The author’s daughter, Katelyn, experienced success on her first deer hunt thanks to strategic rattling.
Snow was settling on us like the storm scene in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” as I set up with a buddy of mine to rattle whitetails along a willow-choked creek-bottom. Small openings abounded, so I plopped down where I had a 360-degree view and pulled my rattling antlers from my pack. Seconds later I smacked them together in a mock fight that anything within earshot couldn’t ignore. They didn’t.
Within minutes my friend and I were literally swarmed by whitetails. I’d misjudged the deer density in the willows, and as soon as one buck would arrive another would blow in a fleeing flurry from a downwind dose of danger. We caught a glimpse of a dream buck, but my failure to set up in a way to “force” the bucks into a shooting-gallery scenario cost my friend the shot. I never forgot that lesson and now look for ways to place bucks where I want them while rattling instead of giving them free rein.
Whitetails will wade or swim if necessary, but they’d rather stay on dry land. With this knowledge, you can use rivers, ponds, lakes and swamps to force bucks to circle into the location of your choosing and eliminate a backdoor surprise.
Scouting for these locations is as easy as snooping on Google Earth. Zoom in on your property and note the location of all water. Next, consider all prevailing winds and visit the location if possible during the offseason to test how the water corridor might alter wind flow. Lastly, mark areas near dense bedding cover and likely whitetail feed because these are top rattling spots.
One more note on this topic: Remember that water freezes. Let me explain.
During one subzero morning, I rattled along a river corridor, and a buck held up parallel to the river in dense cover. Intently watching that buck 100 yards away for any signs of movement, I forgot about the river behind me. My partner didn’t and nearly fell off the riverbank while scrambling to get a shot at a different buck that was using the frozen riverbed to pull off a sneak attack. Needless to say the buck bolted, and I learned a lesson about a buck’s boldness to cross ice for a fight.
THE UPS AND DOWNS
Online maps with elevation overlays or even old-fashioned topographical maps aid in locating the steepest terrain on your hunting property. Steep, intimidating slopes and cliffs provide another wall or backstop for rattling setup success. Although bucks can climb or descend mountain-goatlike terrain, they generally travel the path of least resistance. This means you can put your back to the vertical terrain feature and rest assured a buck won’t suddenly appear in your rearview mirror.
You need to consider prevailing winds and be aware that any radical terrain has the ability to twist prevailing winds into strange courses. An onsite visit or planning a rattling setup during low-wind periods might give the location more merit.
While hunting a new property, I spent the midmorning hours scouting and came across a thick jungle of bedding cover adjacent to a sheer cliff 75 feet high. Still-hunting back there the next morning, I slipped into a brushy hollow but moved away from the cliff behind me. Once settled, I rattled from a ground position. I wasn’t alone long.
A non-typical buck with mass to spare charged onto the scene. His maturity was obvious as he bypassed my intended shooting window and instead used the thick cover to investigate the commotion with canniness. Even though I pulled him to within 30 yards, he slipped into a downwind position and soon melted back into the brush without offering a bow shot. No worries. A few days later, using a treestand ambush, I rattled in another mature buck, but this time I moved back against the sheer cliff to force the buck to show himself in front of me.
THICK OR THIN
Although not as bold or obvious as the previous two backdrops, thick brush and open terrain can also provide a detour for rattle-lured whitetails. Whitetails can burrow through brush like a bobcat-pursued bunny, but they oftentimes bypass the barbs and walk around a super-dense obstacle. Putting your back or treestand up against a thick briar patch could force a buck to walk into the shooting lane of your choice.
The same is true of open fields or pastures next to dense bedding cover. By setting up on a downwind edge with the open terrain at your back, you could lure a buck to the interior edge to investigate the sounds. Instinct will keep most bucks in cover, but by using small openings in the edge cover you could be awarded with a shot at an inquisitive buck.
Two years ago, I treated my 12-year-old daughter to her first deer hunt while teaming up with Gardner Ranch Outfitters in Montana. Using an open hayfield as a rear wall, we eased to the edge of an impenetrable jungle of river-bottom cover. We’d spied several bucks moving in and out of the cover in restless, rutting behavior, so I knew rattling had a chance. I smacked the antlers together and positioned Katelyn for a shot as deer started stirring in the backdrop.
A young buck poked his head out, but only for a second. I assured Katelyn another would show up as I tossed a few grunts out to complete the charade. Moments later a mature 5x5 marched forward in a bold gesture of dominance. Katelyn waited until the buck fully exposed his chest and then she ended the hunt with one clean shot. The buck didn’t want to circle downwind in the open field, and his catlike curiosity worked in our favor.