Calling in bucks is no big mystery, and it can work almost anywhere.
It won’t work down here,” said Joe Champion when I asked about rattling. And who was I to argue with his nearly four decades of experience as a guide at the Hit-n-Miss lodge in Central Alabama?
At least one guy in our hunting party was not convinced, but he kept his skepticism to himself until the following day.
After returning from the morning hunt, renowned outdoors writer and hunting guide Judd Cooney began relating his experience.
“I rattled a couple times, and here come a buck,” he stated in his gravelly voice. “Then I rattled again, and here come another buck.” Cooney then went on to describe how he rattled in several more bucks over the course of the morning. Joe was surprised, but humble enough to admit that perhaps the reason it never worked for him is he never tried it.
Rattling can be very effective for calling deer to the gun or bow. It can work almost anywhere, at any time. However, it works best when done properly and under the right conditions.
The basic concept of rattling is to attract other bucks by simulating the sound of two bucks sparring or fighting. Nothing gathers a crowd like a good fight.
In the early fall, bucks sort out their pecking order with casual sparring that’s more of a shoving match than actual combat. Consequently, early-season rattling should be soft and sparse, best described as tickling antlers.
Later, as the rut kicks in, you can amp up the calling. Aggressive rattling can work early, and tickling late, but you’re better off matching rattling to what’s happening in the woods.
Among the most common questions I hear are how much and how often one should rattle.
There are no rules. Deer don’t wear watches and aren’t concerned about how long they fight or how many breaks they take between bouts.
Judd Cooney says the biggest mistake hunters make is getting discouraged and giving up too soon. When the time is right, Cooney recommends rattling every 20 or 30 minutes, and stick with it.
“It’s a lot more common to get a response the third or fourth time you rattle,” he says. The length of your bouts isn’t critical; a minute or two each time should suffice.
The stand setup also is important. It’s best to keep the thickest cover behind you. Using some type of obstacle like a fence or waterway can help, too. You want less cover in front so you can see animals approaching from a distance, but still enough cover so they feel secure. It’s also beneficial if you can find a high spot.
Deer often approach rattling from downwind, where they can scent-check the scene from a safe distance. Many hunters have unknowingly rattled in bucks.
The best way to overcome this is by pairing up with a buddy. Have the rattler set up some distance upwind of the shooter. When the buck circles downwind, its attention will be fixed on the rattler, allowing the other hunter a better shot opportunity.
You can also put the shooter in an elevated stand and leave the rattler on the ground where he can rake antlers on trees or brush, shuffle and stomp his feet and kick the brush to create a more realistic sound.
What you use to rattle is up to you. Some folks recommend using big antlers for big bucks and small antlers for small bucks. I’m not sure deer can tell the difference, or that they care.
The guides on Anticosti Island soak their sheds in water to give them a more realistic tone. There are also some pretty realistic sounding man-made rattling devices out there (as well as some not so realistic ones), including synthetic sheds, rattle bags and electronic calls.
My personal favorite is the Pack Rack by Knight & Hale. Using a prototype, I rattled in and killed two bucks on successive hunts in Illinois and Oklahoma.
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This article was published in the October 2014 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.