Calling deer is easy right? Just go into the woods, clang some old antlers together and hold on - a deer will be in your lap shortly, right? That is what I thought after my first rattling experience several years ago.
I was hunting blacktails with a buddy back in Washington; we perched atop a small rise, overlooking a clear-cut valley. It was the peak of the rut, and the deer were moving heavily in search of does. My partner broke the morning silence with a single grunt and then tickled the tines of his rattling antlers together to simulate the sparring of two bucks. Instantly my eye caught movement on the far ridgeline. A large bodied blacktail broke out of the timber’s shadow and headed directly towards our concealed position.
Another rattle and a grunt and he was on a trot right for us. In less then a few minutes he had covered the distance and was 25 yards away looking for the two fighting bucks he thought he heard. My partner rewarded his love-induced effort with a well-placed arrow. The buck did not travel far before piling up.
To me, it was like discovering the perfect fishing lure or the sure-fire duck call. I thought I had found the Holy Grail of deer hunting techniques.
After I spent the remainder of the year rattling and grunting to no avail, I realized that there was more to it then I first thought. While it does work extremely well at times, the key is knowing when, where and how to consistently be successful. To learn more on the matter I called game calling champion Brad Harris.
I had to ask him, "What is the key to calling deer during the rut?"
"Your answer is in the question," he replied. "Timing is the key. During the peak of the rut, deer are the most receptive to calling. Sure they can respond any time of the year, in fact, I grunted a buck in during a turkey hunt in April, but to be consistently successful the peak of the rut is the time to really use this tool."
"When I see signs that deer are moving, such as scrapes and rubs, I know I need to start calling," he continued.
"What is your routine?" I asked.
"It is really pretty simple. I start off with a series of half-second buck grunts - I do four or five of those in succession. Then I start rattling with a loud, aggressive crash, which turns into a 30 second aggressive fighting sequence."
"Do you repeat this routine throughout the day - if so how often do you do it?"
"I do the entire grunt/fight sequence, three or four times back to back then I wait thirty minutes to an hour and repeat the entire routine. I will do this from first light till dark."
"What kind of calls and rattling devices do you find work the best?" I asked.
"I used to use either real antlers or imitation rattling antlers, but anymore all I use is the Lohman Dynamite Sticks. They are easier to carry afield, are higher pitched, which makes the sound carry farther, and are safer to use.
For a call, I use the M.A.D. Grunt Snort Wheeze call. It is really flexible and will challenge even the largest bucks into action."
"I often hear from other hunters that big bucks will always circle down wind when coming to a call, is this true?" I asked.
"Undoubtedly this happens - but to say it always happens is untrue. I have found that when most hunters see a deer approaching they quit calling - figuring that if he is coming it is better to not spook him and shut up. This gives the buck a chance to think about the situation and he will often circle downwind to see if his nose confirms what his ears heard.
I don’t quit calling, I keep the pressure on them from the time I see them. I keep grunting and rattling, and I have found that the majority of the deer - even the big bucks will come in like they are on a string, never circling downwind to confirm what they think they hear."
"I have also heard that rattling and calling usually produces only smaller, immature bucks. Has this been your experience?"
"Well, I killed my biggest buck, a 14 pointer that scored 176 B&C after going through my sequence only twice right after sunup. So I know it works on all bucks. I have found that age is more a determining factor then antler size. For example, two to two and a half-year-old bucks seem to be the most responsive. In the Ozarks, this may equate to a small basket buck, while in Kansas it may be a 140 to 150 class bruiser."
"Is there anytime a guy shouldn’t call?" I asked.
"Granted, I usually call when I know the peak of the rut is in full swing, but the nice thing about rattling and grunting is that deer make these sounds most of the year, so rarely will it ever disturb an area.
I have grunted as loud as I could to small bucks feeding nearby and they stopped feeding, looked around for the source of the noise and finally went back to feeding. The only time I have seen a buck run from either rattling or grunting was in a situation where he had been recently whipped by a larger buck in the area. I have always felt that if this is the case, so much the better. If a larger buck is in the area, it is the one I want to target."
As I finished up the interview, I asked what every hunter always wants to know. "Are there any tricks that you do that make a big difference that others don’t often do?"
"I am really pretty straightforward about my technique, but one thing I do that other guys miss is that 20-30 minutes before I am ready to leave my stand - whether it is for a mid day break, lunch or at the end of the day, I do a final series of grunts and rattles. Often a deer will have moved into hearing range and have bedded down without me knowing it. Most guys will just climb out of their stand and go back to camp; any buck that may have slipped in unnoticed will be spooked out of the country, whereas if a short fight scene is performed, he more than likely will come to investigate.
Other than that, keep at it from daylight till dark, during the season. Don’t stop when a buck is in sight and have confidence in the technique and success will sooner or later be yours."