm distress. “Whew -- whew -- whew -- whew, whew, whew, whew.”

Within seconds, the doe stood up and intently began to scan the area to find out what caused the “other deer” to blow an alarm-distress cadence. While her head scanned from side to side, the buck stood up. I could see instantly that he was a keeper. Not wanting to take any chances by waiting around, the buck scaled the big blowdown, sniffed the air, and was about to take off in another direction when the report from my Ruger .44 mag echoed off the walls of the surrounding mountains. By the way, I always use my lightweight Ruger .44 mag in areas that require long walks up and down mountains and in thick cover, especially when a quick second shot may be necessary before the deer gets away).

I believe I would have never gotten the opportunity at this buck had I not used the alarm-distress call. The snow was falling hard and trying to wait them out would have probably proved to be the wrong tactic. By taking this pro-active approach, using a cadence I knew would intentionally rouse a deer from cover, I created an opportunity I would have probably not have had otherwise.

This story also shows how you can use the alarm-distress to intentionally spook deer into giving themselves away in heavy cover. In fact, I have used this call successfully to roust bucks out of small patches of cover on farms, in swales, and even in heavy thorn brush. Normally, most hunters will walk by this type of cover thinking the undergrowth is either too small to harbor a buck or too impenetrable to check out.

A classic example is a small buck I shot in the early seventies. I was walking on a farm that we called “Weissmans.” As I walked across an open field, I passed a thick patch of overgrown brush I had probably walked by one hundred times before. As I looked at it I thought to myself, “I wonder how many times I have walked past a deer bedded in there?” I took a heavy branch and flung it into the thicket. I watched with anticipation of a buck breaking out of the cover. Nothing happened.

I took my snort call out and blew the alarm-distress snort. At this point in my calling experience, I was still learning. I wasn’t using interdigital scent, nor was I stomping my foot to create the entire illusion. I just blew the alarm-distress a few times. I hadn’t finished the second sequence when a small buck broke from the cover and started running across the field. I dropped him just before he reached the bordering woodlot. Even though I suspected the call was going to work, it was still early enough in my trial and error days, that I was totally shocked to see it actually do the job it was intended to do. The young buck reacted predictably and immediately to what it perceived to be a serious problem.

Again, I would have never had the opportunity to shoot the buck had I not decided to see if there was a deer bedded in this small pile of brush.

Remember, this call works so well because all deer have been taught by the doe, from the time they were old enough to run, that this particular cadence of the snort, requires instant flee response. It works because it is ingrained in their heads as a natural behavior.

For me, blowing the alarm-distress snort has created numerous hunting opportunities for the last thirty years. Without it, many bucks would have remained safely hidden within the sanctuaries of cover.

ALARM SNORT

The alarm snort cadence of the primary snort is the most recognized vocalization that deer make. I can even tell you when and where you probably encountered a deer making this alarm snort. Often, a hunter walks along a logging road or makes his way through the woods to his stand and jumps a deer. Because the deer does not see or wind the hunter first, it only reacts to the hunter’s noise. If it had winded or seen the hunter, it would have quietly snuck off or blown the alarm-distress call as it made a hasty retreat. This deer that blows the alarm call, however, is confused. It doesn’t really know what alarmed it and it often remains standing or slowly walks away a short distance and blows the call again. This call is a specific noise. I know you’ve heard this snort often. The deer that makes this call can be easily called back if you know exactly what to do.

When you encounter a deer unexpectedly, the deer may respond by blowing a single snort, and then run several yards, stop, and blow a second single snort. “Whew . . . Whew.” It is alarmed. But, it has not been able to pinpoint why. It knows it is safer not to run any further until it can determine exactly what made it nervous to begin with.

This is where you either make or break your opportunity to call this deer back. I have learned through trial and error that as soon as you hear the alarm, stop in your tracks. Immediately blow a return single snort at the deer. Be careful here. If the sound you heard appears to be fifty yards or closer, one single snort is all you dare make or you risk being discovered by the deer. If, on the other hand, it sounds as if it was further than fifty yards away, you can make two single snorts. A snort, followed by a brief second or two of silence, and then another single snort, “Whew . . . . .Whew.”

The deer is trying to locate and isolate the danger. By blowing back at the deer with the alarm cadence of the primary snort call, you stimulate the deer’s curiosity. Often, after hearing what it perceives to be just a call from ANOTHER deer, it decides to slowly make its way back toward the location from where it first encountered the perceived danger.

As long as the deer remains at a distance and continues to blow one or two snorts, you can keep blowing a single snort. Continue to do this as long as the deer does not begin to walk toward you. The second the deer moves in your direction stop calling all together. Even if the deer continues to snort at this point, you must let its curiosity build. By doing so, it will eventually walk to within shooting distance.

Years ago, my wife Kate shot her first buck while still-hunting toward her tree stand. As she approached the stand, she saw a deer. As she tried to position herself for a shot, she stepped on a branch. The deer heard the snap and blew an alarm snort. It ran off several yards, and then blew a second snort. Kate blew back at the deer and the buck answered. Each time the deer answered, it blew two snorts, but stayed in place. Kate blew back two snorts. The buck, curious to see what had frightened it, finally came closer to her with each series of alarm snorts. After several minutes of exchanging snorts with one another, the spike buck made its last move when it stepped out from behind the cedars and Kate dispatched him with one clean shot. Kate would have never had the opportunity to shoot that buck if she didn’t know enough to call back to the snorting buck.

As I have mentioned many times, I often use the alarm snort to help roust deer from cover when I am still-hunting with my bow. I intentionally walk through heavy cover with the wind in my face. Every few steps, I snap a twig or kick some leaves. I do this with the hopes of alarming a buck with the noise I am making. Once I alarm a buck and he makes the alarm snort, I know I have a better than average chance of calling the buck back. I often refer to the alarm snort call as my “Too Late” call. Too late for the buck, that is. As the buck and I exchange calls, he usually approaches without knowing I am hidden in heavy brush or pines and he continues to walk by me in search of “the other deer.” I shot a few nice bucks at distances less than ten yards while using this alarm snort. The trick here is as the buck closes to within fifty yards or less, stop making any further calls. This helps the buck become more curious as it concentrates on trying to locate the “other deer.”

All variations of the snort work well. You will find, however, the alarm snort to be the easiest snort to learn and use. Keep in mind, however, the critical aspect when using a snort call is to not blow an alarm snort to a deer who is vocalizing an alarm-distress snort. You must know the different cadences of each call for them to be effective.

THE SOCIAL SNORT

The social snort vocalization is made by a nervous deer. I am sure you have seen and heard a deer make this call. It is usually made by a deer nervously feeding at the edge of a field or in a woodlot. The deer puts its head down to feed, focuses its ears in a particular direction, and then lifts its head up quickly; looking in the direction its ears were just pointed. Reluctantly, the deer lowers its head to begin feeding again, only to repeat the process. This nervous feeding and looking behavior goes on for several minutes before the deer decides to blow a non-aggressive, single snort. By blowing the snort, the deer tries to encourage whatever is making it nervous to reveal itself by either approaching the deer or at least answering it. Often, if it is another deer that the first deer was reacting to, it will answer the single snort with one of its own.

This “return” call immediately relaxes the first deer and it begins to feed more contently without lifting its head every few seconds. Often, the deer feeds in the direction of the other deer that answered it--safety in numbers. If it doesn’t hear a return social snort after making one, the deer usually stops feeding and retreats from the area.

When I see a deer acting like this, I know I can relax it and, sometimes, even attract it to me by using the social cadence of the primary snort. But, it’s important to remember that the social snort only works on deer that are exhibiting the type of behavior described above. Never make the call until the deer has made a single quick snort first. Then, when it puts its head down to feed, make one, soft snort to the deer. Try to blow the call in the opposite direction of the deer. If the call is made correctly, the deer typically lifts its head, cups its ears toward you, and then begins to feed again often heading in your direction. However, should the deer lift its head and become more nervous, you probably blew the call too loudly. Don’t try to make another call until the deer starts to feed again.

I used the social snort to attract a good eight-point buck while bow hunting in Hope, New Jersey. The buck was nervously feeding on acorns in a small woodlot that bordered an agricultural field. Every few seconds the buck perked up its ears and looked off behind him. Then, it put its nose into the leaves and resumed its search for more acorns. Before long, its ears started playing the radar game again. It lifted up its head, stared off into a thicket, and walked off a short distance in the opposite direction of the bushes. I noticed it was getting more and more spooked each passing minute and that it was moving away from my stand. After watching his actions for a few minutes, I waited until the buck put its head down to feed again. I turned away from him and softly blew a single snort. The buck lifted its head, stared in my direction, and then began to feed again. Only this time, it moved purposefully and steadily toward me as it continued to feed. I didn’t have to make another call.

I knew enough to stop calling at this point and let the deer dictate my next move. Within two minutes of making my first snort, the buck was under my tree stand. I released my arrow as the buck’s nose was busily buried in the leaves looking for acorns. The buck never expected anything as the arrow found its mark. I don’t think I would have had an opportunity to take a shot at this buck if I didn’t try to relax it with a social snort. I think the buck would have eventually become nervous from the original noise. It probably would have moved out of bow range and maybe even out of the area entirely. This was another opportunity that may have gone by the wayside had I not had the understanding and confidence to make a social snort.

Carrying and using a snort call while deer hunting has helped me score on many deer -- some of which I know I would have never had an opportunity to harvest if I didn’t use it. Most important, however, knowing when, how, why and where to use all cadences of the snort call has been most crucial to my success.

AGGRESSIVE SNORT

The fourth cadence of the primary snort is the aggressive snort. This is sometimes referred to as the grunt-snort-wheeze. However, this is not correct. A buck that is annoyed and is trying to establish itself within the social pecking order makes the aggressive snort. It is a loud and overblown call. This is often made so powerfully that the deer expels air and mucus from its nostrils. It is meant to get the attention of another offending deer. Does make this call at fawns and yearlings and other competitive does when food sources are at a minimum. Does use it to warn off other deer, including their own fawns, from the food she is eating. The call is also associated with an action known as flailing. Flailing is when a deer rises on its hind legs and strikes at the head or body of another deer with its forelegs.

All deer that are lower on the totem pole than the deer making this vocalization pay attention to it instantly. These submissive deer quickly move off several feet from the more aggressive deer.

Mature bucks regularly vocalize with this type of snort to lesser bucks. They use it to let them know that they are about to escalate their antagonism from a simple call to a greater physical confrontation. It is most used by bucks during all three phases of the rut. Oftentimes, a younger satellite buck hangs close to an estrous doe with a mature buck in the hopes of getting into the action. Many times, when all other body language fails, the mature buck blows an aggressive snort—a warning to the younger buck to back off or deal with the consequences.

Normally this cadence of the snort scares more bucks than attracts. There is, however, a time it can be used to attract a buck. If you encounter a situation like I described before, wait until the mature buck blows the aggressive snort and then make an aggressive snort of your own in his direction. The message that you send is that you are another competing mature buck of his age-class and pecking order. The call is telling him you are not afraid of his warning and, in fact, are daring to challenge him for the doe he is tending.

In all the years I have used this call, I noted one of two reactions. Either a buck immediately uses his antlers to prod the doe to retreat to another area (thereby leaving the “challenging buck” in the dust) or, depending on his mood, a buck stiff-legs his way toward the “challenging buck” with his ears laid back, nostrils flared, and the hair on his neck standing up. All of this happens while he blows aggressive snorts. It is a visual and vocal demonstration that he is big enough and strong enough to not be intimidated by any other buck in the area.

In the end, using the aggressive snort is a gamble. You will either lose the buck or get him to respond. I think it is better to have a 50-50 chance to get the buck rather than to watch him eventually walk off. This is a neat call to master. While it may not attract a lot of bucks, when it does, it will be an experience you won’t forget.

To make the aggressive snort call, you have to break my cardinal rule of calling softly—this one time. This is an occasion to muster all the lung power you can build up into the snort call. After hearing the buck or doe make this call, blow two hard snorts back to back, and then wait. “Whew-Whew” If the deer moves toward you, don’t make another call. If the deer moves away, and it continues to blow an aggressive snort as it leaves, you can also blow an aggressive snort until it either responds and turns back or moves off entirely.

The wise hunter does not assume that a buck that doesn’t respond or moves off into heavy cover has decided not to respond. Sometimes, the aggressive snort is nothing more than a bluff even when the deer is a mature buck. He reaches cover only to take the cautious route of circling the challenging buck to catch him by surprise. I have learned when I have blown an aggressive snort to a buck and he moves off into the woods, I wait a good hour before giving up on him. Take my advice. Watch and listen carefully through the surrounding cover for a good hour. The buck may be circling with the wind in his nose, looking to sneak up on the “opposing” deer. This is a time you want to be off the ground!

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