Rattling is Effective If You Know When and Where
Segment taken from:
White Tales - A Modern Look at Deer Hunting
The wide 9-point rack rotated in the thick brush as its bearer searched for the source of the rattling noise that had drawn him. In a treestand 25 yards sway Joe Sears relaxed his grip on the bowstring and reached over to gently tickle the tips together of his hanging rattling antlers.
The buck reacted immediately, stepping quickly to a small opening 12 yards from Joe's stand. The late afternoon sun glinted off the wide rack as Joe drew and released the arrow. The buck bolted and disappeared into the thicket.
"He's down Joe!" yelled companion Jody Robertson moments later. Robertson was a client from Oklahoma for whom Sears had rattled in a 7-pointer earlier in the day and who was video taping Joe's hunt from a higher treestand.
Sears' lung-shot buck had piled up within 50 yards. The scene was in 1988 near the Ithaca Airport in Tompkins County, NY. The rack net-scored more than 130 inches and represented the first of two bucks that Joe Sears has put into the New York State Big Buck Club record book.
"That was the second day of the season, in the middle of October-way before the peak of the rut. That's the magic time for rattling," said Sears, who operates Adventure Game Calls and Guide Service in Spencer, NY. "Most guys think that the time to rattle is during the peak, the first or second week of November. But I think you'll find that to be too late. The bucks are usually all tied up with does then and are too busy to answer a challenge. They're not frustrated at that time and frustration is what makes rattling work."
Sears' log home and adjacent hunters lodge stand on a scenic Tioga County hilltop, surrounded by a virtual wildlife paradise. Deer and turkey wander constantly within view of Sear's deck and afford him a year-round "laboratory" in which to observe wildlife actions and to test calls and theories.
"Almost any time in October is good for rattling, although conditions get better later in the month. October is when they're frustrated because they're through with their scraping but most of the does aren't ready and the boys are spoiling for a fight."
One October afternoon Sears rattled in four different bucks.
"Morning is always a good time but I've rattled in a lot of good bucks right in the middle of the day. They're active all day-on the prowl."
The quality of the herd and the number of mature, competitive bucks in the heavily-posted dairy country where Joe hunts probably makes rattling more effective than it might be on heavily-hunted (fewer bucks) areas. It also makes it a dandy spot for a guide and call maker to test techniques.
Unlike most rattling instructors and video makers, Joe does not use the grunt tube n conjunction with rattling.
"I'll quite often use sticks and rustle leaves to make it sound like a fight, but not the grunt," Sears said, despite the fact that Adventure Game Calls (PO Box 154, Spencer, NY 14833) sells grunt tubes. "I've never heard grunting during a buck fight and besides you've got enough to do going from rattling to getting your gun or bow without hassling with another implement."
"Don't get me wrong, the grunt tube has is place. I just don't think it's needed when rattling. I don't use the grunt tube unless I see a buck and want him to change direction. Unlike rattling, the grunt works real good during the peak of the rut. It doesn't always draw a buck to you but it may convince him that you're another deer."
Joe will some years spend an entire season using his adjustable grunt tube set only for a doe blat rather than the usual buck grunts. He's found bucks to be just as receptive to the sexual connotations of a doe vocalization as they were to the challenge represented by male grunts.
"It makes sense," said Sears, who started making calls and guiding hunters nearly 15 years ago and has made it his full-time occupation for the last six. "It's their breeding season. They're looking for a mate-that's their first objective. They'll react to a challenge out of frustration but the doe is much bigger attraction."
When setting up for rattling Sears says the wind is the biggest key. He likes to set up his stand downwind from a corner.
"Sometimes it's the corner of a thicket in a more open woods, other times it will be a the edge of a swamp or bedding area-some where on the edge of spot where a buck will feel comfortable moving because he's concealed."
While entire books and long magazine articles have examined the subject in great depth, Joe looks at rattling very simply. Take a set of antlers that's comfortable to carry and rattle, size and age being secondary considerations. Rattle them vigorously for two or three minutes. Stop for 30 seconds to a minute and do it again. Joe rattles more cautiously the second session because that's the way frustrated bucks go at it, employing more strategy than strength after evaluating their adversary in the first parry.
"It's easy to let your mind wander or to pay too much attention to rattling and technique when you should be alert for reaction," Joe said. "Sometimes a buck will run right in to the sound and other times he'll circle, checking the wind. But you've got to be alert."
"If you see him or hear a buck coming some guys want to give those horns one last tickle just to make sure-don't do it. If he's coming don't risk letting him see the movement. You should have the horns down and getting your bow. Remember, rattling is just a means to an end."