Using antler rattling to bring deer to you can be an efficient (and very exciting) deer hunting tactic. Basically, you're imitating the sound of two bucks clashing their antlers together (known as sparring or fighting). Just like us humans, when there's a fight going on, other deer are almost magnetically drawn to the scene. Antler rattling can have the effect of attracting mature bucks who are looking for a fight, defending their territory, or searching for estrus does. It can also attract younger bucks and does by playing on their sense of curiosity.
In this article, we'll provide a basic guide to antler rattling, including where to use rattling, the best times and conditions for rattling, which rattling tools to use, and how to develop solid rattling technique.
Don't be fooled by the myths out there that antler rattling only works in places like Texas. Antler rattling has the potential to work just about anywhere. However, there are a few factors that influence how successful rattling will be in any given area.
First, the closer the doe-to-buck ratio is to 1-1, the better the chances that rattling will work well. As you get up to a doe-to-buck ratio of 6-1 and higher, rattling can become less effective. That doesn't mean it won't work. It just means you may not rattle in as many bucks.
Second, as hunting pressure decreases, the chances of rattling in more deer increases. If you're hunting an area with a lot of hunting pressure, rattling could be more challenging. Again, this doesn't mean you should write it off as a tactic. You simply may have to work a little harder to get results.
Speaking of hunting pressure, if you're hunting public land, keep in mind that when you rattle, you risk attracting other hunters to your position. And, if you're hunting during a firearm season, this can get downright dangerous.
However, there are many solutions to this dilemna. You can rattle in remote or hard-to-access sections of public land (which is a great strategy in itself regardless of which tactics you're using). You can rattle during the early or late bow seasons. You can use a rattle bag, so you're not carrying anything that looks like antlers (more on rattle bags below). If you're determined to use real or synthetic antlers during the firearms season, then make sure you paint them blaze orange so you're not mistaken for a buck by another hunter.
When rattling during the rut, bucks will come in to just about any location if they're convinced there's a fight to check out. However, you'll get the best results if you rattle from a place where you know bucks already like to fight. These places are known as sparring circles and can be identified by large, circular, trampled areas that have flattened grass or barren ground, hoof and antler marks, and nearby thrashed bushes. When scouting, be on the lookout for these hot spots and you'll have discovered the perfect antler rattling location.
Timing plays a huge role in rattling success. The three biggest factors are the phase of the rut, the weather conditions, and the time of day. Let's take a look at the rut first.
Antler rattling can work during the entire rut (the period of time when deer are engaged in mating activity). However, bucks exhibit very different types of behavior during different phases of the rut, so each phase will produce different results when rattling.
Many biologists and hunters divide the rut into three general phases: the pre-rut, the peak of the rut, and the post-rut (these phases are often subdivided further, but for the sake of simplicity, we'll stick with dividing it into three).
In general, the pre-rut is when bucks shift their focus from looking for food to proclaiming dominance and establishing their hierarchies. It's definitely possible to rattle in bucks during this phase, but it may not be the most reliable tactic to use.
The peak of the rut is when breeding commences and bucks begin searching for, gathering up, protecting, and mating with does. The ten days or so leading up to the peak of the rut are considered by many experts to be the prime time for antler rattling. From the beginning of the scraping period all the way up to the point when testosterone-fuled bucks start losing their minds, the tactic of rattling really starts to shine.
The post-rut period is when bucks rest, gather into groups, and start looking for food again to replenish their depleted stores of fat. While the post-rut is not generally considered the ideal time to use rattling, it can be a great tactic to use during the week or so following the peak of the rut as the breeding trails off. Also, things can heat up again later in the post-rut as the second wave of does comes into estrus.
It's worth noting that rattling during the peak of the rut tends to attract the largest number of deer, but most of them are typically younger. Rattling during the pre- and post-rut is known for attracting smaller numbers overall but more mature bucks, with the post-rut having a slight edge in this department (good to know if you have your eye on a trophy).
Weather can play an enormous role in antler rattling success. While it's certainly possible to rattle in bucks during virtually any weather conditions, most experienced rattlers agree that certain weather can really increase your odds.
First and foremost, you want weather that tends to get bucks up and moving more, which increases the chances they'll hear your rattling. Overcast days appear to be significantly better than clear days. Colder temperatures are better than warmer temperatures. Precipition in the form of sprinkling rain, light snow, or even fog can be excellent. Also, another great time when deer can be on the move is just before or just after a big cold front.
The other thing you're looking for is weather that facilitates sound traveling over longer distances so bucks can hear your rattling from farther away. Wind is by far the biggest factor here. Little to no wind is ideal. Once the wind starts picking up, rattling can turn into an uphill battle. Even in a light wind, the distance your rattling can be heard may be reduced by half or more when you're rattling into the wind. Frost, on the other hand, is considered a rattling-enhancing condition because sound tends to travel farther on frosty days.
Time of day can also have a dramatic effect on how many bucks you're able to rattle in. Many experienced hunters recommend rattling in the morning over any other time of day. In fact, scientific studies have shown that rattling during early to late morning produces better results than either afternoon or evening rattling. Certainly rattling will work at other times of the day. But if you're looking for the time that will bring you the most success, look nor further than the morning hours.
When it comes to choosing a rattling tool that will effectively imitate the sound of two bucks locking antlers, you have a few good options. You can use real antlers, synthetic antlers, rattling bags, or other rattling devices. All have been proven to work and many hunters claim that they don't see much difference in results between the different tools.
Real antlers are a popular choice for rattling. Many hunters claim they produce the most realistic rattling sounds, which would only make sense. Fresh antlers sound the best. Antlers that are weathered or bleached from exposure to the elements don't produce very good sound. You can use either large or small antlers, depending on your personal preference. Some hunters use one from each side, while others prefer both to be from the same side.
If you decide to use real antlers, you'll probably want to modify them slightly. Remove the brow tines so you don't risk smashing your hands during rattling sequences. Also, drill a hole through the base of each antler so you can run a short rope through them for carrying. The main disadvantage to real antlers is the fact that they're awkard to carry, hard to pack, and less safe because of the sharp tines.
Using synthetic antlers is very similar to using real antlers. While they definitely sound different than the real thing, it's debatable whether this makes them any less effective. They're a great alternative if you don't have access to real antlers. Plus, you don't have to drill holes or run a rope through them for carrying because most come with this already done for you at the factory. Their main drawback is the same as real antlers: they're awkard to carry, hard to pack, and less safe because of the sharp tines.
Rattle bags are basically a bundle of numerous wooden or ceramic pieces inside a compact little bag. When you roll your hand over it or otherwise move the bag, it produces a sound that's similar to a real deer fight. The rattle bag's main advantage over real or synthetic antlers is that it's small, compact, and easy to carry. It can be used one-handed, enabling you to keep one hand on your gun or bow while you rattle. And it really excels at imitating light sparring sounds common in the early pre-rut.
There are also a number of other rattling devices on the market to choose from. They have similar advantages to rattle bags in that they are compact and easy to use. Some are designed to produce more volume than antlers or rattle bags, which can give you an edge by allowing your rattling to reach the ears of far-off bucks.
Rattling technique is more of an art than a science. One of the best things you can do to get a sense of the sounds bucks make while sparring and fighting is to listen to them in person in your hunting area. If this isn't possible, hitting YouTube can be the next best thing (see videos below). Once you've heard the actual sounds, it becomes far easier to imitate them.
There really is no right or wrong way to rattle antlers. The most important aspect of rattling is getting a feel for the rhythm, and the rhythm of two bucks going at it has one trait above all else: it's random. Strive for randomness and irregularity and you'll be well on your way to convincing a buck that you're the real thing.
Another major aspect of rattling technique is timing, as in how often you should rattle. There's lots of room for experimentation here, but we'll give you some rules of thumb so you start out in the right ballpark.
If you're rattling on the move, try rattling for one to three minutes, then waiting 30 minutes, then moving on to your next location. If you're hunting from an ambush like a treestand or ground blind, try rattling for one to three minutes every hour or so.
Even rattling for one minute can seem like a long time, but it pays to keep it up for at least this long. Try setting your watch so you know how long to keep going. Also, be very alert while you rattle because it's not uncommon for bucks to come rushing in almost immediately.
The final pillar in developing good rattling technique is volume. One of the most commonly repeated pieces of advice is to always start soft and then gradually build to your chosen volume. Recommended volumes vary by phase of the rut, with many experts endorsing a softer, lighter approach in both the pre- and post-rut, with a switch to loud aggressive rattling during the peak of the rut and the ten days leading up to it.
When rattling during the peak of the rut, you can also add in grunts, snorts, wheezes, foot stomping, tree raking, and any other racket that bucks make during an all-out battle. It's easy to feel self-conscious when making this much noise, but don't worry -- it's almost impossible to scare bucks away during this phase.
|Phase of Season||Volume of Rattling|
|Pre-Rut||Soft, light, tickling|
|Rut||Loud, aggressive (incorporate snorts, foot stomping, tree raking)|
|Post-Rut||Softer, less aggressive|
Below are two videos that demonstrate the difference in volume between soft sparring and loud fighting:
Antler rattling demands knowledge and practice in order for you to succeed using this tactic. Like any other deer hunting tactic, it won't always deliver. But, when your location, timing, and conditions are right, it can be an incredibly valuable trick to have up your sleeve. Plus, rattling in a buck can be one of the most exciting, adrenaline-packed experiences you can have as a deer hunter.