During several years of hunting in West Virginia, I had the great pleasure of getting to know an elderly mountain man who has harvested more than his share of trophy bucks.
I arrived at his secluded farm for one of my visits while he was working in his barn. The big doors stood open and an astonishing number of big whitetail racks were tacked inside of them. I’d never seen so many trophy racks in one place.
I had to find out whatever he knew about hunting. In our prior conversations regarding buck hunting, he had never mentioned antler size – only that he had killed some heavy deer. This man hunted for food.
The more time I spent with him, the more he opened up to me about the details of his techniques. Finally, one fall evening while we sipped drinks on his porch, he revealed his secret.
“Son, do you really want to know how I killed all those bucks?”
All I could do was nod my head. I was astounded that he was finally confiding in me.
“I ‘tinkle’ them up,” he said. “That’s the secret.”
I thought I was about to become a victim of the old man’s humor. He must have noticed an odd look on my face, because he added, “No, really. That’s all there is to it. I’m not pulling your leg, young fella.”
Joke or not I had to ask: “What’s tinkling?”
I still expected a punch line, but got a story instead. The old gentleman topped off his glass, leaned back in his chair, glanced toward the barn and began. This is my recollection of what he said:
Son, I have been hunting deer for more than 50 years and have learned that a whitetail is one extremely curious critter. If he hears something in his world that he cannot identify that doesn’t sound like danger, you can bet he will be coming to check it out.
A lot of folks try rattling because they see it on TV shows down South and out West with regular success, but the bucks must outnumber the does in order for it to be successful with any kind of regularity. In West Virginia, our does outnumber the bucks. Rattling is often combined with the use of a deer grunt call, but in the hands of the beginner, it doesn’t always work.
The novice makes a common mistake of thinking that the bigger the rack used to rattle and the louder the grunt, the more bucks it will attract. Actually, the reverse is true. A buck will come to rattled antlers for several reasons. He might be asserting dominance, wanting to steal the doe that he believes to be the object of the fight, or he might come because he’s curious.
Using a big, heavy set of antlers will defeat your purpose. Of course we all want to do the manly thing and bang a couple of big antlers together to make a lot of noise, thinking it will bring the dominant buck from miles away. Nothing could be less true.
A buck sparring match is, in most cases, just that. It begins with the two bucks circling each other and barely touching antlers. It’s more of a “tinkling” action, which at times can barely be heard. If a dominant buck hears huge antlers being slammed together repeatedly, he knows this is not a natural sound and will shy away from it. Even during the peak of the rut, if two dominant bucks meet, they will circle and tinkle antlers, kind of feeling each other out. There might be a time when the antlers are slammed together, but then it becomes more of a pushing and shoving match until one of them gives up.
A small 6-point rack is the right size for rattling. Begin by striking just the tips together lightly as if you’re attempting to imitate the sparring routine of the actual bucks. Back off for a few seconds, then tinkle them together again for a few seconds more.
Finally, turn the antlers over so the backs are facing each other. Then slam them together to imitate the racks meeting. Immediately turn the racks toward each other, lock them and begin a sliding motion back and forth to emulate antlers in a locked position, grinding against each other.
If you’re on the ground, this is a good time to paw the ground with the antlers and rake the leaves. Then pull them apart, sliding them tightly against each other until they are separated. At this point, a nearby buck might come in on the run, throwing caution to the wind, but he probably will circle downwind first.
Now you need your grunt call ready. Don’t call when rattling until you see a deer and only then if he cannot see you. Begin with a short, soft grunt. In most cases, if he’s interested he will respond immediately. If he does not, then try again, using three short soft, grunts followed by a louder one. If he begins moving toward you, quit. The sounds will give away your location.
Do not use aggressive or dominant buck grunts that are so popular today unless you can clearly see that it’s a dominant buck. If those calls are used any other time, you may scare off does in estrus that are coming to the calls out of curiosity, and that would be a major mistake. There is nothing like having the real thing hanging around under your stand as bait. If there is a dominant buck holding back, the sight and scent of that hot doe will bring him in quick.
Remember, use small rattling antlers, preferably real ones, and tinkle them. Do not slam the tips and don’t overuse the grunt call.
If you follow this man’s advice, you will tinkle in your first buck sooner or later. It works; I know from experience.
The first time I tried the old man’s technique in West Virginia, I had hardly begun tinkling before I had a 6-pointer come in on a dead run. I sat there looking down on him as he sniffed the air and looked around for the fighting bucks. I let him wander out of sight and then grunted once lightly. Ten minutes later, a beautiful 10-pointer stepped out onto the power line I was set up on and started walking toward my stand. He’s now hanging on the wall at my camp.
Think what you will about secondhand information, but when it comes from a man whose barn doors are covered with trophy racks, I listen hard. Here’s one last secret he shared that I’ll pass on to you. If you want to return the natural sound to an older shed or rack you use for rattling, soak it overnight in a bucket of water.
Give tinkling a try, and maybe you’ll rattle in the buck of your life.
This article was published in the September 2006 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.