It’s August, and the earliest archery deer seasons in most places are still weeks away. The whitetail rut is even farther in the distance.
But admit it.
If you’re a deer hunter, you’ve got big antlers on the brain.
And maybe this year, you’re thinking, you’re going try rattling bucks in.
Well, know this.
It’s probably not going to work. Rattling bucks definitely doesn’t work every time, and it usually doesn’t work most of the time.
But when it does, oh boy, look out.
That’s the opinion of Ken Hammel, owner of Mountain Hollow Game Calls in Potsdam, N.Y. The Pennsylvania native has four bucks scoring greater than 170 inches to his credit, with the biggest going 189 7/8.
And he’s a big believer in rattling.
“I’ve rattled in more than 200 bucks in my lifetime, and has as many as four at a time come in,” Hammel said. “I’ve rattled in eight in one day, the largest a 170-ich buck.”
It’s a hunting technique that works better in some parts of North America than others, he said.
In Manitoba, where a busy day might involve seeing six deer – but half of them bucks – rattling is effective. In New York and Pennsylvania, it’s a little less so.
But he’s rattled in bucks everywhere, including those states and elsewhere, he said.
He approaches rattling differently than some others, though.
When he first started experimenting with rattling, all of the experts recommended going at it for two, three or four minutes, then sitting quietly for the next hour or more.
Hammel doesn’t do things that way. Once he starts rattling, he goes at it for perhaps 30 minutes at a time.
He stops for a half hour, then starts all over again. All day long.
Bucks most often show up between the 10 and 20 minute mark, he said.
“The reason is, once you start the rattling sequence, if you stop in two or three minutes, that buck cannot find you because he cannot hear you. You’ve got to give him a chance to find your location,” Hammel said.
Preferably, he rattles with real antlers, and large ones at that. He recommends buying a set of antlers in the 120-inch class – he gets them on eBay and elsewhere – and then grinding them together rather than banging them.
“Make it sound realistic. Make it sound like two bucks are locked together,” he said.
Rattling bucks can work from a tree stand, he said. But he prefers to do it from the ground.
That sounds more natural, he believes. And it allows for some additional enticements.
“When two bucks are fighting, they’re making a lot of noise,” Hammel said. “So don’t be afraid to be in the brush, scraping the ground. You’re rattling, you’re making noise, you’re breaking brush.”
You don’t want to be too obvious, though, either.
He likes to hide himself as much as possible. Deer responding to rattling are “already on alert,” so it’s important to blend in, he said.
That’s really true in busy hunting states like Pennsylvania and New York, he said.
“In Manitoba, if a buck spots you, he may linger for a minute because you might be the first human he’s ever seen. In places like Pennsylvania, if he spots your movement, he’s gone,” Hammel said.
Some turn to a ground blind for concealment. They’re OK, Hammel said, but he generally avoids them.
“You will have twice as much success outside the tent as you will inside the tent because it muffles the sound,” Hammel said.
“Just hide yourself in a location where the deer can’t see you.”
There are safety concerns with being hidden that way, all while imitating a deer, of course. That’s especially true if there are other hunters around, or the chance they might be.
Some states require hunters in camouflage on the ground to put an orange band around a tree within so many feet of their stand.
Always, it’s good to treat an on-the-ground rattling session like a spring turkey hunt, and put your back against a tree wider than your shoulders and taller than your head.
But it’s worth trying, Hammel believes, especially late in the archery season.
“The best time to rattle, statistically, is the last week of October and the first two weeks of November. And that’s in most of the country,” he said.
“So you want to be in the woods. Beg, plead, get out of work. But be in the woods those days. It’s the best time to kill a mature buck by rattling.”
Even then, there are no guarantees, of course.
But Hammel is a believer in rattling. You’ve just got to commit to it.
Because when it works, it’s amazing.
“Probably, depending on where you’re hunting, it’s about a one in 50 times thing. Sometimes it’s the first time I rattle that a buck comes in. Sometimes it’s the 50th,” he said.
“But I would never give up.”
Not rattling bucks, but calling them
If you’re sitting on stand and you see a solitary buck – but too far away to shoot – it’s sometimes possible to call him into range.
That’s the opinion of Tom Richardson, a Carson City, Mich., hunting guide and deer calling expert.
Here’s how he does it. First, he’ll make a simple one-second gentle burp on a grunt tube. It’s not loud or aggressive in any way. .
“That’s a ‘Hi, I’m new to the area, come over and hang out in the shade’ call,” Richardson said.
He tries to read the buck’s body language to see how it responded. If the deer he’s watching doesn’t pay him much attention, he’ll call again – and again, just for one second – but with more intensity.
“Nobody likes to be ignored, so that’s a ‘Hey, I’m talking to you,’” Richardson said.
If the buck pays attention then, it’s time to shut up, he added. That buck will know you’re there, so you don’t want to do anything to give away your position any more exactly than necessary, Richardson said.
At that point he lets the deer walk in on its own.
Calling to deer – namely by grunting – works well in combination with rattling, added Ken Hammel of Mountain Hollow Game Calls. In those cases, though, the calling is a bit different.
He makes a longer, drawn-out sound that sounds like a deer out of breath.
Want to see more? Check us out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.