loading animation
loading animation enlarged image

Larry Weishuhn Shows You How To Rattle

How To Make Rattling Bucks Work

by Larry Weishuhn  - Originally Posted by Sporting Classics Daily

Synthetic rattling "tools" work equally well when bucks are truly responding to rattling.

Q:  I want to learn more about rattling in whitetail bucks. When is the best time of the year, the best time of the day, the best technique and do I need big or small antlers for rattling?  I’ve tried rattling many times but have never rattled in a buck.  I’ve even tried rattling when I saw a buck, but only scared him away. I recently moved to the lower Texas Panhandle where I can take either a mule deer or whitetail. Does rattling work on mule deer? I lived and hunted in southern Michigan and western Pennsylvania when I previously tried rattling.  Archie D.

A: Rattling, simulating or rather duplicating two bucks in combat, is undoubtedly one of the most exciting and satisfying ways to attract a whitetail buck.  To me, there is nothing more exciting than having a rut-crazed buck respond to the sound of two bucks fighting.  But with that said, there are also times when rattling can be quite frustrating because all it seems you are doing is making noise.

One of the questions that is often associated with your query is, “Why are bucks attracted to the sound of two bucks fighting?”  No simple answer there. Some will tell you a buck responds in hopes of stealing the doe the two bucks are fighting over.  Some, too, will tell you it’s over home territory. Others will expound upon bucks fighting is all about establishing a hierarchy, or simply bucks fighting to prove their local worth.

There are few “greater thrills” when hunting than rattling in whitetail bucks

The late pre-rut and rut are a time when bucks’ veins are being coursed by great amounts of testosterone, which causes them to be in search of receptive does and keeps them in a highly and easily irritated and agitated mood. Do not forget, too, that by their very nature, whitetail deer are curious.

Frankly, to me it makes no real difference why bucks respond to the sounds of two bucks fighting during their “moon of madness.”  What is important to me is that they do!

Most of a male deer’s life and antler development is controlled by changing levels of testosterone. Testosterone levels slowly increase in late winter, early after a dramatic drop in the hormone during late winter that causes antlers to be shed or cast. Then spring antler development begins and the sex hormone levels slowly increase.

Once the antlers are totally developed and hardened, an additional increase in the male hormone causes the blood vessels that “fed” the growing antlers to constrict.  Velvet on their fully grown antlers dries and starts to crack.  Bucks start rubbing it off of their fully hardened antlers.  As the velvet comes off, it is often eaten by the buck.

The testosterone level continues increasing. Bucks that a few days ago were friendly companions now can hardly stand the sight of each other and do not tolerate another buck being near them.  As the approaching rut or breeding season approaches, they become irritable and start sparring.  Testosterone levels continues increasing, and bucks spend much time rubbing antlers on trees and brush to strengthen neck and shoulder muscles for upcoming battle.

Next, they begin making scrapes. Testosterone levels climb higher, does start coming into estrus and the rut, or breeding season, is underway.

As winter comes on and bucks having bred most of the does, the testosterone level decreases and bucks start thinking more about winter survival than procreation.  Aggression between them essentially stops.  Testosterone levels drop to an annual low, and antlers are cast, or dropped. In a few days, the sex hormone starts increasing once again and the antler development cycle is repeated.

Why this initial explanation?  Because as mentioned, testosterone controls the buck’s life and has much to do with bucks responding to rattling horns.

I personally start rattling for bucks as soon as I see the first active scrape in the fall.

I have used both synthetic and real antlers. Frankly I prefer real antlers, those of size with longer tines and massive beams. I like big matched sets of whitetail or mule deer shed antlers with four forward points, not counting browtines.  With big rattling horns I can make relatively quiet “timid” noise, or much louder “mortal combat” noise.  With small rattling horns I can only make “timid” sounds.

Rattling works essentially throughout the time that bucks are in “hard antler,” but the technique works best during the late pre-rut, good during the rut and occasionally good during early post-rut.

During the early pre-rut, bucks spend a lot of time rubbing antlers on trees and brush, so that’s what I do with my rattling horns during that time.  As bucks head into the pre-rut, they start sparring.  Two bucks will put their racks together and timidly push against each other. With the approaching later pre-rut, fights become much more serious and aggressive. Fights may last a matter of mere seconds to as long as eight or more hours.  I have seen two mature bucks stay antlers intertwined for as long as eight hours before one finally broke away.  Neither wants to turn tail and run, because the one that retreats will likely have his backside raked with the winning buck’s antlers.

With the approaching later pre-rut, fights become much more serious and aggressive. Fights may last a matter of mere seconds to as long as eight or more hours.

During this time, bucks tend to be vocal, often grunting as they walk through the woods and brush.  Upon encountering another buck, one or the other quite often does a snort-wheeze, a “fit, fit,fit,ffffeeeeeeeeeeee” sort of hissing sound. This is most aggressive sound a whitetail buck makes, not unlike a challenging call stating, “Buddy, if you don’t turn around and leave right now, I’m going to badly whip you!”

When two sizeable bucks fight, they make a tremendous amount of noise, pushing each other around over brush, into trees and ground litter.  During the late pre-rut and early truly active rut period, I not only rattle horns, I snort-wheeze before rattling, then bang and mesh my rattling horns together, grunt, kick the ground and try to make as much noise as possible.  Sometimes I’ll do so for ten to thirty seconds.  Other times I’ll do so for three or more minutes.

During the post-rut I tend to rattle less aggressively than during the late pre-rut and rut.

Essentially I try to do what is happening in the deer world at the time I am hunting.

Mature bucks often tend to respond to rattling very slowly, as did this mature Texas whitetail.
Photos – Larry Weishuhn Outdoors

I rattle throughout the day.  I have learned over the years of rattling throughout much of North America that sometimes bucks respond only for a short period of time during the day.  If I rattle and nothing appears, I wait for thirty of so minutes and try it again, this if I am sitting where I plan on staying all day long.   If I have sufficient territory to hunt, where I can get up and roam around, I rattle off and on for three to ten minutes then wait another thirty before moving to a new location 300 or more yards distant.  If the wind is blowing really hard, I might rattle closer to where I previously did.

After I finish my rattle sequence, which could conclude with a snort-wheeze, I stay at least a half hour before moving. I learned over the years that quite often big, mature bucks are slower at responding than younger ones.

I like rattling near rubs and scrapes, dense or bedding cover, near food sources and sometimes where I do not expect a self-respecting mature whitetail buck should be!

Setting up where you can see downwind with quartering shooting lanes to the left and right is important.  Bucks almost always tend to circle to get directly downwind of where the rattling sounds are coming from, which is why I like shooting lanes to the left and right of directly downwind.  Since I have started using Texas Raised Hunting Products’ Scent Guardian spray, I have had bucks directly downwind of me that were unable to scent me.

I use shooting sticks on which I can rest and balance my Ruger rifle or handgun loaded with Hornady ammo and topped with a Trijicon scope or sight.  This gives me easy and ready access to get on target.

Larry prefers using natural rattling “horns” with nice long tines, main beams, at least 4 points per side, brownies cut off. Hunting with a friend, in this case Blake Barnett, Larry hopes to rattle up a buck.

In rattling, usually the first to respond are younger bucks ­— those three years old or less.  Mature bucks generally, although not always, are slower and more cautious in responding, but I have seen five- and six-year-old bucks come charging in, hair on end, ears laid back, eyes bugged, slobbering and ready for a fight.

Rattling horns are more successful where there are a goodly number of bucks to hear the sounds.  The more bucks that hear the sound of two bucks fighting, the greater the chance one of more will come investigate.  Often it is stated you have to have a buck-to-doe ratio of at least one buck to three does or narrower for rattling to be successful because there is more competition for does.  I agree rattling success is higher where there is a tight buck-to-doe ratio. but I do not think it has anything to do with competition for does; to me it simply has to do with the fact that there are more bucks and the chances of one hearing the fight and responding to it is better.  I have rattled up more bucks where the buck-to-doe ratio is narrow, but I have also rattled in bucks where the buck-to-doe ratio was to one buck per twenty does.

With all that behind us.  The best time to rattle horns is during the late pre-rut and early serious rut when bucks are more active and their sex hormone levels are at their annual peak.  The best time of the day varies from day to day, thus one of the reasons for rattling off and on throughout the day.  As mentioned, I prefer massive, long-tined rattling horns, browtines removed so I do not jab them into me.   Both synthetic and real antlers “work.”  When bucks are truly “coming to horns” I have rattled them up with dried branches.

As to mule deer responding to rattling horns, I have tried many times in Mexico, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado to entice mule deer to the sound of my horns.  So far I have rattled in only one buck that I truly felt was coming in to my horns; that one was a really nice four-year-old in western Texas.  I have a couple of friends who have had much better success rattling in mule deer, and that’s one of the reason I will continue trying to do the same.

Best advice regarding rattling is to continue trying. Just because you have tried 100 times without success, the 101st time may just well be the one!

As a wildlife biologist, Larry Weishuhn established quality wildlife management programs on approximately 12,000,000 acres across North America with emphasis on habitat and animal populations. As a writer, he has served on staff on numerous publications in hunting, shooting and wildlife management and has long been involved with the highest quality outdoor television productions.

By continuing to use the site, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.