Shake, Rattle, and Roll

rattlingThe sun shining on the frost covered golden rods in front of my tree stand caused the plants to sparkle like diamonds. A flock of geese was feeding in the cornfield directly ahead of me and I could hear their excited honking. A downy woodpecker tapped on the aspen tree above my head while seven deer fed and groomed each other in the golden rod field. The wind picked up and I shivered in the 25 degree temperature. I tried not to shake too much. I didn’t want the deer to see me or hear the chattering of my teeth. I had been watching them since 7:15 when they arrived, first a doe with two fawns that were still trying to nurse. Every time the fawns approached the doe she would lay hear ears back, extend her neck and threaten them. When this didn’t work she would charge them, kicking out with a foreleg. Then the fawns would run off, jumping playfully and the doe would go back to feeding.

Soon after the first deer arrived another doe with twins came out of the new growth aspen patch on my right and began feeding. They moved close to the other deer but not close enough to get involved with the playful fawns. Then a pair of yearling does came out of the weeds and stood near the end of the lane at the other end of the field seventy yards away. I watched the deer until 8:00 when they ambled into the wooded gully to my right, then to the oak woods where they bedded. I sat on the stand another fifteen minutes, hoping to see the eight point buck that traveled through this area on his daily rub route. He had made a scrape under the plum tree at the end of the lane near the lake. If the buck was late going back to his bedding area, as he often was, I might see him yet.

I didn’t see any more deer until 8:30 when two more does appeared near the scrape. I had been ready to leave but decided to watch the does. Just to see what would happen I rattled loudly. The does seemed not to hear the sound and I checked the rest of the field. Standing just across the wire fence fifty yards away, staring at the two does, stood the high racked four point buck I had seen the day before. I rattled again and he looked my way. I raised my binoculars for a better look. The young buck stared in my direction then suddenly looked toward the two does. I swung the binoculars in their direction. They had left but the big eight point was walking down the lane toward my stand. This was what the smaller buck was looking at. I checked the fence where he had been standing in time to see him disappear over the hill. He probably didn’t want to be around the bigger buck with so many does in the area.

I looked down the lane again. The eight point was still coming, now thirty yards away. Whether from the cold or excitement, my left leg began to shake uncontrollably. I tried to make it stop but it only seemed to get worse. I willed myself to quit shaking. Geez, he looked big, his neck swollen, his high, wide rack clearly visible as he walked down the lane. I wished for my camera but had I left it in the house a half mile away. With the bright sun I could have gotten some great pictures of the buck as he came in. He kept coming and finally stopped where the second doe had feed for a while, sniffing the ground and looking in the direction she had gone. He stood for a full minute, offering a broadside shot with nothing between us but air. But I was not hunting today, I was studying the deer just like I had been all season long.

The first time saw the buck it was two hundred yards away. I wondered what the buck would do if I rattled. The doe was walking with her tail up, clearly in estrus. I rattled anyhow, loud, smashing the racks together then grinding them hard. The buck paid no attention. He probably couldn’t hear the noise. I rattled again, as loud as I could. This time he looked my way, staring intently. He stood for a couple of minutes and as the doe and fawns disappeared into the oaks he followed them. I waited five minutes then rattled. Maybe I could get another buck to come in.

Five minutes later I rattled loudly for a minute. No deer appeared. It was getting late but I waited another five minutes and rattled one last time before leaving. After checking the area in front of me I put my binoculars in my pocket and heard a noise behind me. I turned just in time to see the eight pointer, tail waving good-bye, bound across the open cornfield. He had followed the woods around the corn and gotten downwind before coming into the open. If I had been more patient and observant I would have seen him. I looked at my watch. It had taken him twenty five minutes to come in, traveling at least two hundred and fifty yards the way he had come. Well, I had learned something. Be patient, be alert, expect deer from any direction, check the downwind side carefully before leaving the stand, and figure on at least twenty minutes for a buck to cover two hundred yards.

Rattling works best in areas with high buck concentrations. Feeding and staging areas near doe use areas often attract more than one buck. Try to be near a buck dominance area, a rubline or scrape, at a time when the buck may be passing through. If you are going to rattle try using more than one set of racks with different sounds. Don’t rattle the same buck from the same stand if it can be avoided, especially if you are discovered. Don’t rattle to the same buck on consecutive days. Use different stands every two to three days. Rattle from a blind or treestand where motion can’t be seen.

You can grunt or snort, rake a tree or bush, pound the ground and rustle leaves to simulate the sound of two bucks fighting. The sound of thrashing or raking a tree or bush is often enough to bring in a buck. This tactic works especially well on mule deer that rely on the sound of thrashing rather than grunting to express dominance. Use rattling in conjunction with scents and decoys to convince the buck there is or was another deer in the area.

If you rattle from a treestand use two sets of racks, one set tied to a rope hanging from your stand. By shaking the hanging rack you can keep the buck looking at the ground and away from your position. Keep human scent to a minimum and stay downwind of the area you expect the buck to come in. If you can position yourself so there is no cover downwind the buck will usually come in crosswind and be unable to pick up your scent. Be patient, it may take a wary buck a long time to come in. Be quiet and thoroughly check your hunting area before leaving, a buck may come in without you noticing.


T.R. Michels