I have always enjoyed trying to rattle in Whitetail bucks, but its been with limited success at best. In talking with my friend Bill we concluded that one reason it seems difficult in the Minnesota north-woods setting is due to Timber Wolf predation and public land hunting pressure, which places the deer population on higher alert compared to the farm land animals to the south and west of our region; but this could be a hunters excuse. Whether there is any truth to our conclusion or its just my line for bad rattling technique’s, it’s been a fun learning curve.
One avid bow hunter I swap stories with gave me a word of advice, “don’t give up on rattling for bucks”. I think I will take those words to heart and keep on trying to lure in Ole Woolly with my antler clashing.
Here’s a rattling story from last season.
I faced a stiff west wind as I headed out for an afternoon hunt on the Tamarac Wildlife Refuge. The autumn sky was veiled. It had been a rainy week, the air was damp, but not cold. I wanted to get set up on the south edge of about four hundred acres of deer woods that bordered the east side of Tamarac Lake. Flanking this chunk of trees was an equal sized natural meadow, mixed willow cover, and sloughs. It was the type of afternoon and terrain that just felt like deer hunting.
I had hunted the north side of this plot before but always noticed a mature stand of Norway Pines guarding the southern tree-line. They drew me like a leaf to the ground. Before long I stood in front of the giants as though I was waiting permission to enter under their watchful eye. Not yet willing to commit an entrance into the forest, I still-hunted my way along the edge, peering into the shadows in hopes of spotting a bedded deer as the steady wind covered my movement.
I came to a finger of grass which pointed into the woods. Two converging deer trails emerged from the thicker cover and emptied into the meadow. This was my evening ambush.
Several downfalls provided good cover. I decided on one and set up my carry-in stool. The dead fall offered good back cover and an excellent view of the denser foliage and clearing. I was in a transition zone where the trees relented their hold and conceded to the meadow grass. After settling in, I sat motionless for quite some time before attempting my first rattle.
My approach has always been to mimic two smaller bucks sparring in hopes of attracting a dominant animal to come and stake his claim. After working my cherished antlers I had taken many years before, I waited.
The tree-tops tossed in the wind but I was bedded down and protected on the forest floor. The woods were expectant, waiting on the nocturnal creatures that inhabit the night. I sat in expectation as well.
There was just under an hour of hunting light left and fifteen minutes had passed since my last rattle. I tried again. I slowly lifted my antlers, secured at their base by a small rope, and touched the tines.
Instantly, a deer signaled its warning and disapproval of my presence. It was about thirty yards into the canopy and just out of my sight. The alarmed animal worked its way around me announcing my location about every thirty seconds for several long minutes before moving on. Except for the haunting wind, the Whitetail’s agitation left the forest quiet and alert to my intrusion. I had been completely busted. After the deer was gone I fought the urge to get up and make my way down the line of Norway Pines to another spot. I realized that was pointless, and sat tight, with one last hope that a cruising buck from some distance away would still come through, unaware of the recent drama. That buck never materialized and I witnessed the forest change to darkness before my thoughtful walk back to the truck.
Was that deer making its way toward me in response to my first antler call? Did it see my movement when I rattled? Was it just bad timing, and happened to be walking toward the field at that time? Was it a trophy buck or a cautious doe? These are the questions I have to live with.
I did learn a great lesson. Even tough I had decent cover for a ground sit, when I added the rattling technique, I needed to have a downed tree or some sort of cover to protect the sequence of movement. Having never attempted using a rattle call on the ground before, it was a good tutoring session.
As I look back on this hunt, I have a feeling the animal in this story is the dominant buck I walked up on in the ‘Close Encounter’ post as it was in the same area. I will be back after him next season.
Regardless of this hunts outcome, it was a successful outing for me because I was there, and I can add this story to my other ‘Trophy’ memories I have collected over the years. I hope you can take a few moments and record your own hunting experiences. It is a great way to etch them into your story-telling catalog.