BIG DEER’s Ultimate Guide To Rattling In Bucks

rattle compressDr. Mick Hellickson, one of the top deer scientists in America, conducted a three-year project on whitetail behavior and antler rattling on a 10,000 ranch in South Texas. The deer population was healthy and the buck:doe ratio was near 1:1. His researchers rattled in two-man teams during all three phases of the rut each November and December. When a buck came in, they noted the time, weather, etc., and videotaped each deer so later they could estimate its age and rack score.

I mention that Mick’s research was conducted more than a decade ago, which has been a good thing for me. It has allowed me to compare and analyze the study’s key points against my field notes and observations as I’ve hunted and rattled across America these last years. Read on and you will see that my real-world hunting pretty much jibes with Mick’s findings, with minor variations here and there.

When to Rattle: Over the three-year period, the researchers rattled 171 times at different locations and pulled in 111 bucks. A response rate of 65 percent is impressive, but the best info is found inside the numbers.

Mick says, “The peak of the rut is by far the best time to rattle in the most bucks, the most numbers.” During the wild days, when frenzied bucks troll and/or chase, 65 bucks responded to 60 rattling sequences—a 108 percent response rate. Sometimes two or three bucks charged or circled into their rattles. On two occasions, eight different bucks responded.

While you might certainly rattle in a big deer that is feeling his oats and rutting early, say around October 20, I believe your chances are much better if you wait to rattle until November 1, and then keep it up until just before Thanksgiving.  This way you don’t burn out your best spots and stands before most testosterone-addled bucks get in the mood to hear your fights and come in.

For years I have shouted to anyone who would listen that the first 10 days the post-rut (late November into early December in most areas) are one of the best times to rattle up a big buck. The post-rut is when Hellickson’s crew rattled up the most mature animals. Of the 29 bucks that responded to 51 rattling sequences during this phase, 10 were 5½ years old, and another 10 were 3 ½ to 4 ½. Easy lesson: Don’t give up on your rattling too soon!

Time to Rattle: You’ll have your best luck in the mornings. This has played out so many times for me in recent years that I rarely carry my horns in the afternoon anymore. And the science confirms it. Sixty of 111 bucks (67 percent) that the researchers banged in came to the horns between 7:30 and 10:30 a.m. Cool days with 75 percent cloud cover and little or low wind speed were best.

How to Rattle: “If you aren’t exhausted after a sequence, you didn’t rattle hard enough,” said Hellickson. He and his crew rattled aggressively 85 times and attracted 81 bucks. Their 86 shorter, quieter sequences pulled in only 30. The length of a rattling session didn’t matter much. Both one- and three-minute volleys lured an equal number of bucks.

This jibes with my hunting, because I rarely spar the horns or rattle lightly anymore. I used to, but horn sparring and tinkling never seemed to work for me. Besides, the fun of it is to go out in the rut, bang and grind the heck out of the horns, bust and rake some brush, and then wait quietly in anticipation of what might happen.

Expectations: As compared to the Texas ranch where Mick did his work, the private or public ground you and I hunt will hold fewer mature bucks, and likely the buck:doe ratio won’t be so good. Still, use the research as a guide to rattle on. Climb into a tree stand or sit hidden on a ridge on a cool, still morning from early November on, and keep trying it through the first week of December. Don’t rattle every day, just select days when the weather is right and the bucks are rutting. Whack the horns, lay them down, keep still and scan the woods. Oh yeah, have your bow or gun ready, a big buck might just be coming.

Rattle Setup Tips: An hour or after sunrise, move toward thick-cover areas where you know or think bucks hide out and rattle…. Always approach and set up from downwind before you crack the horns…. Set up on a downwind edge of cover where you are hidden, but where you can see well…. Sit on a low ridge, bank or similar vantage (but don’t skyline); during the Texas rattling study, researchers in towers saw every buck that came to the horns, while rattlers on flat ground were lucky to see half the bucks. Get elevated…. Sit with the rising sun and good cover behind you…. Make sure you can see reasonably well to either side downwind, as many bucks circle with the wind to try and sniff out the fighters.  Carry a wind-checker and test the breeze often. If it starts to swirl and turn bad as the sun heats up the ground—very common–back out and move to a better setup.

Best Rattling Horns: I’ve tried a variety of real and synthetic horns, and most of the rattle bags and gadgets. Any one of them will work if you catch a rutting buck in the right mood to respond. But I like the real antlers of a 130- to 140-class buck, which to me have just the right mass and heft to feel good and sound good. Saw off the brow tines and wear leather gloves to keep from mashing fingers.

Nebraska Girl Shoots Biggest Buck

NE kayla buckToday’s great guest blog from Tony Woodruff:

Mike: Just wanted to send a quick story about a hunt a few weekends ago.

I took my 13 year old daughter bowhunting on the family farm up in north-central Nebraska. We couldn’t get to the primary location that I wanted to hunt Saturday morning because of the wind, so we hunted a field edge and only saw some does and fawns.

I slipped into a draw that afternoon where I hoped there would be evening activity, set up a pop-up blind and brushed it in. We went back to the blind with a little over 2 hours of daylight left. We were in the blind getting our chairs situated when I looked up and spotted a deer at the edge of the trees about 60 yards away. He appeared to be a good buck.

We quickly got situated where I thought he might come by and got ready. We didn’t have to wait long…he soon started down the trail that would take him right by us. Just as he stepped out of the brush he spotted the blind and stopped 25 yards away, looking right at us.  He hesitated just long enough for Kayla to make the lethal shot with her crossbow. This all transpired within about 10 minutes of us getting to the blind.

Since I am cursed with being color blind I have a very hard time seeing blood. We recruited some help to track him. It took about an hour as he didn’t leave a great blood trail, but I finally spotted him in a thicket.

He was by far Kayla’s biggest of the three bucks she has taken. I was deployed last year and we didn’t get the chance to hunt, so my daughter taking such a great buck this season made it even more special.  It’s such a great feeling to be able to pass on the thrill of the hunt to my kids. Kayla’s smile says it all.–Tony

Breaking: Will 311” Illinois Buck Be New Archery World Record?

Illinois 311 buck2018 will go down as a tremendous rack year, as some giants are being shot across North America. Will it also be the year the record is broken for the highest-scoring whitetail buck ever killed with a bow?

This picture has been all over social media. Here’s a report from a source I trust:

This buck was killed in Edgar County, Illinois between Paris and Chrisman by a disabled Veteran Luke Brewster of Virginia. His close friend was hunting the buck and he came down and got a shot on him his first day on the hunt. The deer was 100% free range and legal after being investigated by the IDNR.

It has 39 countable points and green scored 311” shattering the non-typical whitetail Illinois state record.

The current archery world record is 294″ taken in Ohio in 2000….Illinois current archery non typical record is 267 1/8″ taken in 2003 by Davy Jones. Time will tell where this Prairie State Giant nets out at.

NEED YOUR HELP: If Luke is indeed from Virginia, my home state, I’d like to talk with him asap about this giant. I have cameramen coming here to Fauquier County November 13-20 to film with me, and we’d love to hook up with Luke and interview him for my TV show, BIG DEER. If anybody knows Luke, tell him to track me down, or send me his contact info. Thanks.

Oklahoma: Early-Rut Blackpowder Buck

OK Brian HOdge 2018Today’s guest blog from Brian out in Southeast Oklahoma:

This buck first showed up on my game cameras October 21st. Didn’t know him and had never seen him before. Then he was on camera again the morning of October 29 at 6:00 a.m. I hunted that evening and saw some younger bucks and does but no mature bucks. One young buck was pushing does around and grunting and roaring, so I knew they were rutting in the area. When I slipped out I left most of my equipment in the tree so I could slip in as quietly as possible the next morning.

The wind was iffy the morning of October 30th. It was warm but I had that feeling that I needed to be there. Shortly after daylight I heard him coming through the timber behind me and got ready. The buck popped out into the field at 10 yards. He caught my wind and started to leave fast. He got behind some cedars and I thought he was gone. Luckily he stayed on the edge of the field and stopped to look back one last time.

He was quartering away hard, but I made the shot and he only ran about 70 yards before going down. I was self-filming the hunt, and in my panic I didn’t hit the record button! I was bummed I didn’t get the shot on film but I didn’t let it get me down because he’s a great buck and it was a great hunt.

I was thankful and blessed to have the opportunity to hunt and take this buck. He’s my best blackpowder buck to date and my second best buck overall.– Brian Hodge, Caddo, Oklahoma.