If it fools even one buck, one time, isn’t rattling worth the extra pound or two in your bag of tricks?
Abraham Lincoln once opined, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool ALL the people ALL the time.”
The 16th president wasn’t talking about rattling up bucks, but those words apply as much to the clanging of bone as they do to politicians’ ill-conceived legislation (Lincoln’s real target).
There will always be naysayers. Even among those who own a set of tethered sheds, a bag full of hard plastic rods or any other device created to mimic the sounds of two bucks fighting, opinions vary widely on the best time to employ them.
Almost every rattling aficionado I’ve encountered during my two score and four years of deer hunting agrees that the best time to clash antlers is BEFORE the peak of the rut, while the bucks are sorting out their differences. In fact, some masters of the technique even leave their rattlin’ antlers (real or artificial) at home during the height of breeding season.
But guess what? Rattling works throughout the year, regardless of the rut or its pre- and post- prefixes.
During a late-November rut hunt in Oklahoma a few years ago, I rattled up two nice bucks on the first day, one of them a mature, potbellied 8-pointer that I now regret not shooting. That same day, a friend spotted a buck chasing a doe at 600-plus yards. Figuring he had nothing to lose, he rattled aggressively and, lo and behold, the 4 1/2-year-old 10-pointer peeled off the doe’s trail and ran to within 75 yards of the end of my friend’s barrel.
Rattling has traditionally been viewed as stoking the territorial fire in a buck’s brain. That might be true in many cases, as evidenced by the ears-back, stiff-legged approach of a buck with hackles raised. But it also appeals to whitetails’ curiosity.
I’ve even seen does and button bucks respond to rattling.
It’s like shouting “fist fight” in a crowd, an announcement that is sure to turn heads. Plus, the sound carries much farther than a grunt or a bleat, and well beyond the tendrils of air laced with eau de doe.
Like many of you, I’m reluctant to rattle during the peak of the rut because I’d rather use another, more alluring means to coax a buck within range. But when the chips are down, especially when I’m watching a buck leaving, or when I see one at a long distance, I’m glad I have my rattling bag within reach.
Nothing is more effective than rattling when it comes to convincing a buck to forget about a very important date. It won’t work every time, of course, but when it saves your bacon, you’ll never again go afield without your bones.
Illinois bowhunter David Jones knows the worth of rattling during the rut’s peak.
During a hunt in November 2003, soon after he spotted a massive buck he’d been hoping to arrow for three years, he immediately picked up his rattling antlers.
“I hit the antlers together hard … one good hard hit and a quick rattle,” David said. The buck, which was 200 yards away, stopped and glared for about 30 seconds before continuing into the woodlot where it had chased two other bucks.
“As it disappeared into the woods, I banged the antlers again, this time as hard as I could. I slammed them with such force that I lost my balance and slipped to the edge of my seat.
“I then turned, hung up the antlers, grabbed my bow and stood,” he added.
About the time David thought the buck wasn’t going to cooperate, he spotted it in the wide open pasture, half a football field closer, looking his way. When it began walking toward him, David reached for the bow he’d just re-hung.
“Just as I was lining up my 20-yard pin, it stepped up on a dirt mound to glare down into the woods,” he said. “It was almost as if it was saying, ‘Here I am … Take me if you can!’ That’s when I let ’er fly.”
With a BTR composite score of 284 1/8 inches, the Mason County, Ill., buck was one of the largest felled in North America that year. It’s both a state compound bow record for the Land of Lincoln and No. 3 in the world.
Using a bone magnet also works north of the border.
The late Bill McIntire was hunting with an outfitter in New Brunswick, Canada, in November 1999 when he put a rattling bag to good use. He had given up stand hunting and teamed up with a buddy late in the week.
The two men chose to still-hunt about 300 yards apart, leap-frogging hourly, and alternately rattling and grunting. The third time around, Bill saw a huge buck, as well as some other deer, 200 yards downhill.
“I rattled lightly with my rattling bag and grunted softly with the grunt call stuffed in my jacket to muffle the sound,” he said.
Soon after he lost sight of the monstrous buck, he thought he heard his friend approaching from behind and to his left.
“I couldn’t see where (the noise) was coming from because of a hill,” Bill said. “I had to stand up and turn around to see over the top. When I did, I saw antlers sticking out of two or three little pine trees that were maybe 4 feet high.”
When the buck stepped clear, Bill squeezed the trigger. A second shot anchored the largest Semi-irregular ever felled in Canada, by any means. The 18-pointer is also the world-record Semi in the BTR’s rifle category. Its composite score is 241 4/8 inches.
Dustin Shaffer’s date with destiny came after he’d put in a day’s work. He climbed into his hilltop stand about 4 p.m. on Nov. 13, 2013.
“I had been there about 30 minutes when I took out my call, grunted a few times and then rattled,” he said. “After that, it was quiet for 5 or 10 minutes. Then, all of a sudden, this huge buck came out of the honeysuckle. Its ears were pinned back, and it was aggressive-looking.”
When the bristled-up deer turned away, Dustin’s finger caressed his rifle’s trigger.
The 17-pointer from Carter County, Ky., has a BTR composite score of 197 inches, nearly 28 of which are irregular.
Frank Murphy also headed for the woods after work on a cold and windy Nov. 2, 1998. He was aloft with his compound bow by 3:45 p.m. and immediately rattled and grunted.
“I do this to fool any deer that I might have spooked en route to my stand into thinking that I could have been a deer,” he said.
Thirty minutes later, a doe came within 10 yards of his tree, saw him, and then ran back into the woods. Hoping to snag the attention of a buck that might be on her trail, he rattled again.
He was rewarded with a chip shot at a 22-pointer less than a minute after setting down the antlers. At the time, it was the No. 2 buck from Waukesha County, Wis. The rack has a BTR composite score of 196 2/8 inches.
These success stories mirror several hundred others I’ve collected during my one score and 14 years as a journalist, which explains why I practice what I preach. On average, I hunt at least 21 days every November, in part because I’m still writing and editing throughout October.
I’ve rattled in bucks in Alabama, Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Ohio, all from Nov. 1 through mid-December. It might well be more effective during the early season, but all seasons are equal whenever I need to get a buck’s attention.
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