Sunday, October 21, 2012

Antler Rattling And Calling During the Rut

© By Othmar Vohringer

Antler rattling and calling can be an effective part of a smart hunting strategy during the rut, when bucks become more aggressive.

While rattling up a big buck is more effective in areas where the buck-to-doe-ratio is even or close to it, because bucks have more competition, it also can work well in areas where does outnumber bucks and with that have less or no competition. Meaning, there is no need to fight for breeding rights.

Still when a buck hears two others fight he may come in to your rattling to investigate what the ruckus is all about. Here are a few tips that will help you to maximize your antler rattling success.

Set up
The set up is very important for antler rattling success. Bucks that respond to antler rattling almost always approach from downwind as they try to smell first before they see. Whenever possible bucks stay in cover that camouflages them. A great deal of thought and planning is necessary to find a good stand site for rattling. The stand site must fulfil the following: Force the buck to leave the cover and cross at least one of you shooting lanes within shooting range as he tries to get downwind from you. The stand site also must prevent the buck from seeing for a long distance. This is a problem for many hunters. Hunters like to see for some distance but a buck that responds to your rattling fully expects to see two other bucks and if he can’t see them he will hang up. In order to prevent that the stand must be located in such a way that the buck has to walk into shooting distance to be able to see where the rattling is coming from. You also should be able to approach and vacate the stand site from several directions. There is nothing more detrimental to hunting success then approaching and leaving the stand site using the same route each time you hunt that stand. Deer are smart and will pattern your comings and goings faster than you can pattern deer movement. Keep them guessing.

Good stand sites for rattling are field corners, thicket tips and bottlenecks (See illustration, click on image to see larger version)

The wind is not your friend and you have to pay close attention to shifting winds and prevailing thermals. Ones a buck catches a whiff of you he is gone and gone for good, especially the older bucks that survived a few hunting seasons are no dummies. Do what you can to set up a stand in such a way that the prevailing wind direction is in your favour and not the bucks. Sometimes it may be necessary to set up two stands so you can switch locations if the wind should change direction.

Be Ready
Some hunters are so anxious to rattle a buck in that they start before they are ready to hunt. Big mistake and a sure recipe to be caught off guard. Always get ready to hunt first. Get comfortable in your stand, familiarize yourself with your immediate area, visualize the possible routes the buck might take, have the gun or bow ready to fire quickly if you have to and pick your shooting lanes.

While some bucks take their sweet time and sneak to your set up others will come rushing in like runaway trains. In the past I had encounters with sneaky bucks and the mad ones. In either case if you are not ready for them you might just as well sit by the campfire, the result amounts be the same. One time I barely put the antlers down and picked my bow up when I heard something that sounded a cattle stampede heading my way. The buck came running at full tilt, crashing over everything in his path, like there would be no tomorrow. He meant business and was ready to kick some butt. As fast he came as fast he was gone again before I could pull the string back on my bow. Another time I waited over a half hour and nothing stirred. I was about ready to move on to another stand when I noticed faint movement to one side of me. Raising my binoculars I spotted a buck stealthy as a Navy Seal, using every tree for cover, approaching my set up one slow step at a time. He never made a sound. I wish I could stalk like that.

Rattling done right
The grave mistake many hunters make when rattling is that they are too aggressive and rattle for to long. If you ever watched real bucks fight then you know that they do not get at each other with full force from the word “go”. Whenever possible animals, not only bucks, avoid physical confrontations. Animals instinctively know that fights could lead to injury or even death. To avoid this animals have developed behaviours to intimidate an opponent without having to resort to fighting. A fight is always reserved as a last ditch effort when all else fails.

Part of a whitetail deer buck’s pre-fight behaviour consists of pawing and stomping the ground with the front feet. Often bucks can be heard making deep guttural grunts as they paw the ground. This is usually followed with trashing the antlers violently against brush.

When this fails to impress bucks meet face to face, perhaps they circle around each other as to size each other up. By doing so they may gently engage their antlers in what is called “antler tickling”. As a few minutes pass without a decision of whose stronger the fight and antler engagement starts to increase in intensity and violence until one of the bucks runs out of steam or is defeated.

In my antler rattling I try to simulate the above scenario. Usually I start with a few buck grunts followed by stomping my feet on the ground and rake brush or tree trunks with the antlers. After that I usually wait a minute or two before start with gentle antler clicking and grinding. Slowly I increase the rattling intensity but never to the point of making sound like a full-blown fight of two giant bucks. As I rattle I move the antlers from side to side and behind me to make it sound like the bucks move about as they fight. There is another aspect of making rattling sound realistic that many hunters overlook. I never rattle from a tree stand because there is nothing natural about two bucks fighting high up in a tree. Deer have very sensitive hearing they can exactly pinpoint where sound is coming from.

I may rattle for up to 20 minutes with a few short breaks in between. During this breaks I pick up my bow or gun and listen carefully for any sound of an incoming buck. Always be ready to take first best shot that presents itself. A buck that comes to rattling never sticks around very long. As soon the buck arrives and sees no other deer he will be gone again.

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