Learning how to call muntjac deer can be a deadly tactic but you need a strategy, stealth and a good call, writes Graham Downing
How to call muntjac deer
The art of calling quarry to a hidden hunter is as old as hunting itself.
Wildfowlers call duck and geese, fox shooters call foxes and, of course, German roe stalkers long ago elevated calling roebucks in the rut to an art form.
But it is not just roe that can be called to the deerstalker’s rifle. For tens of thousands of years, muntjac evolved in the dense forests of south-east Asia, so it is not surprising that communication by sound is central to their way of life.
We are all familiar, of course, with the muntjac’s bark. However, it is not the bark that is of value in calling this little deer, but the rather plaintive bleat or squeal made by the muntjac fawn when it is threatened by danger.
Adult muntjac are feisty in defence of their offspring, and if they should hear a fawn in distress, then they will come to challenge and see off whatever it is that is threatening their young.
I have only once heard the distress bleat for real, but it was quite distinctive: a rather pathetic squeal repeated half a dozen times with maybe six or seven seconds between each squeal. Just the same interval, in fact, as one might expect with the repeated barking of a territorial adult.
There is no obvious seasonality to the effectiveness of calling muntjac. Because breeding is year-round, it can work at any time from autumn right through to high summer, though it is in the autumn and winter months, when the woodland ground cover is thinnest, that muntjac are easiest to spot.
Both bucks and does will come to a call, and the strategy may be successful at any time of day: muntjac can be called in the morning, evening and during the middle of the day, though I have had my most consistent results an hour or so after sunrise, when I occasionally try to convert a blank morning into a successful one by spending some time calling.
Nor is success with a call restricted to ground-level operations. Calling from a high seat can be very effective indeed and when it works, it is tremendously exciting.
Let us start with the muntjac call itself. Though it is possible to call muntjac with a blade of grass stretched between the thumbs of two cupped hands, a commercial call is more consistent, and the best that I have found is that good old stalker’s standby, the Buttolo. Though it was designed for roe and is capable of imitating a wide vocabulary, it is the “bleat” note that the muntjac stalker is looking for.
This is made by gently depressing the Buttolo’s black rubber bulb part of the way. The note can be varied between a weak and pathetic bleat and a rather more urgent squeal, and likewise the sound level can be altered by holding the call in the open for maximum volume and cupping it in your hand or holding it in your pocket to mute the note.
While calling muntjac may work in almost any woodland setting where the deer are present, it is only by luring muntjac into a place where you can see to shoot that you will achieve the opportunity to put one in the bag. Muntjac feel at their safest in dense cover, but it is only in more open woodland that they can be spotted with relative ease, so the optimum location is in an area of open woodland into which you can draw muntjac from adjacent heavy cover.
Wind direction is crucial. Always ensure that any breeze is directly in your face. Often a muntjac will try to get downwind of a call in order to check out its source, but very rarely will it cross open ground, so you can prevent it from getting around your back and winding you by operating close to the downwind edge of a wood.
This, of course, applies more to the stalker who is operating at ground level than one who is sitting in a high seat, where the wind is less crucial.
Having selected your calling site, stalk into it upwind, perhaps creeping quietly around the edge of the wood in order to get into position. Find a suitable backdrop. You will need a large tree or a clump of dense bushes to conceal your outline.
Holly trees or other evergreens are particularly useful in the winter months, but I also use large oaks — anything that will prevent my silhouette being visible to an approaching muntjac.
I have never tried using a ground hide, but I am told that they also are very effective. Set the rifle up on sticks at a comfortable height, pointing it into the dense cover from which a deer can be expected to appear, operate it with one hand and work the call with the other.
Do not move a muscle. It is absolutely imperative that you stay perfectly still. The moment that you make the first bleat on the call, you are potentially under observation. An approaching muntjac may well be peering at you through the undergrowth long before you see it, and if it spots you moving, then the game is up and the most you will be treated to is the raised white alarm flag of a muntjac’s tail as it bounds off to safety, barking an alarm call that will put paid to any chance that another animal in the area might come near.
So try to locate a potential target with your eyes and then bring the rifle to bear with extreme caution and pick it up in the scope. If using a variable scope, then turn the power ring to a fairly low setting to ensure a good field of vision – six is about right.
Having got into position, wait for a few minutes to allow the wood to settle down, then try a calling sequence. I make six or seven bleats, then wait for a couple of minutes before making the next sequence, perhaps varying the volume and the note. If nothing happens, do not give up.
Wait a while and try once more: though occasionally a muntjac will charge straight in, there are other times when the approach will be very slow, and you will suddenly realise after half an hour or more that there is an animal standing there watching you.
Calling can sometimes work well from a high seat. Clearly, the issues with wind are not so important when you are calling from a high seat, but it is just as vital to keep still, or you will quickly be spotted, for while high seats may prevent a stalker from being winded by his quarry, they do not make him invisible. Perhaps a light scrim or camouflage net around your seat can be of some assistance here.
Sometimes results can be spectacular. I remember using the muntjac call late one February evening after a long and thus-far fruitless wait in my high seat. It was literally seconds afterwards that a pair of muntjac charged in to no more than 25 yards. I dropped the buck on the spot, while the doe ran off, barking.
On other occasions success comes more slowly, and it is then that you must be both patient and have the eyes of a hawk.
Finally, while muntjac calling can be deadly, I personally try to avoid doing it too often, especially on my regular stalking grounds, for I am certain that muntjac, just like any other cautious wild creature, may quickly become call-shy if a mistake is made.
And even if a mistake is not made and a successful shot is taken, you will never know whether there was a second creature watching you from behind a leafy screen along with the one now lying dead on the forest floor!
Tips to help you call muntjac:
- You are imitating a distressed fawn, so don’t be surprised if a mother comes to investigate. If a “thin” doe emerges then you may choose to wait: a buck will probably not be far behind.
- Sometimes a suspicious muntjac will hop in to cover. Then a call can be used to draw it out again. However, if its white tail is raised in alarm, then it has clocked you and is gone for good.
- A call can often be used to stop a moving muntjac, but when it is stationary then act quickly, as it will not wait for long.
- Camouflage really works. Use a full face veil and gloves to hide the movement of your hands as you bring the rifle to bear.
- Avoid using binoculars to search for muntjac when using a call. Raising and lowering them makes too much movement.
- Keep still. Remember that you are being watched!