Practical Bowhunting
with Mark Timney


Graduate School for Rattlers

Sometimes, big isn't always better. You will have more response from a medium to small set of rattling horns like the ones shown on the left, than the set taken off of a monster 9 pt. on the right.

Rattling in a whitetail is an unbelievable adrenaline rush. Some bucks come charging in, hair up and ready to fight. Others slink in quietly, preferring to size up the situation before committing to action. But regardless of how they respond, bucks always put on a spectacular show when they answer your horns.

Many bowhunters are aware of the thrill factor in rattling, and they use it above all other forms of calling. And it's no wonder. Rattling is relatively simple to learn, and it's a trophy tested method of calling. But, as this column will detail, there's more to rattling than banging an old rack together. Rattling has its negative points, and there are a few things you need to know to be consistently successful at it.

Non-Aggressive Calling is a Better Bet
Rattling can be highly effective, but for most bowhunters it is rarely as effective as non-aggressive calling. (See deer grunting 101 to learn about a variety of non-aggressive calls). Gary Cook, an expert caller and game biologist for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency says this is because of skewed buck to doe ratios.

"In some deer populations, such as those in South Texas, aggressive calling can be very effective," details Cook. "This is because the buck-to-doe ratio is high in these areas, and bucks must compete, i.e. be aggressive, to breed the available does. But this is an unusual situation in most deer populations. Most of us are hunting on land where the ratio of bucks to does is very low. This results in most bucks having ample opportunity to breed. They don't need to be aggressive to get does, so they won't respond well to aggressive calling tactics."

Deer calling pioneer Jerry Peterson, of Woods Wise Game Calls, agrees. He adds that rattling is often less effective because most bowhunters don't rattle at the right time. "You have to hit specific windows of time [7 to 10 days in the entire season] when the bucks are primed to breed, but there are few does available. Only then will bucks respond well to rattling," he says.

Rattling Doesn't Always Mean Big Bucks
Would you believe that most of the bucks I've rattled in have been on the small side? Four-pointers even! It's true. (I haven't hunted South Texas, though). And I've been told this isn't uncommon.
Peterson, a bowhunter who's rattled in dozens of bucks, is convinced the odds of getting a "book buck" are worse with aggressive calling than non-aggressive calling. "Whether or not a deer responds to rattling depends upon his `attitude,' and that has nothing to do with the size of his horns," he says.
Cook suggests that really spectacular deer are probably not all that big on fighting. He doesn't have scientific evidence to prove his theory, but still believes most trophy deer in most parts of the country avoid aggressive situations. "From a survival stand point," Cook says, "a deer is much more likely to live long enough to grow a big rack if he doesn't fight."

Rattling=Tough Set Up
Bucks often approach 40 to 100 yards down wind of rattling. They probably do this for two reasons: so they can smell and identify who's fighting before deciding whether to challenge the winner, or to see if they can locate the doe being fought over and take off with her while the two contestants are battling. A gun-hunter might get a shot before being winded when this happens, but a bowhunter probably won't.

Additionally, the movement required to stage a rattling sequence can quickly give you away to approaching bucks. When you call deer, you become the hunted. Deer are looking for movement in the direction from which the sound is coming. Waving around a pair of horns is "big time" movement.

Making it Work
Don't let the negatives of rattling prevent you from trying this type of calling. Being successful at rattling just takes a little forethought. Here are a few things to remember:

Hopefully this information will help make you a more successful rattler. But don't get too hooked on rattling. It's not the only type of deer calling you can do. Being able to adapt to various calling situations is the sign of a practical bowhunter.

  Purists contend that real antlers are required to reproduce authentic sounds, but there are some great sounding synthetic horns available. What's particularly nice about synthetics, especially those from Woods Wise and Primos (Primos's Fightin' Horns are pictured here), is that they're designed so you're less likely to injure your hands while banging away. Don't laugh! It's very easy to crunch a finger while rattling!
This picture depicts an actual set of antlers which have the tips cut off to prevent injuring your hands.  

Rattle `em Up
The Call What's it Mean? Tactics
Sniff All three of these calls signal a deer's extreme agitation. Deer make these sounds to intimidate other deer and prevent fights. All three calls are often made by a rut- crazed buck confronted with a rival. The sounds can send lesser deer running from the area. All three sounds work great in any rattling sequences. A quick sniff-wheeze followed shortly after by an aggressive grunt adds an important degree of realism. (Woods Wise is the only company I'm aware of that makes a deer snort call on which you can produce sniffs and wheezes.)
Aggressive Grunt
"Quick Rattle" This method was developed by Will Primos of Primos Game Calls. His theory is that a short rattling sequence allows you to reduce movement to a minimum and possibly lure in less aggressive, but curious bucks, as well as the local dominant whitetail. Sniffs, wheezes and grunts have been thrown in for added effect.

  Dr. Mark Timney


Mark Timney has been a working journalist for over 15 years and has professional experience in almost every aspect of the field of mass communication. He presently splits his time among a number of jobs: as a freelance magazine writer specializing in outdoor articles; as an adjunct professor of journalism and computer software; and as the head of his own outdoor communications/advertising/public relations/video production business.

Mark has a Ph.D. in Mass Communication/Journalism from Ohio University. He became interested in archery while in graduate school and began writing for several bowhunting/target archery magazines in 1995. His work has been published in Petersen's Bowhunting, 3-D & Target Archery, 3-D Times, Bowhunting World, Archery Business and Bow Masters Magazine. He also conducts archery and bowhunting seminars based upon his articles.

Copyright 1997, Mark Timney/Bowsite