A Guide to Rattling Deer
I can still remember the landscape, the setup; hear the sounds and most clearly see that buck sticking his head around a mesquite tree looking for the fight. This was the early 90s in South Texas. I was no more than six or seven at the time and very new to deer hunting you might say. My father wanted to try this new (to him) technique he’d been reading about that he called rattlin’. It was boredom and ultimate excitement packed into a moment that I wouldn’t soon forget as I went from tinkering with a beetle in the sand to wide-eyed and breathless as my father lifted his old Remington Woodmaster and fired in one motion.
Long story short, his bullet missed its mark, but on that day rattling gave me an adrenaline rush that, as I grew several autumns older, would consume my life as I read and digested every article, video and word-of-mouth tip as well as taking to the woods to learn my own lessons.
Despite all the products on the shelves at sporting goods stores today used for rattling - rattling bags, rattling blocks, synthetic horns - we have found that nothing works better than a couple sheds we’ve found out in the woods. The newer the better, but even older ones work better than plastic.
What we mean by this is to become familiar with the seasonal stages of the rut in the area you’re hunting and knowing when the perennial testosterone spillway begins to open. Getting too aggressive during the pre rut could scare off any potential shooter mainly because, by instinct, they are not used to hearing such loud racket that time of year. Pre rut is a great time for what many all “tickling the tips” of the horns together to mimic light sparring. Bucks are sizing each other up, preparing for what’s to come. You’re likely to pique the curiosity of of cruising bucks that just want to come see what’s happening.
Setup, Setup, Setup
It’s pretty important. It is very likely that 9.9 out of 10 bucks is going to approach from the downwind side. If at first you spot them upwind, they are probably going to being circling around as they try to locate the source of the fight. Always setup so that you can see downwind approaches. Also, any vantage point that overlooks any potential approach routes is very helpful. Despite their size and even their aggression this time of year, deer in general are very quiet, nimble animals. If they don’t want to be heard or seen, they likely won’t be. Don’t get discouraged too quickly just because you’re not seeing bucks as a result of rattling. You’ve likely called some close that have either smelled or seen you before you had time to take notice.
Enter The Freshman Deer Decoy
We’ve talked about it before because we’ve experienced it too many times before - the hang up. And one time is really enough whether it’s a long-bearded gobbler or wily old buck that won’t commit to five more steps. Our decoys are designed to go with you everywhere and the rut is an optimal time to have one along, especially The Freshman, whose aggressive, rigid posture is a target for any buck looking for trouble. Using the decoy will also keep the attention away from your setup as a buck approaches, thus allowing you more time to connect release to string or stock to shoulder. Deer hunting isn’t easy. Deer hunting from the ground is harder. Even using every advantage at your disposal is not good enough most of the time, but that’s why they call it hunting.
Be conscious of the decoy’s scent. Wash it with scent-free soap before going out and spray the surrounding area with buck urine for cover scent when you get there. Because once a buck realizes he’s been duped, he’ll waste no time in getting the hell out of Dodge.
It’s The Rut, Get Aggressive
Don’t break your tools, rather incorporate more charismatic sounds into your rattling scheme such as raking the trees and brush and even slamming them into the ground to imitate the sound of big moving bodies thrashing each other up and through the woods. Clack your horns loud enough to put a good echo out into the landscape to guarantee that anything within earshot is going to hear. It takes some practice because really and truly it’s hard work being there on the ground, trying to mimic two 175-pound animals fighting for blood, all the while keeping your senses sharp for any approaching bucks.
The use of scents (doe estrus, buck urine) and other sounds (grunts, snort wheeze) wouldn’t hurt. Bucks are very aggressive this time of year, so stay focused and keep your eyes peeled for movement because the opportunity may not last long.
Don’t Quit Yet
Dr. Mick Hellickson, chief wildlife biologist for the King Ranch in Texas, who put together a study where he and three college interns rattled and collected data over a three-year period, showed a staggering 65% success rate. Mind you, this was Texas, but these weren’t all mature deer. They saw the most activity during the peak rut, but more older bucks looking for one last hot doe during the first two weeks of the post rut. According to his data, ten of the 29 that came in were 5 ½ years or older. For those of you that are pure trophy hunters, hang in there a little longer when all of the other hunters in your area have burned themselves out for the season.
Our friends, Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo of Archer’s Choice, have come up with what they call “Rope Rattling.” This is a good technique to keep deer from being able to pinpoint you. Using a length of rope while you’re high and dry in the stand, tie your rattling antlers to the ends and let them hang close to the ground. Now, the sounds you’re simulating are logistically correct and there won’t be any of the wiser bucks looking up in the trees for fighting squirrels.