WATCH: Create Your Perfect Hunting Spots With This First Step
Rattling is often tried but more often misunderstood by hunters who have listened to too many myths. Here’s one hunter’s counter-argument to those deer hunting myths about rattling up bucks and does.
Playing the wind, we edged up a ridge and began our first rattling sequence of the morning. The antlers resonated loudly, as my hunting partner, Steve Ray, mimicked a fight between two rival bucks. To add realism, he ran his foot back and forth over an empty plastic water bottle to generate the crunching, crackling sounds of breaking brush.
Four minutes later, a buck came rushing toward us with his head held high, scanning the tangles of brush for any sign of the combatants. It was obvious he was anxious to get in on the action, or at least size up the competition. Unable to locate the source of all the racket, the buck did what whitetails do best — he circled downwind. Seconds later his white flag went up, and he headed back into the hills, obviously confused by the whole experience.
I began packing up my gear to move to the next spot when Steve signaled for me to sit tight. I watched as he continued to smash the antlers together in an attempt to draw in another buck, and I felt a little naïve. I was new to this game and knew that several myths I held about rattling were now unraveling before my eyes.
MYTH 1 DEBUNKED:
USE ONLY SHORT SEQUENCES WHEN RATTLING
I had heard that you rattle for a fairly short sequence, put down the antlers and wait for a while before starting again. Not. Steve kept rattling the entire time we were on stand, and my eyes grew wide when a second buck came sneaking in. What I learned is that if you are going to rattle, then rattle. By the time we were done, we’d rattled in three different bucks at the same location.
I bugged Steve with a barrage of questions, wanting to learn more about rattling sequences and his thoughts behind the length of sessions and intervals. He explained that he likes to start with a two to three-minute rattling session, then stop and wait for the same amount of time. He then rattles for 5 to 10 minutes before taking a short break. If nothing comes in, he starts a 45-minute session with only a few or no breaks. His rationale is that smaller bucks will rush in to see a fight, but it takes more to get the dominant buck fired up. And that’s exactly what we saw on that stand — several smaller bucks coming eagerly to our rattling sequences.
MYTH 2 DEBUNKED:
RATTLING ATTRACTS ONLY BUCKS
I was pleasantly surprised when several does came to the antlers, crashing in headfirst to get a look at the sparring partners. So much for the theory that rattling brings in only bucks. The does would serve as live decoys, because the rut was in full swing and the presence of female deer could spark a reaction from a dominant buck. Even having the scent of a doe near the fight arena can be beneficial to any rattling routine.
We hunted for an entire week and spent our whole time rattling. There wasn’t any sitting in treestands or ground blinds. We worked likely looking spots and rattled for about an hour at each location. It worked. We didn’t rattle in deer at every spot we tried, but we did have multiple deer — bucks and does — come in regularly. The length of the sequence was important, with the more mature bucks taking their time to respond. I could picture them standing off in the brush and staring at the sound, trying to determine their next move.
Watching Steve with his Rattling Forks debunked another myth: that you can be too loud. I can tell you from watching him that the louder and crazier the fight sequence the faster the deer came in.
MYTH 3 DEBUNKED:
YOU CAN’T RATTLE UP BUCKS ONCE THEY’VE BEDDED
I’ve heard people say you can’t rattle bucks in after they’ve bedded, but I’m here to tell you we brought in deer at all times of the day. We weren’t restricted to first or last light and didn’t have to time things with the moon phase. We rattled all day and every day we had good numbers of deer come to our mock fights. If you are actively clashing antlers all day, you should be able to fit in at least five sequences before lunch and another five after lunch.
MYTH 4 DEBUNKED:
DEER COME IN ONLY FROM DOWNWIND
I don’t know how many times I’ve had people tell me deer always come in downwind when respond- ing to rattling antlers. Yes, they might eventually move downwind, but they generally come charging in from the direction that is the shortest line from where they were when you caught their attention. From a high vantage point, we watched most deer come straight into our rattling sessions and then work downwind. That’s why it’s important to have good visibility downwind — to pick up on those deer that are skirting your position to get your wind.
Almost every deer we rattled up ran straight toward us, stopped and stared intently — trying to figure out what was going on, before circling wide to get downwind. Most bucks love the thought of a fight, but want to know who the competition is before committing to a full-on charge. An exception to this rule is when a dominant buck believes there’s an intruder in his neighborhood.
Of course, rattling is always better with two people, because you can position the shooter downwind of the rattling to catch circling bucks. This is especially effective in heavy cover, where you don’t have expansive shooting lanes.
MYTH 5 DEBUNKED:
IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO FOOL A BUCK TWICE
We were hunting an old buck Steve had seen in previous years and thought he knew his home territory. We rattled up the old boy the first day out but didn’t have an opportunity for a shot. Would the buck come to the antlers again? I’ve heard the myth that once a deer is rattled in it can’t be fooled again. For starters, we rattled in the same buck several times in a single day during our hunt, so I don’t believe a deer gets programmed to avoid natural rutting noises. The old buck we were after took a little work, but late in the afternoon of our last hunting day, we set up about a half-mile from where we had seen him earlier in the week.
Steve set up to rattle about 80 yards behind me, and I watched the surrounding brush. I could hear Steve moving around a bit by following the sounds of the forks and the crunch- ing of his water bottle. He had been rattling about 40 minutes when a big buck broke from the heavy cover — marching right in like he owned the place. His body language was much different from that of the smaller curious bucks we’d seen all week. When the buck turned to look in my direction, I knew he was mature. With ears drooping like a Brahma bull’s and a big Roman nose, the buck was a stud.
I wasted little time finding the buck in my scope and tracked him as he marched out into the open. At the report of the rifle, the deer dropped his head and crashed into the dense limbs of the thorny brush. Then all fell silent.
We had to track the buck only 30 yards before we found him. I had an incredible Texas brush country buck, but more importantly, a formal education in rattling.
— Brad Fenson is an outdoor writer and an accomplished deer hunter from Canada.