Bone-hard antlers crash together, rattle and grind. Hooves pound the dirt, bushes thrash wildly. It's an all-out buck fight.
Only in this case, it's a fake battle. The reason it's fake is because you created the sounds by banging a pair of sawed-off antlers together, scraping bushes and banging the horns on the ground. If you're lucky, within 5-10 minutes, a buck may come sneaking to check out the raucous commotion or racing in at a full speed gallop.
Of all the ways to harvest a buck during the rut, none gets the adrenaline pumping like rattling. And few tactics are more effective. Just ask James McMurray, of Louisiana. The first time he rattled in 1994 he killed a 281 6/8 non-typical whitetail -- on public land.
Rattling entices some bucks bristling for a fight and others more interested in the hot doe that caused the battle. Others may come simply from curiosity. Some slip in warily while others rush in at full speed.
The bucks will come most often from downwind. Set up where you have a good viewing area for 50 to 100 yards in that direction, but also some cover. Prime areas to rattle include oak flats or broken fields with cedar or scrub brush scattered about. Find these near semi-open doe bedding and feeding areas, where bucks will be concentrated during the rut.
You'll have the best luck with this tactic if you use it with a partner. Position the shooter 15 to 50 yards down wind of the rattler.
This solves one of the main problems a 1994 study in Texas by biologist Dr. Mickey Hellickson found with the tactic. Hunters couldn't see 57 percent of the bucks that came in to the sound of the horns because they were hidden back in cover.
Use real antlers if you have them, synthetics as a fall-back. Rattling boxes and bags work reasonably well, but can't offer the diversity of sounds you can get with a real pair of "horns."
If you suspect a buck might be very close, try a light, low-key sequence initially. Otherwise it's best to rattle loud and hard. (The same Texas study found loud rattling produced best of all).
Clack the two halves of the rack together hard once to begin the sequence, like two bucks initially making contact. After that, twist them to create a realistic grinding sound. Follow that with lots of short wrist-turning and clattering to make that distinctive "rattling" sound. Pause to pound the ground with the antlers occasionally. Thrash the bushes around you for added realism.
Rattle for one to three minutes and then pause for 10-15 minutes. Rattle again. If nothing comes after the second sequence, move to a fresh area or wait a half hour if you're on stand, then try again.
Top Times to Rattle: Mornings are best for rattling. Evenings are second best. Cold, cloudy weather helps. Rattling draws in the most bucks during the rut, according to the Texas study. The biggest and oldest bucks, however, came in during the post-rut. Right now deer are still breeding, but close to being done and moving into the post-rut stage, so rattling should be particularly productive at this time.
When not to use: Avoid hot, sunny midday conditions. Strong swirling winds make it hard for bucks to hear the sound and pinpoint your location. For safety reasons, don't rattle when lots of other hunters are in the area near you. And whenever you rattle, always be sure to wear blaze orange.
With all of the excitement of deer season, it's a good time to draw attention to an amazing book that has just been released by the Boone & Crockett Club. This organization, founded by Theodore Roosevelt in 1887, keeps records of the most notable big game animals harvested. They come out with publications every few years detailing those records. The latest one is a superb book just devoted to whitetail deer.
It's called "Records of North American Whitetail Deer." How special is a record book deer? Well this year, for instance, about one in 20,000 hunters will be lucky enough to bag a Boone & Crockett buck.
But the fact is record book bucks are more common today than they were in previous generations. Whitetails are thriving under careful management and regulations, and as more hunters are choosing to let young deer walk and grow to their fullest potential.
The new book details all the important facts about 12,254 whitetail trophies ranked according to their scores. This includes previous entries as well as 4,692 new ones that were taken since the last edition came out, in 2003. Among those are 34 new state and provincial records.
The book also includes photos of many of these outstanding specimens and interesting chapters by biologist and whitetail hunting experts. You'll find fresh, new insights on deer breeding behavior, management strategies east and west, regional trends in trophy whitetail entries and how emerging technology is affecting whitetail conservation.
It's a hardcover book, 8x10 inches and retails for $34.95, from boone-crockett.org or by calling 888/840-4868.
-- Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.