By Mike Handley
It’s one thing to throw a hail-Mary rattling sequence at a buck you can see walking out of your life, quite another to clash the antler cymbals when you’ve just clocked in for the day. I see it as reactive and proactive rattling -- the former when you’re willing to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” if it’ll bring that deer back, and the latter when you no longer equate the action to passing gas in a crowded elevator.
Whether employed out of desperation or as standard operating procedure, the clash of antlers -- real or synthetic -- can lure the bull of the woods into knee-knocking range. People with names embroidered on their camo shirts say the technique is most effective during the pre-rut (the couple of weeks leading up to show time). That might be true, but I’ve seen it work throughout the season.
Aaron Burke of North Carolina is glad he took his rattling antlers to Knox County, Ohio, back in 2003. That was his first out-of-state hunting trip.
When Aaron was about 20 feet aloft on the third morning, the neighboring landowners were combining corn. The harvesting was so loud that he couldn’t hear much of anything else. But then the machinery ground to a halt.
Somewhere between 8:00 and 8:15, he heard a buck grunt – a sound that he’d have missed entirely had it been half an hour earlier. And had it not been cold, Aaron might not have seen the animal’s breath.
The 17-pointer with 6 2/8-inch bases strolled to within 50 yards before turning and heading away from the slack-jawed hunter. Desperate, Aaron reached for his rattling antlers and brought them together with such force as to shatter the stillness. A few minutes later, he heard the deer returning.
When it materialized, every hair was standing.
“It was in a pretty foul mood,” Aaron recalls. “That buck was definitely looking for its rivals.”
The second time it left Aaron, it was carrying an arrow.
When Nebraska outfitter Tim Puhalla awoke on Oct. 18, 2008, he decided he’d like to see the sunrise while sitting in a tree. The year’s first clients weren’t arriving for two weeks.
He was aloft by 6:30, watching a wooded draw that emptied into the neighboring landowner’s unpicked soybean field. Three prominent trails, leading from the beans to cedar-studded bedding areas were within sight.
Although it was still dark, Tim tickled the 8-point sheds he’d found on that very property in the spring. He followed that with a couple of grunts. It was his way of helping any nearby bucks to decide which path to take out of the bean buffet.
He repeated the sequence about 20 minutes later, and then did it again shortly after sunrise. The last time, he was quick to hang the antlers and free his hands.
“I’ve been caught too many times,” he said. “The bucks respond to rattling here, and they don’t waste any time.”
Almost immediately, Tim heard the splash of what he figured must be a very large deer – that or either two animals – crossing the nearby creek. A moment later, a lone deer sailed over the barbed wire divider and landed 30 yards from him.
“I knew immediately it was a shooter,” he said. “I had just enough time to grab my bow. It wasn’t bristled up, but the buck definitely came in with some authority.”
It left by way of Tim’s Silverado. “Shooter” was an understatement; it wound up as Nebraska’s No. 3 Typical by bow.
Note: If you’d like a crack at a beefy buck in a state where tags may be purchased over the counter, give Tim a call at (402) 520-0006.