Deer hunters have a lot of things to consider before hitting the woods. Here is one more: Antler rattling, whether you’re an archer or a firearms hunter anticipating the Minnesota opener Saturday. Antler rattling is an effective method to lure white-tail bucks into shooting range.
The white-tail rut peaks in early to mid-November. Romantic bucks are actively rubbing saplings and checking scrapes. Bucks sense does are nearing their estrus cycle.
Rivalry among bucks is furious for the first few does that come into heat, and sometimes more than one dominant buck will find a doe to its liking. A fight may ensue, with the winner usually allowed to breed with the doe. Other bucks hearing such a battle often arrive to investigate, hoping to steal the prize while the combatants are occupied. Hunters try to duplicate this event by antler rattling.
So, a hunter need only bang a pair of antlers to bring in a big buck for the kill?
There are several factors to consider.
Timing is critical. For example, most of the bucks will not respond to rattling if a lot of does are in the area and the bucks have already paired up.
On the other hand, does are only in heat for about a day. So, as a particular doe passes out of her cycle, the tending buck will leave her and search for another receptive doe. The buck will be especially vulnerable to rattling at that time.
Hunters who attempt to “rattle” bucks will have the best luck in areas with a reasonable adult buck-to-doe ratio. Minnesota’s deer herd is skewed highly toward does and immature bucks. Fewer competitors for the available does negate rattling’s effectiveness.
Thus, bucks are seldom without a doe in heat during peak rutting times, and are less vulnerable to rattling. Concentrate your efforts in remote areas or near refuges where there are, perhaps, a greater number of adult bucks to increase your odds of success.
Choosing a rattling site is extremely important. Nearly all bucks responding to the sound will circle downwind as they approach. Be sure there is an open area or other feature — such as a lake — on the downwind side to funnel approaching bucks in closely.
Two hunters can use this tactic to their advantage. One of them can stay slightly ahead and upwind of the rattler to intercept circling bucks. The terrain and the amount of cover should dictate the distance between the hunters.
Because bucks are actively seeking does, hunters should rattle in areas where does concentrate. Oak ridges and flats where does feed on acorns are particularly good spots; so are daytime bedding areas. The point is to rattle in locations that are known doe hideouts.
I begin a rattling sequence by banging the antlers together hard and then grinding them to simulate two bucks with their antlers engaged. Occasionally I’ll dart back and forth to rustle the leaves, stomp my feet and break branches to reproduce an all-out battle.
How energetic do you make your rattling? I have had the best luck with very aggressive rattling.
Over the years, I have found the largest bucks seem to respond to rattling with the most direct approach. Often they come with hair standing on end, saliva hanging from their chins, and tongues flicking in and out of their mouths. It’s a very exciting moment.
This deer hunting season, don’t discount rattling, especially if you hunt remote regions or areas with little hunting pressure where bucks have a chance to live to maturity.
Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.