My first experience with rattling was in the Brush Country of south Texas many years ago. Although American Indians used the technique centuries earlier, south Texas is where imitating buck fights was first popularized among modern hunters.
It seemed the perfect place to break into the tactic and learn about how it is used. And that hunt was indeed an eye-opener. I flew into San Antonio, drove two hours south to the Junco Ranch, where former President Lyndon Johnson used to hunt, and had time for a short afternoon rattling session.
At the first spot we tried we rattled in four bucks. Three came in at the second location, then three more at the third — 10 in all, in a span of less than two hours. Almost all of them were 4-7 year old deer. After hunting three days and looking over many bucks, I pulled the trigger on a massive 5-year old 10-point that charged in to the rattling antlers like he wanted to run us over.
The second time I tried rattling made me realize the tactic was not just a "Texas thing." In north-central Michigan an enormous 144-inch, eight-point with a 23-inch outside spread came into the horns and fell to my '06 at 40 yards.
It was clear Texas isn't the only place where rattling works.
Indeed, this adrenalin-pumping hunting technique can work anywhere in the country as well as in Canada and Mexico. Usually, though, two factors should be in place for the best results. The area should be one where: mature bucks are reasonably abundant, and the *** ratio is fairly well balanced.
You might occasionally rattle in small bucks. But generally mature bucks are usually the ones with enough gumption to want to come in and challenge interlopers in their territory that they suspect might be fighting over a doe in estrous. And if the percentage of females in the herd is dramatically higher than males (say 3 to 1 or more, as it is in many areas where the *** balance is out of kilter), bucks don't feel the need to fight because they are too busy chasing and servicing the many willing does surrounding them.
|Luckily 3-year-old buck's antlers are more common to use for rattling than artificial rattlers.|
A third factor was also in place in both of my first two rattling experiences. It was just before the peak of the rut. During or just after the rut would also have been good times.
This combination of ideal factors is sometimes hard to find in the real hunting world most of us face. But don't think rattling won't work anyway. Sure, it's less likely to produce dramatic results when there's a shortage of old bucks or overabundance of does. Maybe only one buck will come in over a whole morning of effort. But if that buck is the right one, you'll definitely feel the effort was worthwhile.
Just ask James McMurray. Rattling on public hunting ground on the Big Lake Wildlife Management Area in Louisiana, he lured in and killed one of the largest bucks ever shot by a hunter. It scored an incredible 281 6/8 net.
Rattling horns used to be a precious commodity because you needed at least a 3-year-old buck's antlers to make a good pair out of. In many locales, such deer used to be scarce. When you did bag such a buck, who wanted to cut the trophy's antlers off just to try to lure in another buck? Fortunately, 3-year and older bucks are becoming more common these days as more hunters practice quality deer management.
Saw off the antlers from such a deer, then cut off or smooth down the brow tines. Tie a lanyard around the bases and you'll have a good set to use for calling in bucks.
A number of companies also offer artificial rattling antlers that sound almost identical to real ones and will definitely lure in big bucks. Finally, rattling bags, boxes and shakers are available in a variety of formats, all of which will reproduce a credible buck fight or sparring sound. The advantage to these is that you can use them with one hand and surreptitiously drop them at your side if a buck sneaks in before you were ready. That's not so easy with a full-size pair of antlers.
Whichever instrument you choose, where you set up to rattle can make or break the success of your effort. Choose areas with abundant fresh buck sign such as scrapes, licking branches, rubs on large trees and big tracks. Don't choose a real open area, since bucks might be wary of coming in, but don't choose such thick cover that you can't see more than 20 yards, either.
Find a spot where you can see reasonably well, mainly downwind, say 50-100 yards. That is where most bucks will come in from. Enter the area cautiously, being careful not to spook any nearby deer.
|When rattling, choose areas with abundant fresh buck sign such as scrapes, licking branches, rubs on large trees and big tracks.|
I've seen endless variations used in rattling by some of the best deer hunters from Mexico to Canada. Some sequences that sounded superb fell flat, while others that didn't sound particularly great often drew in numbers of bucks.
There really is no best rattling technique. Do your best to create a realistic duplication of a buck battle. Do it loudly enough that nearby animals can hear it. And hope that bucks in the area are in a curious or aggressive frame of mind so they come in to investigate the commotion or join in the fight. The best way to assure that is to rattle from 10 days or so before the rut to 10 days afterwards.
Earlier in the season, well before the rut, light sparring among bucks can be duplicated with a gentle ticking of the antlers. That can also sometimes work late in the season. When the rut is near or in progress, however, louder clashing, then grinding and re-clashing and twisting of the antlers for a minute to several minutes is best.
Start with some pounding of the ground, like deer hooves stomping in preparation for a fight. Rake tree trunks and saplings with dry leaves on them to add more realism. Many rattlers like to throw in a few grunts or even a grunt-snort-wheeze for extra sound appeal, before and during pauses in the rattling.
In studies done by Dr. Mickey Hellickson in Texas, louder rattling always drew more responses than quiet. Another thing the biologists noted was that hunters on the ground missed seeing many of the bucks that responded to the antler rattling. This makes it a good idea to try to get some elevation in your position, or to put a hunter out front (down wind 20-60 yards) while the rattler stays back.
How long to stay in an area depends on how much confidence you have that the location holds a big buck. Generally 20-30 minutes is what most hunters invest in a spot. Rattle for 1-3 minutes, wait five to 10 minutes, then rattle again once or twice more. On the other hand, you could rattle off and on all morning from a blind that you have confidence in, hoping to attract different bucks moving through the area at different times.
Be ready when a buck comes in. Don't make any sharp, abrupt movements, because he'll be staring right at the source of the sound. Be patient and chances are he'll look away briefly if you have to raise your gun or bow and are pinned down. Make your move then and squeeze off.
I think you'll find like me that a rattled in buck makes an especially memorable trophy.
While James McMurray took his 281 6/8 non-typical rattling on public land, be careful trying this unless you're in a remote location and are sure other hunters are not around. It may not be as realistic, but rattling from a tree stand makes the sound carry farther and adds an element of safety. Wearing plenty of blaze orange also helps, and you may even want to consider painting your rattling antlers orange for extra visibility.