Realtree pro staffer Brad Harris was grunting up whitetails long before deer calling was cool
Brad Harris was high in a tree in Mingo Swamp in southeast Missouri when a 6-point buck walked by at about 80 yards. Harris doesn't remember the exact year, but it was in the '70s. He was working in the mines back in those days, and he was among several in a group who loved to bowhunt and spent about every free minute of a break talking about bows, arrows, broadheads, and whitetails. This was back in the day, Harris says, when top-of-the-line hunting equipment was a 45-pound Shakespeare recurve with cedar arrows, and just getting a deer — anything with legal antlers — was a huge accomplishment.
One of those buddies at the mine had told Harris that his brother had been hunting and listened as a little buck, standing right under his tree, had made a curious grunting sound. The guy pinched his nose and re-created the grunt himself. Harris had never heard a whitetail make such a noise, and he says few others had either — but he trusted this particular buddy not to pull his leg. He began practicing the sound himself.
As the little swamp buck passed well out of range, Harris figured he had nothing to lose, and so he pinched his nose and gave it a grunt. The buck stopped, and so the hunter repeated the noise. The buck looked his way that time, and a third grunt brought it on a steady walk right to his tree. The deer stopped broadside at 20 yards. “I shot 6 inches under his belly, I was shaking so hard, but it was the best hunt of my life,” Harris says with a laugh. “I'd made a deer do something it wasn't going to do, and I knew if I practiced my shooting, it could be deadly.”
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Brad Harris eventually went on to work for the Lohman Calls company, where he started out focusing on turkey calls but soon began making deer calls, too. Lohman introduced the first commercial grunt call in the '80s. In those days, Harris says, hunters were pretty skeptical of the idea of deer calling. Most had never heard a deer grunt in the wild, partly because they didn't recognize the subtle sound when they did hear it, and also because there just weren't all that many deer around. Harris recalled speaking at a seminar shortly after going to work for Lohman, and a grizzled group of some 200 bowhunters all but laughed him off stage when he made the pitch for using a grunt call. Two years later, though, Harris gave the same seminar in the same location, and many of those same bowhunters were by then grunt-call converts. Other brands like Knight & Hale and Haydel's Game Calls soon followed up with deer grunters of their own, and Harris says that competition actually solidified the Lohman grunt call's credibility.
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Grunt calls of today haven't changed much, and in many ways, the calls themselves have helped educate a generation of deer hunters who now know whitetails are pretty vocal critters, if you know what you're listening for. Harris himself, a longtime member of the Realtree pro staff and one of the pioneers of filming hunts, is still an aggressive game caller to this day who has seen a grunt call work over and again. You'll hear his game-calling tips and more behind-the-scenes on how the grunt call came to be in this episode of Realtree's Outpost Podcast.