‘I listen to what the deer tell me – and I answer’

Tasso Wolzenburg has been Germany’s deer-calling champion for the last four years. Now the forest keeper must defend his title on Friday. A lifelong woodsman dedicated to his strange craft, he is The Local's German of the week.

'I listen to what the deer tell me - and I answer'
Tasso Wolzenburg with his calling-tube in Hohenroth forest earlier this week. Photo: DPA

The secret of the woodsman’s call is a special device – a three-part olive-green plastic tube resembling a telescope, but with plastic bars inside instead of lenses.

For Wolzenburg this is essential equipment. But it is used to lure the animals into the sight of the tourists who accompany him on trips in Hohenroth forest in North Rhine-Westphalia, rather than the sights of a hunter's gun.

On Friday the 48-year-old will be exchanging the peaceful forest setting for Dortmund's Westfalenhalle conference hall where he will defend his title in front of several hundred people by giving his "rutting cry" at the Hunt and Hound Conference.

"The competition is stiff," Wolzenburg said. "There are more and more deer-callers coming in who are really good."

Some of Wolzenburg's workmates from the North-Rhine Westphalia forests authority will be turning out to support the keeper and his mighty deer call.

Michael Blaschke, a spokesman for the authority, said: "He's one of our best-known colleagues. Lots of us are rooting for him and crossing our fingers for him."

He also praised Wolzenburg's award-winning imitation. "Anyone who has heard it will never forget it,” he said.

Wolzenburg's call only gets a reaction from deer when the animals are rutting (in mating season). "I pose as a stag and try to provoke them," he said.

But it is a delicate business attracting the herd. "Everything has to be just right," he said.

Wind, for example, is a key factor. If the deer got a whiff of humans on the breeze, they would not be attracted to come any closer, Wolzenburg said.

But the German champion's sense of the fine distinctions in deer-to-deer communication is so good that tourists on his trips usually get at least a glimpse of the creatures.

The keeper takes groups out into the woods regularly through September and October to seek out herds.

"Each call has a specific note, just like in music," he said. “I listen to what the deer are telling me and then I answer. After all, they don't know I'm a two-legger."

And if he hits the right note, the animals think he is a rival – and come to investigate. "I have to get inside the heads and the thoughts of the animals," he said.

CLICK HERE to see Wolzenburg in action

To complete the auditory illusion of a stag, he deliberately steps on twigs and branches. "These are the sounds of nature. When they're excited, deer tend to hit trees and branches with their antlers," he said.

The sounds of the deer first made an impression on the future champion during his youth on a night-time stroll.

"I was out in the woods with my grandfather on the night of a full moon. It already had me hooked, even then," Wolzenburg recalled.

Shortly afterwards when he saw the deer-calling device in a newspaper, he quickly bought one and tried it out. "It was two years later that I first got a real reaction to my call from the animals," he added.

But on Friday it will not be deer he has to convince with his calls, but a panel of three judges – experienced deer hunters – who will be listening from curtained booths so they can't see which one of the 18 competitors is giving the call.

In the 90-minute competition, each of Germany's top deer imitators will have to try their hand at a "young stag", "stag among females" and "victorious stag after single combat" before one is declared the nation's best.

The winner qualifies for the European championships, but Wolzenburg has not made much headway at that level, never getting above the middle of the table.

"The Czechs are absolutely on top," he said. "No-one can even get near them."

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