Hunting > Whitetails

School of Hard Knocks

If you’re not exhausted after a sequence, you’re not rattling it hard enough.

Several years ago Mickey Hellickson, chief biologist at Texas' King Ranch and one of the top whitetail researchers in the world, led a three-year project in Texas that has become the go-to science on rattling whitetail bucks. The study produced three major findings: 1) Rattling works best during the peak of the rut; 2) cool, overcast mornings with light winds are most productive; and 3) long, loud rattling works better than softer routines. "If you're not exhausted after a sequence, you're not rattling it hard enough," Hellickson said.

That's cool stuff, but there's more: I just unearthed a lesser-known but intriguing Part II of Hellickson's research. It's more science you can use to rattle up a buck.

Rattling: Act II
The researchers moved to a different Texas ranch where 130 bucks were fitted with radio collars. The bucks were split into two groups: "culls," those with racks that scored less than 130 points, and "trophies." Every buck's age and Boone and Crockett Club score was known, since every deer's transmitter emitted a unique signal.

From October through December, the team located the collared bucks, snuck within 200 yards or so of them, set up on the ground and crashed a set of antlers until their hands were numb.

They rattled 33 times to 18 different bucks. On 24 occasions, pulsing collars indicated that the bucks moved closer. Nearly three out of four bucks responded. That surprised Hellickson, who said, "Before the study I figured less than 25 percent of them would respond."

The lesson: When the rut is on, rattle, rattle, rattle. Your odds are better than you think that a buck will come in.

But seeing the buck might be a problem. The hunters actually spotted only 11 of the 24 bucks that responded. "It shows how important it is to get elevated," says Hellickson. Put the sun behind you and rattle from a ridge or hillside (or treestand) where you can spot a buck coming.

Ultimate Rattling Setup
You've probably heard that most bucks approach rattling from downwind, and Hellickson's research confirmed that. A buck might come in quickly, or it might take awhile. The average distance a buck moved 30 minutes after first responding to a rattling sequence was one-third of a mile. Two bucks walked three-quarters of a mile. So after a volley, sit still for 30 minutes and watch, especially to either side downwind.

Eleven of the 14 bucks that Hellickson rattled to during the peak of the rut came in, again confirming this is the best time to lure the most bucks. But the post-rut was almost as good, with another 11 bucks responding. I've been telling anyone who will listen that late November and the first week of December are awesome times to hunt, because more bucks than you think still prowl for the last hot does. Turns out, it's a good time to keep rattling, too.

Rattling in Your Woods
You need to put all this in perspective. As compared to the ranches where Hellickson's research took place, the private or public ground where you hunt probably holds fewer mature bucks. Still, keep the man's trailblazing research in mind when you rattle. Sneak onto a hillside on a cool, cloudy morning, crash the antlers until your hands go numb and watch downwind for 30 minutes.


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