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The whitetail buck walked over the top of a ridge about 150 yards away, unaware of our presence.

The weather dictated our next move. Rather than risk walking across the dried, crunchy leaves toward where the deer had disappeared, my friend and I circled around the area to a gladed ridgetop and sat down in the shade.

After pausing for a while to get situated, my friend rubbed his rattle bag between his hands. The rattle bag is an assortment of plastic rods contained in a net bag. When rubbed between the hands, the rods mimic the sound of deer antlers crashing together — similar to the sound of two bucks fighting for dominance during the mating season.

“Don't move,” my friend said only seconds after using his rattle bag, so naturally I swiveled my head and pressed my binoculars to my eyes to scan the distance. A four-point whitetail buck had stepped out from a dense stand of 8-foot-tall pine trees.

It's ears were cocked forward, body tensed, eyes locked right on us.

Through the trees that separated us at about 80 yards I had a great line on the broadside deer, but I'd already filled my tag.

Anxiously I waited for my friend to shoot, but trees were in his way.

“Take him! Take him!” I urged excitedly under my breath.

Calling all deer

This was the first time I'd seen a rattle bag work. It was as exciting for me as if I'd been the one trying to fill a tag.

I've clattered shed antlers together in the past and had small bucks show up out of curiosity. But I'd never seen a buck this big come to investigate and so fast after mimicking the sound.

For me, calls like the rattle bag — as well as blow-through calls that mimic deer grunts, bleats and fawn sounds — add to my enjoyment of hunting and sometimes my frustration. That's because in my experience the calls only work some of the time.

For instance, during the archery season I used my cow elk squeeze call and instantly heard a large animal run off through the woods. In that situation, my call had done just the opposite of what I had wanted — it scared the elk off.

I've had better success with my deer mouth calls. By nature, deer are curious animals. I've mimicked doe calls and had doe deer close within 10 yards to investigate what the heck I was.

Last Sunday, my deer stopper call likely helped my nephew bag a 4-point whitetail at only 35 yards. The deer had sprung into vision and looked ready to bolt down an old logging road when I blew the call and it halted.

The deer's hesitation gave my nephew the time he needed to find a clear shot through the trees to shoot.

Mouth calls

At times in dense cover, I've walked through the woods with a mouth call clasped between my lips, knowing that I'd have little time to react in such close quarters. Other times, I've resorted to making squirrel-like chattering sounds in hopes that fleeing deer would stop long enough for me to get a shot, or at least a better look at them.

I've also found that the youthful annoyance of burping at will can sound an awful lot like a buck's grunt. Who would've guessed that all of those years practicing to gross out friends and family with a belch would eventually prove useful?

I've also tried diaphragm calls, the most difficult to master, in hopes of luring in turkeys and elk. The idea is that the devices are hands-free, so you can shoulder your shotgun or draw your bow while still making noises to draw in or halt the game animal for a shot.

When trying to hail waterfowl, I've blown on duck calls, sounding like some forlorn fog horn and probably doing myself more harm than if I'd stayed quiet.

Buck be gone

Last week, the buck my friend had rattled in started to move shortly after trying to identify our hunched, camouflaged forms in the brush. It may have been working to get downwind of us, in hopes of identifying us by smell. Or it may have been aiming for the shelter of some nearby quaken aspen before fleeing the scene. Whatever its intentions, my friend shot at the moving target, missed or the shot was deflected in the brush, and the deer bolted away. For all three of us, the adrenaline flowed.

The whole setup likely wouldn't have occurred without the use of the rattle bag. The buck wouldn't have broke from cover. Once again, a call had added to the excitement of my hunt.

I like the variety of calls I have purchased over the years if for no other reason than to give me something to do when the hunt is going slowly. As often as not, I may be hurting my chances of success. But the few close encounters I've had, with deer carefully approaching in curiosity, have made making mouth noises worthwhile. And each time I purchase a new call or practice on an old one, they magically conjure up images of animals coming close to investigate or past hunts when game approached. They may not be the call of the wild, but they are wildly used for calling.

Contact Brett French, Gazette Outdoors editor, at french@billingsgazette.com or at 657-1387.

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