Whitetail Rattling Legend

Three times in my 70 years of rattling I have had nine bucks around me, all within 50 yards—and some within 20 feet. Two bucks have jumped over me as I lay in the grass. I have photos of bucks standing within 12 feet of me.

I rattled up my first buck near the Old Eagle Pass crossing of the Nueces River, 11 miles southwest of Uvalde. This was in November, 1933. At the end of the 2002 hunting season, I had rattled up 2,002 whitetail bucks. Thirteen of these were rattled up in 2002 on our Hillcrest Ranch in Kerr and Real Counties.

During the three years I was the first resident biologist on the YO Ranch, I rattled up bucks in every pasture of the 78,000-acre ranch. By hunting season of 1950, 1951 and 1952, I knew most of the big bucks on the ranch. When Mrs. Schreiner asked me to take a special guest out and rattle up a buck for him or her, I knew just where to go.

One such hunter was Mrs. Jack Burrus, whose husband owned Burrus Mills in Ft. Worth. I took her and her daughter, a co-ed at Texas University, to the north end of the ranch and rattled up a massive 12-point buck. She had hunted on the ranch for years, but had never bagged a buck with more than 10 points.

At lunch that day, Mrs. Burrus told Charlie Schreiner that if he wanted to kill a big buck, he should get Bob to rattle one up for him. After we loaded the buck in her station wagon, Mrs. Burrus and her daughter headed out for Austin, then on to Ft. Worth.

As we watched the station wagon disappear, Charlie turned to me and said, "Alright, let's go see you rattle up that big buck for me." I got my horns out of my pickup and climbed in the back seat of Charlie's station wagon, with Charlie and Audrey in front.

When we reached the Bluff Mill, about two miles north of headquarters, I got out to open a gate. When I got the gate open I saw a buck standing in the shade of a live oak tree about 100 yards away. He was looking at us and had a wide spread, but thin, white antlers. He looked like the biggest spike buck I had ever seen. Then, he turned his head slightly and a bunch of long tines sticking up from those thin antlers came into view. Charlie didn't see this.

"Shoot that buck, Charlie." He poked his rifle out the window and then turned as Audrey asked if she thought he should use his last buck tag on that one. She told him it was his decision to make. I told him to shoot that buck or hand me the rifle out of the window. Mrs. Schreiner had told me to shoot a buck if I saw one I liked. I sure liked that one!

Charlie aimed at the buck again, and then shot. When we got to him, Charlie took one look, then grabbed Audrey and began dancing all over that hill. The buck had spindly antlers, but sported 11 points on each antler. The spread was 22 inches. Charlie had just shot the best buck of his life. It cut our hunt short, and I didn't get to rattle him up a buck that day.

In 1961, Charlie asked me to come over to the YO the next morning and rattle for some guests. The guests were 14 outdoor writers: George Callam, Ft. Worth Star Telegram, Dick McCune, Dallas Times Herald, Fred Maly, San Antonio Light, Dan Klepper, San Antonio Express, Ken Force, Waco Tribune, Wes Wise (later mayor of Dallas), Roy Swann, Corpus Christi Caller and seven others, including Charlie Schreiner and his foreman, Vernon Jones.

I took them to a hillside near the Elm Water Hole and told them to sit in a close group. I stood right below them with a shallow draw and a Texas oak motte across the draw behind me. I explained what I was going to do. When they said they had no questions, I did an "about-face" and began rattling.

Almost immediately, we heard rocks rolling and brush popping across the shallow canyon. A heavy-racked 10-pointer burst out of the brush and charged up to within 50 feet of me. He stood for a second or two, staring at me and all those white shirts and hats on the hillside above me. Then he wheeled and was gone. My audience was silent for a few seconds and then all 14 men began talking at once. We stopped several times on our way back to headquarters and I rattled up 22 more bucks for them.

There was only one phone on the YO in those days and it was some sight to see 14 men try to call in their stories to their respective newspapers at the same time. Luckily, there were no fights and they finally got their calling done. When their stories appeared in their newspapers, I began getting calls and letters from all over the United States, Canada and Mexico. Everyone wanted to know more about this "new" method of luring whitetail bucks.

Actually, Native Americans rattled up deer, called turkey and quail, and lured antelope up close by waving a deer tail out of a sage bush. Rattling was performed by Brush Country Texans before the Civil War. Hance Smyth, Uvalde County Sheriff and rancher, loaned me his rattling horns in 1933. He had used them for 30 years! They were slick and the color of old ivory, but still had a good ring when clashed together. I rattled up two bucks with them before taking them back to him.

Three times in my 70 years of rattling I have had nine bucks around me, all within 50 yards—and some within 20 feet. Two bucks have jumped over me as I lay in the grass. I have photos of bucks standing within 12 feet of me.

Three of the largest bucks I have rattled up were on the Wayne Roberts Ranch east of Cotulla. Two of these had more than 20 points on frames over 24 inches wide. The third was a six-point buck with no brow tines and a spread of about 28 inches. Not one of the three bucks was killed, but all were observed at close range. The circumstances surrounding their escapes are too painful to mention, so I won't.

In 1964, Field and Stream magazine commissioned Dan Klepper, outdoor editor of the San Antonio Express, to write a story on rattling up bucks in Texas. Dan called and asked if I would help him. I met him at the YO Ranch and we headed out south from headquarters. Roy Swann, from the Corpus Christi Caller, went with us. Before we went back for lunch, Dan had photographed 16 good bucks. That afternoon, Hal Swiggett and Button Forehand went with us. Dan photographed 22 more bucks, one of which was shot by Hal. In each case, Dan was able to get the buck and me in the same picture. We had photographed 38 bucks in a total of five hours of rattling.

Over a span of years from 1980 to 1997, I rattled up 127 bucks for Johnny Stewart of Stewart Game Calls. He filmed all of these bucks on 16mm movie film. I can recall him filming 25 bucks one day and 18 on a different ranch on another day. There were a number of 3- to 10-buck days. Also, there were two no-buck days!

Speaking of no-buck days, on Nov. 18, 2003, I rattled from 7:15 a.m. to noon and did not get a single buck to respond. My hunter was a long-time friend, Gene Stallings. We walked over two miles in my East and Rattlesnake pastures, pausing to rattle every 200 yards. Brian Hawkins followed behind us to video the hunt.

There was no wind and the temperature was 40 degrees. Gene had driven down from his ranch 17 miles north of Paris, Texas, a drive of about 450 miles. He spent the night of Nov. 17, and drove back home at 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 18 after our long trek. Needless to say, I was terribly disappointed in failing to rattle up a buck for Gene.

In 1956, he recruited Ross Brubaker in the kitchen of our hunting lodge. Ross was an all-state football and basketball player from Louisiana who was hunting here on the ranch. He killed a 12-point buck early in the morning of the day he became an (Texas A&M) Aggie football player.

After he graduated from A&M, he played pro ball for six years with the Chicago Bears. Gene didn't have time to hunt that time, so I told him I would give him a rain check. He came back to collect on that rain check 47 years later! He has another rain check now, and I hope he has more time to hunt on his next trip!

Buck rattling is a lot like bass fishing. One day, bass will hit any lure you toss in the water. On another similar day, in the same body of water, you can fish for hours without getting a strike. I do not remember the year, but for a time I could not rattle up a buck here on the ranch from Oct. 20 to Jan. 1. Brian Hawkins was along some of the days. Maybe that should have told me something!

Over several years, I conducted rattling seminars for the Texas Trophy Hunters Association (TTHA) in Laredo, Waco, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston. In 1978, very few members of TTHA had rattled up a buck. Each succeeding year more hands went up when I asked who had rattled up a buck. Now, I would be willing to bet that every member of TTHA has tried to rattle up a buck and that most have succeeded.

In 1946, I wrote a little pamphlet on how to rattle up a buck and I gave Johnny Stewart the right to publish and sell the booklet. He sold thousands of the little booklets all over the United States. Gerald Stewart, Johnny's son, following Johnny's death in 1987, gave me permission to include that booklet in my last book, "More Texas Tales." Outdoor writers have told me that was the first written description of the horn-rattling process to get nationwide attention.

Today, bucks are rattled up in several provinces in Canada, Mexico, South America and all but two states in the U.S., Alaska and Hawaii. There are no whitetail deer in those two states.

I have rattled up axis, sika and fallow buck and one blackbuck antelope, but never got a mule deer to respond. I have seen muley bucks fight in West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, but not one time were there other bucks around the fight.

No, rattling will not work at times, but when it does, it will always produce a high with me. I hope it affects you the same way. I have enjoyed most of my 85 years and hope that you have a long life and many successful hunts.


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