Rattling’s Bottom Line

It does not matter if it is Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee or Wisconsin, wherever I am doing a seminar with the topic, “Rattling, Calling and Decoying Deer,” you can bet the house that when the seminar is over I’ll have a hunter come up to me, look me in the eye and say, “Rattlin’ don’t work like that around these parts.”

I look them in the eye and say, “It does so, I’ve done it.”

Gary Clancy

I’ve hunted whitetail deer in 20 different states and provinces and have rattled in deer in over half of them. The only reason I didn’t rattle in any bucks in the other states or provinces is that I was hunting in those places at the wrong time of the year. Make no mistake, rattling will work no matter where you hunt whitetail deer. How well it works, as in how many bucks are gong to come running to the clattering of antlers, depends upon four factors. One is buck to doe ratio. Two is timing. Three is hunting pressure. And four is realistic expectations. Here is the bottom line on all four.

Buck To Doe Ratio
Competition for breeding rights is what brings a mature buck to the hammering of rattlin’ horns. Little guys might show up just out of curiosity, but for the bucks, which do the breeding, it’s all about sex. The more competition in the area you are hunting the more dramatic your rattling results will be. If the buck to doe ratio is in the one adult buck for every two or three adult does in the population, you can expect some dramatic results with the horns. As the numbers go up your success will go down. It is that simple.

You might rattle in a buck at anytime during the season, but your best odds by far occur during the scraping period of the rut. From the time bucks begin making their pawed out calling cards right up until the does are in heat, rattling success just gets better and better. The week just prior to the breeding period of the rut (the time when the bulk of the does enter estrous) is prime time for rattling. By now bucks are a basket case. They are constantly on the prowl for receptive does. Anything that looks, smells or sounds like it might lead to an encounter with a hot doe is eagerly investigated.

Once does are in estrous rattling success drops off big time. Rare is the mature buck, which is going to leave a hot doe to check out a couple of bucks fighting. You can still rattle in some immature bucks during this period, but it is rare for a big one to respond.

Late in the rut, when most of the does have been bred is another window of opportunity for the persistent horn shaker. Hot does are few and far between during the waning days of the rut. The breeder bucks are worn out and tired, but they are still willing. Some very large bucks are rattled in and killed by never-say-die rattlers during this period.

For the rest of the season, forget rattling; it will scare more bucks than it is likely to attract.

Hunting Pressure
When hunting pressure is high, such as on opening weekend of the gun season, bucks are more concerned about evading hunters than they are about responding to rattling antlers. If there are lots of hunters in the woods you will rattle in more hunters than deer. But by mid-week, hunter numbers have thinned out. Now is the time to start banging the bones.

Bowhunters have the advantage when it comes to rattling. Not only is interference from other hunters rare in bowhunting, but archers usually have a chance to be hunting during the prime rattling period.

Realistic Expectations
If you watch hunting videos or hunting shows on TV and see Mr. Ego slamming those horns together and having bucks come running from all directions, it is pretty easy to become disillusioned when you try rattling a couple of times and nothing happens.

But in the real world the truth is that most of the time when you rattle nothing is going to happen. That’s right, I said nothing will happen. Even if you are hunting in an area where the buck to doe ratio is not out of whack. And you have the area all to yourself and the bucks are tripping all over themselves looking for a hot doe; you are still not going to have a buck run you over each time you do a rattling sequence.

What are realistic expectations? In most of the areas I hunt in the Midwest, if I am rattling at prime time, I expect to rattle in a buck per day. And I’m talking about hunting all day, not just an hour or so in the morning and again in the evening. The most bucks I’ve ever rattled up in one day while hunting in the Midwest (it happened to be in Wisconsin) was six. I’ve rattled in five on two different occasions. But I have had a lot of days, even when conditions appeared to be ideal, when I rattled hard and never brought in a single buck.

I don’t know everything there is to know about rattling in deer. Nobody does. But I do know this. If you are persistent there will come a time when a buck comes in to your horns. When that time comes, whether you kill that buck or not, you, like me, will be hooked on horn rattling.

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