BRAINERD, MINN. – Here’s something deer hunters should consider, whether they’re an archer or a firearms hunter anticipating the opener in a few weeks: Antler rattling can be an effective method for luring whitetail bucks.
Whitetail rut peaks in early November, but amorous bucks are already beginning to actively rub saplings and check scrapes. The bucks sense the does are nearing their estrous cycle.
Competition is fierce for the first few does that come into heat, and sometimes more than one dominant buck will find a doe to their liking. A fight may ensue, and the winner usually gains the favors of the doe. Other bucks hearing such a battle will often come to investigate, hoping to steal the prize while the combatants are occupied. Hunters try to simulate these events with antler rattling.
So, all a hunter needs to shoot a big buck is to stroll the woods banging a pair of antlers together?
There are several factors to consider.
Timing is critical. For example, if the woods are filled with does in estrous most of the bucks in the area will already be paired with a doe.
On the other hand, does are in heat only for a day or two, so as a particular doe passes out of her cycle, the tending buck will leave her and search for another. At that stage, the buck will be especially susceptible to rattling.
Hunters attempting 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. This hinders the effectiveness of antler rattling, because there is less competition for available does.
Under those conditions, bucks are seldom without a doe in heat and are less susceptible to rattling. By concentrating your efforts in remote areas or near refuges where there are, perhaps, a greater number of adult bucks, your odds of success will increase.
Choosing a rattling site is very important. All bucks responding to rattling will circle downwind as they approach. Be sure there is an open area or other land feature — such as the downwind side of a lake — to funnel approaching bucks in close.
Two hunters can use this to their advantage by positioning one hunter slightly ahead and upwind of the rattler to intercept circling bucks. The terrain and the amount of cover dictate how far apart the hunters should be.
Since bucks are actively seeking does this time of year, hunters should rattle in areas where the does concentrate. Oak ridges and flats where does are feeding on mast are particularly good spots to rattle. So are doe daytime bedding areas, usually located in the thickest cover in the area.
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.