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By Dick Scorzafava

A few years back I was hunting this really nice buck just outside his bedroom, when he instantly appeared to the left of my tree stand at 20 yards presenting a perfect broadside shot.  I drew my bow, anchored, and slowly squeezed my release.  My shot was dead on, or so I thought, but inexplicably my buck ran off into the thick cover of his bedroom.

In my heart, I knew that I killed that old buck.  I searched for him for over three hours with no results. But suddenly I heard a small flock of crows somewhere ahead of me sounding like they were ganging up against some type of animal.  They were cawing and squawking to beat the band.  I dashed in the direction of the din, and there in a small opening carpeted with high grass was a gang of crows cawing up a storm at my dead buck who was lying on the ground.  Recognizing and analyzing the sounds of the woods helped me find my buck that day.

The average deer hunter spends many hours on stand each season waiting for Mister Big to saunter by his location so he can take a shot.  Many times the buck just seems to appear out of nowhere, because the hunter wasn’t really listening with his ears as much or more than he was seeing with his eyes.  Most hunters don’t pay attention to the sounds of the woods.  The woods are talking to us; all we have to do is pay attention and listen.

Think of the tones of voice we use in our daily communication with each other, our moods, our feelings, and how we express ourselves.  If you think about this, the key words are rhythm and volume.  If we apply this in the woods to all the animals and birds communicating there then the hunter will start learning how to interpret what is happening all around him.

My wife is an elementary school teacher and her classroom slogan is “Listening is not waiting to talk!”  Well hunters can apply that to their time on stand.  Listening is not just waiting to shoot.  Neither is it running your list of things to do through your mind, or complaining to yourself about the weather, lunch time, or the fact that you have not bagged a buck yet.  It is not merely hearing, but a conscious effort to listen and attend.  Paying attention to the sounds around you and thinking about where they could be coming from or what might be causing them.

Imagine you’re in a tree stand; it’s almost prime shooting time. All of a sudden you hear a squirrel bark. Then closer to you, from the same direction you hear a couple of curiosity putts from a few turkeys. Within a few minutes you hear another squirrel bark closer to your location.  Then out of nowhere appear two nice does, and you realize that the animals you heard were announcing that something was coming.  If you had paid close attention to the sounds of the woods, you would have known something was moving and heading towards you.  It could have been a big buck, a coyote, or even another hunter, but the key here is something was approaching.
This can be applied to all the creatures that make the woods their home.  Have you ever listened to a chipmunk in your backyard when the cat of the house is trying to stalk him down?  Or walk under a crow in a tree?  Have you ever approached a berry bush when blue-jays are feeding there?  The animals hear something coming that is alarming them or has their curiosity aroused.  And they send out audible signals.

If you watch a squirrel cutting an acorn, he is calm. There is nothing around he is paying more attention to the nut because he is relaxed and confident.  A turkey that is feeding is in a contented mood, the sounds are soft clucking, soft purring, and scratching, again, not on alert…completely relaxed.

Let’s say you are seated at the dinner table with your family enjoying a great dinner, having great conversation.  Unexpectedly the back door opens boldly.  Your only brother, just returning from Iraq, enters the room.  Everyone in the room would be so excited to see him, but would calm down soon because he is part of the family.  But if it had been a burglar at the door entering the house everyone’s mood would have been very different.  If the animals or birds in the woods saw or heard a deer they would get excited but would calm right down almost immediately because he offers not threat to them.  But on the other hand if it had been a predator like a coyote, wolf, or another hunter they would be making a commotion as they quickly headed for cover.

If a doe comes whizzing by your stand location, she could or could not be blowing and it’s not the rut.  Her flag is straight up in the air waving back and forth, the traditional whitetail deer bye-bye. She really looks like she is heading for Dodge so to speak.  You can bet there is some type of predator in the woods nearby.  It could be animal or human, but something or someone has jumped her out of a bed.  At this point you will need to pray that you have a lot more than a few minutes of daylight remaining in the day.  If this happens make sure you watch very closely because a good buck could have been with the doe and he could have been kicked out of his bed at the same time.  Often they will follow the doe because they feel more secure.

I’ve spent a lot of days on deer stand over the years in the north woods of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.  Anytime I have heard wolves talking back and forth to each other from a relatively close distance to almost out of my hearing distance I knew that I might as well pack it in for the day.  Because every time I’ve heard a wolf pack communicating in the woods I have never seen a deer for the entire balance of shooting light that particular day.  The deer will completely evacuate the area until these predators have moved out of their home range.

A Carolina wren is a very good indicator bird to watch in the woods.  These birds are very aggressive by nature and will boisterously sound off whenever any other creature enters their turf.  I can’t begin to count the many times I have heard one of these birds give the alarm and moments later there was a deer, turkey, or another hunter coming past my stand location.  These birds range over the eastern United States to Texas and into eastern Mexico.

Several years ago I was in a tree stand in southern Iowa on an early season bowhunt.  I had spent a couple frustrating days in an area I knew had three nice bucks that we had captured on film using a Cuddeback scouting camera.  It was getting close to the end of the third day when I heard a “cuk- cuk” from a pileated woodpecker.  Within minutes my frustrating days on stand turned into a dream as I drew my bow and released an arrow through a heavy-racked buck that would later gross over 170.

These crow-sized pileated woodpeckers have black bodies with white neck stripes and a red crested head.  They live in traditional good deer habitat from a mature forest to a woodlot.  They can be found anywhere in the lower 48 states and many of the Canadian provinces.

When a deer walks under a tree with a crow perched on a branch generally the crow will give a few sharp caws with a lot of excitement in them.  Then they will calm right down in most instances.  It is important to listen to the tone of the crows calling there will be more sharpness and excitement in it.

Did you ever watch a little chipmunk when an animal walks by?  It will in most cases jump up on a rock or stump to see what it is, while simultaneously making a series of alarm chirps.

How about the common blue-jay when something walks past them in the woods?  Their calling will become much sharper with a lot more emotion.  I bet that everyone reading this article has heard these animal vocalizations at one time or the other.

The deer hunter can also apply this philosophy to their game calling by using the same relaxing mood vocalizations that they use when the deer are calm and relaxed.  Let’s face it we can use just one word and say many things with that word just by the tones and expressions we use when we say that word.  Sending “all-clear” types of calls or grunts can settle the woods down after you have arrived at your stand location and ascended your stand.  Don’t overuse your calls because that in itself can sound unnatural in the woods.  Too much is worse than none at all.  Remember rhythm and volume.

I’m not going to suggest that all deer hunters should take a birding or small animal course at their local college.  But I do firmly believe that listening to and understanding the sounds of birds and animals in the woods, will keep the deer hunter a lot more in tune with what is going on around them while they are on stand hunting.  They will find that over time they will evolve into a much more successful hunter and better woodsman.

This careful listening and deciphering of the sounds in the woods can and should be applied to any animal or bird in the woods where we are deer hunting.  It could be a magpie, raven, songbird, or even a duck.  More deer hunters should pay much more attention and analyze the sounds of the woods because Mother-Nature is telling us what is going on out there all we have to do is just listen while we are on stand.  Remember, listening is not just waiting to shoot.

Note: Dick’s revolutionary new books: Radical Bowhunter, Radical Bear Hunter, and Spies in the Deer Woods are a must read for all deer and bear hunters, and will be the most important books you will ever read.  These books will literally change the way you hunt.  To get your autographed copy of Dick’s books, go to www.radicalbowhunter.com, www.spiesinthedeerwoods.com or visit your local bookstore.

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