White-tailed deer hunting seasons are already going full bore in many states with good bucks already on the ground, but hunting is just beginning to heat up down at southern latitudes. Two things come to mind with the early part of the season upon us: rattling for buck hunting and selective harvest for the purpose of deer management. Both can take place on properties looking to ultimately improve antler quality in bucks, and these two tasks are not necessarily exclusive of one another. Managing a deer herd not only means shooting deer, but removing the right deer and at the right time.
The removal of unwanted bucks prior to the breeding season ensures that those animals do not participate; they no longer have the opportunity to pass on their genes. Earlier is always better when it comes to removing cull bucks. These management bucks, as many hunters so eloquently refer to them, often consist of middle-aged deer that show less promise than the remainder of their cohort (age class). Rattling while in the field prior to the rut ensures an active and hopefully exciting hunt, but also allows landowners and hunters the chance to fulfill management objectives.
Best Time to Rattle for Bucks
My experience has lead me to believe that rattling “horns” for deer is most effect earlier in the hunting season rather than later in the year. This may be contrary to what others have witnessed, but I don’t speak for them. My money is on the pre-rut period when it comes to rattling. Hunters can start rattling two to three weeks before the rut typically occurs in an area and have success. Days that have low, but sustained, wind speeds are ideal. Although I prefer to hit horns in the mornings, any time of the day will work.
Jeff M, Site Reader: “… for 2 consecutive seasons I have rattled in 2 shooters just as it was light enough to put my pin on them. One particular 5×5 came in hot looking in a 360 degree area for a fight or a competing alpha buck. Needless to say, his antlers are what I rattle with each season now. Last year, just as the sun was at the top of the lowest tree I rattled about 2 minutes and grunted a few nice tones and a 4×4 came in within 2 to 3 minutes. I wasn’t expecting him so soon, but he was delicious!
I have become paranoid about rattling with my decoy, thinking that once I’m settled in, they could be in range and rattling from a tree confuses them if watching my decoy. I now settle in, listen, and rattle if my buck bomb or decoy doesn’t bring some action first. I am a true believer in rattling. I know it works on the aggressive ones, even interested 1 to 3 year olds.
Use your senses of what deer may already be around before starting your cadence of rattling. Remember that sounds travel early in the AM if it’s still, and bucks will come from everywhere to see just what is up with a good rattling sequence. I start of lightly by tickling them together and then gradually move onto more heavy hitting at the end, followed by a few aggressive grunts.”
Don’t Wait for Deer Management
The management of deer herds varies from property to property. Objectives on one place will be different from another place down the road. Some want to shoot bucks found on their property at 4 1/2 years of age, some at 6 1/2 and so on and so on. There is no single management strategy that can be equated with success; there are many ways to get there, but it all depends on where you start. It’s kind of like all roads can lead to Rome, but your trip will different than mine.
One of the biggest problems that plagues many hunters interested in the management of whitetail deer is that they do not have clear-cut guidelines for buck harvest. What is the criteria on which bucks will be shot? When they are old enough? Only when they are spikes? When they are big enough? When they have missing brow tines? Managers must establish goals and guidelines and put them on paper before the shooting starts. As with everything in life, you’ve got to have a plan. Again, this plan will vary from place to place, but success in deer hunting is measured in a multitude of ways: age of buck harvest, bigger antler size, number of bucks harvested, and buck to doe ratio, for example.
An important thing to remember is that all bucks that you do not want participating in the rut should be removed as soon as possible. If this is done on an annual basis then improvement in the deer herd will be observed sooner rather than later.
Rattling and Hunting
One of the great things about deer hunting is that it can get exciting in a hurry when a big buck steps into the picture. This is especially true when it comes to rattling in bucks. Deer can often appear seemingly out of nowhere and have your heart just about pounding out of your chest. If you’re trying to manage a herd, then this is where a deer management program and a split-second deer hunting decision collide. The ability to age bucks on the hoof becomes increasingly important when time is of the essence, such as when a ornery buck is high-tailing it towards you and looking for a fight or maybe even a girl to steal.
At times like this, there is nothing better than having the skill to size up a deer in the field with regards to age, and maybe even antler score. If you are comfortable doing this then you won’t even think about it. It just takes practice. Also, if you run trail cameras leading up to the hunting season then there is a good chance you will recognize the deer, but there is also the chance that you rattle up something you’ve never seen before. That’s when it really gets exciting!
Just remember this when trying to rattle up a buck: start soft and slow and be patient. Sometimes deer will literally be just out of sight. Also, do not over rattle. On more than one occasion I’ve been “caught” by bucks while reaching for the rattling horns. If I’d waited just a few more minutes those deer would have worked their way in. A good rattling sequence is to rattle for 15 to 60 seconds every 20 minutes, increasing in both duration and intensity over time.