Rattling In Big Bucks Provides a Thrill Unlike Any Other
Rattling and grunting can lure bucks from September through January. But there's no doubt that the tactics work best during the breeding season, and especially during the two-week scraping phase that I call the "hard pre-rut." A sexually frustrated buck on the prowl for the first hot doe of the year is stoked to come to your grunts or mock fights.
Finally, calling can work anywhere in North America, from Alberta to Virginia to Georgia. But again there's a caveat. Rattling and grunting work best on private, tightly posted and intensively managed lands where the buck-to-doe ratio is near 1:1. On such a place the rut is short and intense, and there is keen competition among mature bucks for the sexual favors of the relatively few does. But most of us hunt places where the sex ratio of whitetails is not so balanced, where fewer mature bucks live per square mile and where the hunting pressure is less controlled. Still, hang in there and keep rattling and grunting until you strike a big deer pumped to respond.
1. The Salad Bowl Approach
Bucks grunt, snort and wheeze as they fight. A hot doe with a grunting buck on her tail might bleat. You get the idea. Mix your calls. The more rutting sounds you throw out there during the late pre-rut and into the chase stage, the better the chances that one of the calls will strike a buck and pull it in.
2. Horn Hangin' Trick
Tie one end of a 20-foot rope to a set of rattling horns. Climb into a treestand, carry the loose end of the rope up with you and tie it off to a stand brace within easy reach. The rope shouldn't have too much slack, and the horns should rest on the ground beneath your perch. Let's say a buck cruises into view an hour later, just out of bow or shotgun range. Well, pull and twitch the rope. The horns will clack like two bucks sparring. The "hangin' horns" trick cuts down on movement in a stand. A buck that focuses on the sparring at ground level might not look up and bust you as it sneaks in.
3. The Ultimate Scent Trap
I use a lot of buck lure when rattling and grunting late in the pre-rut. I soak boot pads and lay a rutting-buck trail into a calling site. Then I walk around my stand a couple of times. Finally I hang the boot pads (or wicks misted with fresh buck juice) on a tree limb to either side of my stand and 20 to 50 yards downwind, depending on whether I'm archery or gun hunting.
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It stinks where I call, and that's the way I like it. When a buck responds to rattling or tending grunts, it expects to smell other deer. Many times a big deer will circle downwind of calling to sniff out a buck fight or a buck-tending-a-doe scenario. That's why the scent-posts are out there. I want a buck to smell 'em and stop before it gets downwind and busts me.
Any brand of buck lure will do. One that I like and use a lot is Tink's Tarsal Gland and Trophy Buck Lure, which combines both tarsal and interdigital secretions. In addition to masking your scent, the strong-smelling odor of a rutting buck might induce another buck to come in and check out your calling.
4. The Tick and Grind
During archery season in late September or early October, spar to mimic a couple of subdominant bucks jousting with their antlers and feeling each other out in the social order. Tick and grind a set of horns (or work a rattle bag or box) for 60 seconds or even up to three minutes. A live sparring match (not an all-out fight) between bucks sometimes lasts that long. In many areas sparring is more effective than hard rattling because it appeals to 1 1/2- to 2 1/2-year-old bucks, the ones most likely to come in and gawk at your calls. But the tick and grind can lure alpha bucks as well. A stud deer might shudder at the thought of two subordinates roughhousing. If it runs in to show who's the man, you might get a shot.
5. Rattle Near Does
If a spot has fresh rubs, scrapes and big tracks, great. But concentrate as much or more on doe feeding and bedding areas — lightly pressured food plots and oak woods in the afternoons, and deep-woods thickets and similar security spots in the mornings. Bucks hang around those areas a lot, especially late in the pre-rut. When you rattle or grunt near does you increase the odds of a buck hearing your calls and coming in for a peek.
6. Focus On Big Funnels or Bottoms
Don't outsmart yourself and look for too much cover or too much smoking sign. Sometimes, especially when rifle hunting, it pays to simply set up where you can watch a big chunk of country. Does on the brink of estrous run draws, hollows and the brushy edges of creeks and rivers every day. Where hot does travel bucks are sure follow. The more ground you can see, the better the chance that you'll spot a cruising buck. Use sharp rattling to reach out and touch a deer in a big funnel or bottom, and try to reel it close with more rattles or some grunts.
7. Try It in a Ridge Thicket
Try calling on high ground laced with brush, honeysuckle or similar cover. Many bucks bed and travel in and around ridge thickets, so you're in good position to start with. Also, you should have a good view of funnels, flats or fields below. The kicker: The wind and thermals are normally fairly steady and predictable on a ridge, so if you set up smartly, deer are less apt to smell you. Bucks like to work the steady winds as they prowl around and scent-check for does, so it's a perfect scenario to strike 'em with rattles or grunts.
8. Stick Tight to a Barrier
I've saved the best for last. Whenever possible, put some type of terrain barrier 50 yards or so behind your treestand or ground blind. Some examples: a thick windrow, a deep river, a steep bluff or a fenced pasture. We've mentioned several times that mature bucks like to circle downwind to get a whiff of fighting or grunting deer. But if you can block a circling buck with a barrier, you force him to approach your calls from the side or out front where it can't wind you and spook.
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