A Complete Look at Rattling – Part III
Now it is a street fight. Now the gloves come off. If you have ever heard an all-out buck fight, you realize you cannot get too loud or too violent. It is an awesome event. But it doesn’t happen very often. Keep that in mind. This hard fighting is always about a doe, not territory, not dominance, a doe and usually a doe in heat or near in heat and she is usually near.
Some years ago, I watched from across a picked bean field, as dominant, big, eight-point, successfully defended a doe he was tending from four different bucks over a 90 minute period. Only one of the intruders got so far as to actually engage the dominant buck. And he got his butt royally kicked in less than 30 seconds.
These fights are serious and they may last from scant seconds to as long as an hour. I have seen and heard both. So how do you rattle?
To begin, in my opinion, once again you must have cold weather for your area. During this time period, I love the edge of fields. Bucks often chase or herd does into open fields during this period. That doe attracts more bucks and fights break out. It is not yet the peak of the rut. During the peak of the rut, rattling has seldom worked for me. This is the period when the does are just about to come into estrus. They are close enough for the bucks to follow and chase but not quite ready to breed. I like a cold, still morning or a cold, windy, nasty afternoon.
Now, I might use an estrus scent because it is almost a certainty that a doe will be in the area. I will mix plaintive doe bleats in during periods of lull in my rattling. I will rub trees, crunch leaves, snort and bang the ground in simulation of a foot stomp. I will get loud and rowdy and I’ll normally do three sequences, 5-10 minutes apart and lasting about two minutes. Between sequences, I’ll call, softly and my bow or gun will be in my hands at all times.
Calling can be the convincer or ruination of your rattling. You have to know what sound to make, how to make it, when to make it and as with all animal calling, when to shut up.
Know how to make a plaintive doe bleat. If you do not know how, don’t do it until you learn how. If you cannot make a plausible sniff-snort-wheeze, don’t even try it. Learn to master an aggressive buck grunt and learn at what pitch it needs to be. If there are no 400-pound bucks in your area, don’t sound like one. And of utmost importance…if the/buck-doe ratio in your area is bad, understand that once you get past the sparring and light rattling stage, aggressive antler engagement is not going to be very effective. You may well be better off just sitting quietly.
Some years ago, in Illinois, I sat in a thick creek bottom covered up with rubs. A high-racked, big bodied, eight-point, came down the creek from my right. I had not used any antler engagement. He just came along. At 75 yards, he stopped and started working a tree. I began a little light clicking and clacking with my antlers. He looked and went back to rubbing. From my left, came a dandy, wide eight-point. He and the first buck met and acted friendly. Forget the antlers. I hit a soft, plaintive, doe bleat. The first buck left the area and the wide- racked buck headed my way. He was the predetermined, dominant buck-no fight. After 30 minutes, I sent an arrow just over his back at 28 yards. This is a perfect example of when to call and when to rattle and how you know which one to use.
Late season rattling can be good if you are in an area of good buck/doe ratios. Competition is the key. With little or no competition, there is no reason to fight.
Now think about this. Match your antlers to the area you are hunting. I would not use the same antlers in TN that I use in Canada or even the Midwest. I want antlers that are not the biggest for the area. If the biggest buck around is likely to be 140-class buck, I want 120-class antlers. In Canada, I’ll use a heavier antler. In TN I use a lighter set.
My favorite antlers are hanging in a tree somewhere in Illinois. My bad. I like antlers with some length to the tines and not too thick. I prefer eight-point racks and I always saw off the brow tine. Currently I have three sets of rattling antlers and none are quite as good as the set I left in the tree. One set came from a buck I shot just because I wanted his antlers for rattling. I have never used synthetic antlers but I see no reason they wouldn’t work.
I store my antlers indoors during the off-season but other than that take no special care of them. They are connected by lengths of cord and carried to the woods wrapped tightly together. Never climb a tree with the antlers on your body. Tie them to a haul line and lay them where you could not fall on them.
Once in the tree, I want my antlers close at hand. I carry a small, screw hook just for that purpose. I try to hang them so I can tickle them with one hand and little movement.
I usually rattle while standing and constantly watching 360 degrees. My bow or gun is always at hand or in my hand. Deer come to rattling in a variety of ways. I have had them rush in, sneak in, suddenly appear from nowhere and completely circle me. I have rattled them back in and spooked them with too much action. You must have some sort of plan as to what you are going to do when you see a buck. If you are bowhunting, you are going to have a plan as to where and when to draw. You have just enticed an animal in range that is looking for something. He is alert and watching for everything. Keep that in mind.
Decoys? I personally have never used them. I am too lazy to pack them around. I am sure they could be a valuable asset in calling and rattling. I just think I have enough stuff to carry as it is.
Antler engagement is not magic. I am certain you will scare as many deer as you bring in. I am certain you will only bring deer in less than 30 percent of the time. I am certain you will only see a small portion of the deer that actually come to check you out. As far as I know, I have never rattled in a truly mature, big, dominant buck. But there are days like the one in Alabama when I sparred in and shot a 140 class eight-point. And days like the one in Iowa when I rattled in 14 bucks to one tree in one morning. I shot the last one.
I am also certain there are few days that I go deer hunting without a bag or my antlers. It is a great cure for boredom. Not magic, but fun when it works.