A Complete Look at Rattling – Part II
If the sparring stage of antler engagement can be likened to two young kids on a grade school playground, the next stage may be the high school boys. We are not yet at full stage, all out fighting. In this stage the intent is not to injure. It is to show dominance, to leave the impression “I can whip you, if I want to.” The purpose is to avoid a future, possibly injurious fight.
Therefore, we pick up our intensity and aggression. Although I may occasionally, still use the rattler bag for this stage, more often I use real antlers. During this stage, an occasional hard, loud smack is delivered and I can’t get the sound I want with a bag. Also during this period, this early pre-rut, the bucks are beginning to travel and I may not know where they are coming from. So, I want my sounds to reach out more than with a rattler bag.
The antler engagement now is not usually too long or drawn out. It is seldom concerning a doe. It is just a meeting of two bucks of near equal age or size and a brief engagement to prove a point. These encounters quite frequently take place in open hardwoods or open fields.
Many of my setups this time of year are on the edge of travel areas and quite often on the edge of thickets or grown weed fields. I love to rattle around waist high weed fields. I want the setup to have me concealed and make the buck(s) move into the open field to look for me.
In 2004 during the first segment of our muzzleloader season-Nov 6-12-I hunted three times and did some moderate rattling all three times. The first time was a morning, still, sunny and 35 degrees. The second sequence of rattling brought in a small, six-point. A few minutes later, a spike came in. On the next sequence at 7:45, a fat doe came to investigate. I took her home with me. The next morning, secluded in a ladder stand, on the edge of a hayfield and the corner of a small weed field, my first sequence, just after daylight with 33-degree temps and clear skies, brought a medium, eight-point into the hayfield at 400 yards. I was able to coax him to 226 yards, according to my range finder
There he hung up. This is a frequent problem with rattling. Bucks often hang up because they can see where the sound is coming from and cannot see or smell another deer. They also may consider the sound of the fight and decide they do not want to be involved. Whatever the reason, once a buck hangs up seldom will he come closer. Fortunately, with a rest and a super accurate muzzleloader, I was able to drop this buck.
Two afternoons later, following two days of rain and warm weather, the temperature started dropping and the skies began to clear. Perfect for rattling and I was again in my ladder stand. My first sequence at 3:15, a mild, more-friendly sequence, brought a fat, mature doe across the weed field to within 50 yards. I took her home, too.
Let us talk about weather. Once I am through the sparring stage, in my opinion, weather is as important as any other factor when rattling. I want it cold. Cold is relative. In Tennessee, where I live, cold is 30-40 degrees. In Alberta cold is…well cold. I rattled one morning in Alberta, it was –17, and I dang near froze. But the bucks came. For bucks to travel, now that they have most of their winter coat, it has to be comfortable for them. They don’t move any more than they have to in warm weather.
I like it clear and still. Or, I like it nasty and windy. Of the two, I prefer still but rattling can be gangbusters on a cold, drizzly, foggy day. As for time of day, that varies with the biological changes in the deer. Once the bucks really start moving, I may rattle off and on all day but usually from different locations. As the pre-rut heats up and some chasing begins, I may rattle from as many as five or six different stands, spending no more than 45 minutes or an hour in each locations. I also hunt quite a bit from my boat when it is warm. I love to cruise a lakeshore and stop and rattle every 500 yards or so. I have even rattled from the boat with it just drifting on small, moving streams. Usually this is done with two people, one shooter and one rattler and most of the time, in a likely looking spot we both get out of the boat and set up. Boats are superb for getting to secluded places.
Again, my sounds during this period are not violent. I still do some gentle tine tickling. I just mix it with some louder, more aggressive sounds and the sequence doesn’t last as long. Every sequence always begins with soft, tine tickling because I have no way of knowing how close a buck may be. Seldom in this period do I mix in foot sounds or snorts and wheezes or even tree rubbing. It is just antler sounds with an infrequent grunt or two.
A word here about frequency. I try not to do much antler engagement of any kind from any one location, too often. There are exceptions and how I determine that is too complicated for me to explain. It is more of a gut feeling. But under normal circumstances, I would probably not rattle from the same stand, two days in a row and probably no more frequently than once every three or four days. And I have no logical explanation of how I came with that. It just seems to work for me.