Making noise: put some feeling, fire and fury into your rattling and grunt calling.
I was seriously thinking about heading for camp and a hot cup of coffee when I caught sight of a deer trotting along the far edge of the field over 300 yards away. My trusty 10 X 42s showed the deer was not only a buck but also a monster buck at that. Needless to say the cold and chill disappeared as my heart rate sped and my adrenaline level skyrocketed. The buck had his nose to the ground and was on the move as I quickly grabbed my rattling antlers and clashed them together. No reaction from the buck. I turned the antlers over and smashed them together as hard as I could several times and then grabbed my glasses to judge his reaction. The huge buck never broke stride as he turned my way and headed across 300 yards of open ground. I lost sight of him as he went behind the lower end of the ridge but had my bow firmly in hand when he appeared at 100 yards still headed my direction at full trot. What a buck! He had a wide, heavy beamed rack with tall massive tines.
The buck stopped 50 yards downhill where he couldn't see the decoy I had placed at the edge of the brush, just uphill from me. I eased my grunt call up, leaving the end of the tube inside my parka to muffle the sound and grunted several times. The buck immediately turned and headed my way. I jerked my bow to full draw and waited. He was angling away at 25 yards when another grunt with my voice stopped him. I then proceeded to send an arrow glancing off the backside of his hindquarter. I watched in total shock as the biggest buck of my career trotted nonchalantly up the distant hillside and proceeded to chase several does for over two hours. Dang whitetail bucks anyhow.
I'm firmly convinced that most bowhunters are unsuccessful in their rattling and calling attempts because they simply don't make enough noise. Deer don't hear the sounds or aren't attracted because of the low volume and lack of drama and intrigue.
Not many hunters are fortunate enough to hear bucks fight when the rivals are serious and trying their best to kill or maim each other. The noise and racket they create is stupendous. One of my Iowa bowhunting clients stated the sound that two bucks made on their initial contact, a hundred yards behind his tree stand, sounded like a Mack truck slamming head-on into an oak tree. According to him, there was no way a bowhunter could duplicate the volume and sheer intensity of this sound. After hearing and watching numerous "knock-down-drag-out" deer fights, I couldn't agree with the hunter more.
Deer rattling and calling got its jump-start in Texas where hunters rattled and called from high stands or trucks with high racks. These lofty stands allowed the noise to cover vast areas of relatively low growing brush country, where even low volume calling and rattling reached out and touched any deer in the vicinity. Many of the early articles I read on rattling and grunt calling promoted low volume and low intensity calling as the key to success. Once an idea gets a start it's hard to change it.
Deer habitat, that consists of heavily timbered hilly terrain where the landscape features, heavy vegetation, high humidity in the air, squirrelly wind conditions and even snow on brush and trees, has a tendency to absorb, distort and reduce sound travel. To be successful attacting deer in such areas, a hunter must put a lot more vim, vigor and vitality into their calling efforts if they are going to intrigue deer. In short, make more noise.
I've watched bucks jerk their heads up in reaction to rattling and grunt calling a mile away when the conditions were right. I've also watched deer that couldn't hear and didn't react to loud calling or rattling at 100 yards, when there was snow blanketing the area, a slight breeze and the deer upwind.
When I get in a deer stand morning or evening, pre-rut, rut or post rut, I always call or rattle at 20-30 minute intervals during my stay. Deer are social animals and even when they aren't in the rut they will often get curious about rattling or grunt calling and meander over for a closer look.
Each fall at our Iowa hunting camp we'll have a hunter or two from the Eastern part of the country show up with a pair of small, lightweight, six or eight point rattling antlers.
If you were 250 pounds of solid muscle and belligerently drinking in a bar with your girl friend, would you pay much attention to the 125-pound pip-squeak at the end of the bar eyeing your girl? Probably not. If that interloper was nearly equal in weight and size and maybe even a bit better looking and more outgoing, you'd probably keep closer tabs on him and check him out a lot more thoroughly and if he persisted you'd probably try to run him off. Well the same philosophy holds with whitetails.
A big, mature, dominant buck isn't going to get very excited or aggressive when he hears the sounds of a couple small bucks sparring or grunting. Increase the volume and intensity of that racket to portray a couple bucks that could well vie for his territory and his does and you've got a lot better chance of drawing him closer for a look.
My favorite rattling antlers are a hefty pair of eight points with the brow tines sawed off and ground down to alleviate smashed knuckles. They have fairly long tines, which I like to tickle the points together when I get a buck in close and at the end of a rattling session. I've used various rattling bags and synthetic antlers and they will work, but for my money, nothing beats a good solid set of real antlers. I don't soak the antlers or oil them as some hunters' recommend but I do hang them where it is dry and cool during the off-season. My rattling antlers are connected by a stout, nylon cord, that runs through a hole drilled in the base of the antler and is then knotted. The cord is just the right length to allow me to wrap the antlers around my waist and interlock the tines for easily accessible and yet out of the way carrying when I am still-hunting. These antlers are just the right size to fit in the large pouch of my daypack.
I've used about every grunt call on the market and all work well when bucks are in the mood to cooperate. However, when it gets down to really grabbing their attention, I use a big grunt call with an amplifying bell on it to increase volume and reach. I've also cut the bell off a coyote howler and used it in conjunction with several of my other grunt and bleat calls. When the bucks get close I switch to my favorite call that pins to the outside of my parka with a slim rubber tube that runs to my collar. The rubber call tube can be positioned so all I have to do is turn my head a bit and get the tube in the corner of my mouth. The call is adjustable from a deep buck grunt to fawn bleat. The call is actuated by sucking or inhaling, so it won't freeze up in the cold. This superb call is ideal for hunters and can be operated easily while at full draw to stop a buck in his tracks or entice him out from behind a tree or bush and all of this without the slightest visible movement on the hunters part.
Last fall I was rattling bucks for photography one day where I had several bowhunting clients holding out in tree stands. I was wearing a Rancho Safari shaggy suit that does an incredible job of making you disappear into your surroundings. I was comfortably situated on a ridge top when I started rattling gently. I was surrounded by heavily laden apple trees and right above a dense bedding area. It doesn't get much better than that. Within a minute of my first rattling sequence, a nice 130-class eight-point popped over the ridge, fully intent on finding the source of the sound. He was only 40 yards out, so I slipped the tube of the call in the corner of my mouth and gave a couple soft social grunts. The buck started moving my way and I kept grunting softly. The slight morning breeze was drifting across the ridge from the buck to me so there wasn't a chance of him smelling me. I wanted to test the effectiveness of the camouflage, so I kept grunting softly as he edged closer and closer. He finally stopped within five feet and I could easily count his eyelashes. He was totally intrigued by the soft grunts emanating from the amorphous clump in front of him. I couldn't resist the atavistic impulse to add to his education in a way he wouldn't soon forget. He was head down with his nose only a few feet from my boots when I lunged at him with a yowl. The panicked buck covered thirty feet in the first jump and was probably still running an hour later. There are times when soft, persistent calling can also do the trick.
Volume is a key factor in getting a buck to respond to your noise but equally important is calling intensity. I've listened to a number of bowhunters rattling and calling and then have a strong tendency toward making repetitious and hum drum sounds. Put some feeling, fire and fury into your rattling efforts and some pleading and dynamism in your grunt calling. When two bucks are sparring or fighting there is no rhyme or rhythm to the whacking, clacking and clatter of their antlers so vary your rattling from short series of intense, loud rattling to long lackadaisical tickling series. Every series should be different in volume, length and intensity. If you can keep yourself interested in your antics there's a good chance you can do the same for a buck.
Quite often in the middle of a rattling series I'll stop and vigorously scrape my rattling antlers up and down the trunk of a tree. This is also a good tactic to utilize when an incoming buck hangs up or appears to lose interest. Variety is not only the spice of life it also makes deer respond to your rattling and calling.
Last fall the three largest bucks taken on our bowhunting leases were taken by rattling. None of the hunters got a response to their rattling until they were making as much noise as they could with their antlers, so don't be the quiet sneaky archer you were taught to be. Get out there and make noise, the results might surprise you.
Editor's Note: For an autographed copy of Judd's comprehensive new book on decoying big game, predators, and turkeys (Decoying Big Game) send $24.95 plus $5.00 S & H to Judd Cooney, PO Box 808, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147.
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|Date:||Nov 1, 2004|
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