Friday, October 23, 2009

Rattling Whitetail Deer in Rut

Click here to read more.

Rattling and calling whitetail deer is probably one of the oldest methods for calling up that monster buck. One of the keys to rattling up a buck is timing. Rattle too early in the rut, and you won't get any bucks. Rattle too late, and the peak of the rut will be over.

Pinpointing the Rut
The yearly rut is a complex cycle of hormone fluctuation in both does and bucks. Early in the rut, testosterone production in bucks begins to slowly increase. In the early rut, scrapes are numerous. Young bucks will be strengthening their neck muscles and scraping off velvet from new antler growth. During this phase, tentative rattling against trees and brush may bring in a curious buck, but most bachelor groups are still intact in this phase, and most bucks won't be curious enough to investigate.

As scrape activity increases, deer begin to show heavy musculature in their necks. This is when rattling may begin to produce curious bucks. Bucks in this phase will tentatively challenge each other with half hearted challenges. Sparring at this point is weak, with bucks gently bringing their heads together and lightly rattling while pushing back and forth. Sparring matches are short, lasting only a few seconds before the two bucks disengage and look around to see what interest they've sparked from nearby bachelors. At this point, rattling to attract bucks may work, but response will be slow and curiosity low.

As sparring increases, a half dozen matches may break out at the same time in a decently sized herd. Bucks at this phase will begin to respond to the sound of another buck scraping his antlers on a tree or engaging another buck. This is the point at which rattling will begin to be effective. Your technique at this point should involve light, short half-hearted rattles combined with scraping your rattlers on trees and brush. Combined with appropriate grunting, you may be able to draw in a curious buck.

As the bachelor groups break up, sparring begins to be replaced with serious fights and challenges. Bucks no longer tolerate the presence of another buck, and will challenge any who they find in their area. This is when rattling can bring a curious buck charging in to see what interlopers are in his territory. By observing scrape activity, you should be able to pinpoint when this period of the rut arrives. Scrapes along fields and trails will have reached a peak. Antlers on bucks will be polished, and their necks will be bulging with heavy musculature from all of the scraping and sparring activity of the past few weeks.

Increased vocal activity is another thing to watch for. As the heat of the rut approaches, males will begin to vocalize loudly and frequently, advertising their presence to any nearby does, and warning off competing bucks. Fights between competing bucks is now a deadly affair, with bucks trying to kill each other in earnest. This is prime rattling time.

Doe activity changes dramatically as the peak of the rut approaches. Before the rut, does will frequently be accompanied by last years young. But, as the heat of the rut comes on, they will run off the youngsters, leaving them wandering around appearing lost and perplexed. Does seen without accompanying young is a sure sign that the peak of the rut is right around the corner.

Occasionally, a second rut will come, as does who have not been bred come into heat again and continue to search for a buck. Does come into estrus every 28 days, so careful observation of the previous rut may reveal the prime time to hunt during a secondary rut.

Setting Up Your Position
Deer investigating a fight won't generally come in from an upwind position. They will generally try to circle around and approach from downwind. This increases the chance that you'll get "scented" by incoming deer and potentially scare them away. By properly setting up your hunting position, you can increase the chance that you'll spot the deer and be able to engage them before they scent or spot you.

Try to set up on the edge of a field with the wind blowing in from the field. Deer that are in your cover will try to circle around, but won't want to go out into the open of the field. If you don't have a nearby field, set up so that you have some decent shooting lanes that an investigating deer has to pass through while trying to circle around. Make sure you have adequate cover. Deer have incredibly accurate hearing and can pinpoint noise to within just a few feet. That buck will come in and zero in on your position, expecting to see another buck, so make sure you have enough camouflage and cover. Sometimes placing a decoy nearby will be enough to get your target to linger long enough for you to get the shot off.

Rattling Technique
There are a number of rattling techniques. Many hunters swear by natural antlers and insist that the natural sound of them clashing together cannot be replicated. Still, many have great success with synthetic rattlers. Synthetic rattlers are often safer, since they are smoothed down and don't have the points and sharp edges of natural antlers. Hunters who insist on using natural antlers often cut the points off and smooth the sharp edges to avoid injuring their hands and fingers while vigorously rattling. One new innovation is the Rattle Bag which allows one handed rattling, perfect for hunters in a tree stand.

Deer have incredibly acute hearing. Fights between bucks at the peak of the rut are no-holds-barred affairs. They're noisy enough to draw bucks from over a mile away. While some fights are short, others are long and drawn out, sometimes lasting for as long as 6 to 8 hours. Bucks are very vocal during fights, moaning, grunting, wheezing and bellowing as they summon up the strength to defeat the challenger. As you rattle, stomp and kick the ground and nearby brush. This is when you should be trying to make as much noise as possible!

On hearing a fight, younger deer tend to come charging in quickly to challenge the winner. Older bucks tend to be a bit more cautious and slower to respond, but they will come. Older deer tend to slink in with more care, preferring to observe the challenge unnoticed. It's not unusual for an older buck to try to sneak off with a nearby doe while the two fighting bucks obliviously continue their challenge.

Don't be too anxious to move on to a new location if rattling doesn't produce bucks right away. While younger less mature bucks may come running at the sound of a fight, older bucks respond much slower and more cautiously. If a short rattle doesn't produce, try rattling for longer periods. If you are off peak, rattle for short periods, 30-60 seconds, then wait for at least 30 minutes. If that still doesn't attract any bucks, try it again for 90 seconds or so and then wait again for at least an hour.

Grunts and Calls
In the late rut, bucks will strut around grunting an "ACK!" grunt, advertising their presence and challenging any nearby bucks. They will frequently grunt, pause to see if they're attracting any attention, take a few steps, and repeat the process.

One common mistake made when grunting is grunting too loudly. Deer have excellent hearing, and their grunts are usually fairly soft. If you're just grunting and not rattling, use caution not to grunt too loudly. Many grunters perform well and low volume, but sound horrible at louder volumes. Calls with long soft tubes such as our Adjust-Buck work the best.

Electronic calls are often shunned by hunters. Older technology didn't allow electronic calls to mimic natural sounds accurately enough to fool most deer. Yet, there are new advances in compact portable callers that enable them to accurately and loudly reproduce a wide variety of natural calls. The Nomad MX3 Electronic Deer Call has a remote, allowing you to place the electronic caller elsewhere while you lurk nearby in a blind or stand and activate it with the remote. Another caller with a remote has even better technology and allows you to play multiple calls at the same time, better mimicing the wheezing and grunting of two bucks engaged in a fight. The Phantom Hunter is a more expensive digital caller with a multi-track ability as well as a remote.

No matter what methods you use, nothing beats the rush of having a buck come rushing in to investigate your calls. By carefully observing deer activity in your area, you can determine how the rut is progressing and call accordingly. Good luck, and good hunting!

No comments:

Post a Comment