Back when Mickey Hellickson, one of the premier deer researchers in the world, was working toward his doctorate in wildlife biology, he conducted a three-year study on whitetail behavior that included groundbreaking research on the fascinating if often misunderstood technique of antler rattling. Mick’s project was the “school of hard knocks,” both figuratively and literally. His test results have become the barometer for rattling in deer anywhere in the U.S. Use his advice to bring a buck running to your horns this season.
The Rattle Ranch
Hellickson and his team conducted their research on a large refuge in South Texas, where the deer population was high and the buck:doe ratio was near 1:1. Plenty of middle-aged (3 ½ to 4 ½ years old) and mature bucks (5 ½ years plus) prowled around in search of hot does. The competition among the bucks for the favors of the gals was fierce. They were primed to come to the horns.
The researchers worked in two-man teams. When one of the bucks responded, a person took notes, videotaped the deer and estimated its age and Boone and Crockett score.
Prime Rattle Time
Over the three-year period, rattling at random 171 different times in November and December, Hellickson and crew lured in 111 bucks. An overall response rate of 65 percent is impressive, but the really good info is found inside the numbers.
“The peak of the rut is by far the best time to rattle in the most bucks,” says Hellickson, who has the numbers to prove it. During the wild days, 65 bucks responded to 60 rattling sequences. That’s a 108 percent response rate! Often two or three 8- and 10-pointers charged or circled into the researchers’ rattles. On two occasions, eight different bucks responded during one 30-minute sequence!
For years I have told anyone who would listen that the first 10 days the post-rut (late November into early December in most areas) are prime for hunting and calling in trophy bucks. More confirmation of that: This phase is when Hellickson rattled up the most mature, big-racked titans. Of the 29 bucks that responded to 51 post-rut rattling sequences, 10 were 5½ years old, and another 10 were 3 ½ to 4 ½! So don’t give up on rattling too soon or you might miss your shot at Mr. Big!
You’ll have your best luck in the morning. Sixty of the 111 bucks (67 percent) came into the researchers’ horns between 7:30 and 10:30 a.m. Cool days with 75 percent cloud cover and little or low wind speed were best.
The Horn Music
“If you aren’t totally exhausted after a sequence, you didn’t rattle hard enough,” says Hellickson. He and his crew rattled long and hard 85 times and attracted 81 bucks. Their 86 shorter, quieter sequences pulled in only 30 bucks. Crashing the horns, along with cracking sticks and beating the ground to mimic the mother of all buck fights, was nearly three times as effective, so go for it. The length of a rattling session didn’t matter much. Both one- and three-minute volleys lured an equal number of bucks.
Rattling Your Woods
As compared to the Texas refuge where Mick did his work, the private or public ground you’ll hunt this fall will hold fewer mature bucks, and the buck:doe ratio won’t be nearly so good. Still, use the research as a guide to rattle by. Climb into a stand on a cool, calm during peak rut or the first days of the post-rut… whack the horns like a wild man (or gal) in short, explosive volleys till your hands go numb… keep your eyes peeled and your confidence high for 30 minutes… oh yeah, get your bow or gun ready, a big buck might be coming!
Check out Hanback’s BIG DEER Blog at www.mikehanback.com.