Hunting > Whitetails

Five Keys to Rattling

Haven't had the best luck with rattling in the past? Well, hang in there, keep cracking and remember these five keys. Your rattling luck will soon change.


A lot of hunters crash the horns a few times, pull in zero bucks, go home, throw the horns in a spider-webbed corner of the garage and holler, "That's it, rattling doesn't work!" Well, it sure won't if you give up that easily. Hang in there, keep cracking and remember these five keys. I believe your rattling luck will soon change.

1.) Best Time to Rattle- "The peak of the rut is far and away the best time to rattle in the most bucks, large and small," says Mickey Hellickson, chief biologist for the King Ranch in Texas. The man has the numbers to prove it: During one of his studies he and his team rattled 60 times on peak-rut days and pulled in 65 testosterone-addled bucks. That's a response rate of 108 percent.

Granted, that was South Texas, where the buck-to-doe ratio is one-to-one and where rattling has always worked best. You certainly won't rattle up 60 bucks in your woods, but you might pull in an 8-pointer or 10-pointer if you crack the horns most every day from November 5 to 20. Bust one of those rut-crazed bucks with your bow or gun and you'll have the season of your life.

2.) Don't Be Shy-
When you sit down to rattle with no deer in sight, go for it. In one research project, Hellickson and his crew made 85 sets, rattled hard as they could for one to three minutes at a time and pulled in 81 bucks. They tried 86 quieter sequences and attracted only 30 bucks. Crashing the horns heavy and beating the ground from time to time with an antler was nearly three times as effective.

3.) Best Time of Day- In Hellickson's studies over the years, nearly 70 percent of bucks have responded best to the horns between 7:30 and 10:30 a.m. "Cool mornings with cloud cover and little or low wind speed are best," he says. It's a no-brainer; rattle early.

4.) Don't Rattle Blind-
"Rattling blind can work, but we've found that your odds shoot way up when you see a buck and rattle at him," says Mark Drury, who hunts and films giant whitetails across the Midwest. Say you see an 8-pointer trolling head down on a ridge 100 yards away, or ducking into a ditch after a doe; rattle at him with short, hard horn bursts. If you see a shooter follow one hot doe into a thicket or patch of woods, sneak downwind of those deer if you can, set up 100 to 150 yards away and rattle hard, again in short bursts. "Lay down the horns and get ready," says Drury. "Chances are better than you think that the buck will pop out of the cover, look and give you a shot, especially if you're gun hunting."

5.) Play the Wind- "I cannot emphasize this enough: Little guys might charge in and look, but older bucks will either sneak in to your rattles from somewhere downwind or they will come in upwind, circle to a downwind side and try to smell the fighting deer," says Gary Roberson, outfitter and rattling pro from Menard, Texas. Set up in a blind or stand with good background cover and be sure you can see well to either side downwind (some elevation really helps you spot bucks). "You've got to shoot a big deer before he slips in behind you and smells you," adds Roberson.


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3 Responses to Five Keys to Rattling

Guy Canterbury wrote:
November 04, 2011

Cold weather has nothing to do with the rut. If you can understand a woman's cycle you can figure the rut. There is always 3 typically 4 breeding cycles, once it starts it will continue same time (within 3 days) of the month until all have conceived. The amount of light perceived threw the eyes plays a role as well.

David AB wrote:
October 24, 2011

What about states like CA where they end before rut begins ALWAYS. Last day in Oct is the last day to shoot (and usually the first day of rain or snow). I am in North East CA and we get Mule Deer but usually you dont see bucks until after dark (10PM to 2AM). I have been talking with some people here and there and the successful guys appear to be trackers. Mostly the story goes something like, I spent 3 months before the season finding the bucks. Then I spent a week tracking the buck, and I finally shot it while it was bedded in the middle of the day. Variations sound the same except they spooked the dear out of the bed and missed their opportunity. I am not retired yet, and I cant spend 3 months before the season. If I am very lucky I can spend 4 weekends in a row before the season. Any tips would be appreciated.

Terry Cook wrote:
October 21, 2011

I'm sure that works but what about in places where you don't know exactly when the rut will start. I live in Va next to the Tn and Ky line where all three states come together and the rut almost never comes in when it should because it doesn't get cold until late november or early december, there have been times when they didn't rut until after the season was over, will they still be curious of the ratteling and come check out out or will they come in rut no matter if it's cold or not.