Sometimes It Works…Sometimes It Doesn’t…

Gazing ahead of them the two young hunters realized they had four bucks barreling toward them. It was unbelievable to have these bucks almost run them over. Instantaneously they quickly brought their bows to full draw as the lead buck bounded into the clearing. Both teenagers released arrows riveting towards the monster.

What would cause these four whitetails to lose all sense of caution and run over these two? It was the peak of the rut when the clash of antlers, breaking brush, and an all out fight brought them in on a string. These two teenagers didn’t know any better when they decided to get rattled, rocking and rolling.

Rattling can be a great tactic to employ when combined with the right time and technique. It’s hard to try something that you’ve rarely seen in the wild. And quite frankly when I starting rattling, I thought I was running every deer out of the county. For a solo sport in which I spend countless hours sitting as still and quiet as possible, banging together antlers just didn’t sound right.

Starting Out

After many attempts without luck, I spoke with a few very successful local hunters. These guys had great results on bucks that were out of bow range. They only rattled when visually seeing a deer that wouldn’t respond to calls.

That was a great solution for my inexperience. I only rattled when I could visually see a buck and then I could see their reaction. I could then crank it up or slow it down.

What a confidence booster! Over the next couple of years I had a couple dozen opportunities to test the waters. During every rattling sequence I got a response; good and bad. But those visual real life training sessions taught me more than I could have learned in a hundred of hunting videos. Hunting videos are very entertaining but often inaccurate on how your local herd will react.

In southern Michigan we have an enormous hunting community, bigger than any other state. This means that our bucks have heard every hunter’s ploy. And by two years old they are wise to all tricks of the trade. This is often why soft rattling produces better in pressured areas. But if there is no response to the soft stuff, I crank it up!


Imagine sitting in the middle of plowed dirt field and trying to call in a deer — doesn’t make much sense. Neither does setting up where deer don’t feel comfortable. The most important decision when rattling is the location. Even the best most realistic calling techniques will not work if they fall on deaf ears.

Rattling became popular in Texas where the buck-doe populations are tight and hunting pressure is low. Keeping these two concepts in mind will help. If you’re hunting where big bucks are prominent or near a sanctuary (golf course, city limits, exclusive hunting rights, etc.) than feel free to get louder. With wide buck to doe ratios, there is no need for bucks to fight over the available does. The more bucks (especially

mature bucks) in an area the more likely they are to face off. And any natural deer sound will likely call in deer because they are curious.

Early Season Tickles

During the first few days of season you’ll often see bucks sparring. This is the perfect time to tickle some tines together. During early season I’ve heard bucks within thickets pushing each other around. Definitely respond to them with some sparring sounds. Response at this time of the year is spurred by curiosity.

As the pre-rut gets kicking, it’s time to crank it up. And as the peak of the rut grows closer, it gets more serious. Keep your series short, 20-60 seconds with only 2-3 sessions. I personally don’t rattle more than 1-2 times in an area the whole season. I don’t want the deer I’m hunting to catch onto my ploy.

Add Some Attitude

Seeing bucks fight is an amazing sight. Sometimes to win the game you need to get dirty. Breaking brush, scraping trees and vocalizing adds realism. I like to use a loose rattle bag and roll it against the tree. A bag allows me to toss it in my pocket if needed. Adding a decoy and scent can be a killer setup. You can win three senses; visual, audio and smell.

In Southern Michigan I’ve had great success with subtle rattling. Getting loud often causes a negative result. This is likely because I hunt in heavily pressured areas and state land. These bucks are leery because they’ve heard everyone else’s bag of tricks. Don’t overdo it by getting too loud and rattling too much, more is not always better.

Any hunting tactic employed will only work some of the time because every whitetail has a different personality. Several years ago in the heat of the rut I saw a buck with several broken tines walking away. I thought, “What the heck?” I rolled the rattle bag together and he came to a halting stop. For a moment I was excited until he tucked his tail and ran off. I then realized the broken tines and torn up coat was an indicator that he recently got his butt kicked. Like I said earlier, I’ll often get a reaction but it’s not always good. Other times they look my way and keep walking. But a few times, I’ve had them come in perfectly. Every deer has a different attitude just like humans. Some are keyed up ready for a fight while others would rather avoid the situation.

When It All Comes Together

Deer hunting is like fishing; if topwater doesn’t work, try a crankbait, a worm or a spinner. Use different tools to entice deer that are in different moods. Put a rattle bag into your arsenal and entice a few more deer. After 20 years of hunting I’m still learning how to exploit rattling. Don’t expect it to work every time but get the right day, deer and sounds and you might add one more successful hunt to your season. It’s time for you to get rattled, rocking and rolling.