Shake, Rattle and Roll

Posted on September 24, 2013

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“And now there comes an ominous sound

Of hoofs that fiercely spurn the ground,

Close followed by a sudden crash,

As through the brush with headlong dash.”

 

–                                                                                    A Dilettante Sportsman

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I could hear the deliberate footfall of the approaching bucks long before I saw them. The first buck came rushing in with a panicked expression, stopped and stared back in the direction he’d just come from. Lurking just inside the heavy cover was another buck, one that vocalized his presence with a low guttural grunt. Within seconds, the most dominant of the pair stiff-leggedly walked into view. His hair was standing erect, ears lowered and flattened against his huge neck as he sidled up to and began circling his foe.

As the two combatants sized each other up, the bigger of the two emitted a long, drawn out snort-wheeze, hoping to intimidate the other enough to avert an actual fight. When they actually had themselves positioned nose-to-nose it seemed the two relaxed a bit, which caused me to think they would actually forgo the battle.

No sooner had that notion passed through my noggin, when with lightning fast speed the two gladiators lowered their heads and the sudden clash of antlers filled the air. For the next few seconds the action was furious; lots of grinding, bone against bone, dirt and leaf debris churned up, branches being busted and a whole lot of grunting. Then, as suddenly as it started the bucks disengaged. “Was this intermission or is the fight actually over,” I thought.

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After another snort from the big buck, the two reengaged into a full battle royale. They shoved and pushed, noses literally dragging on the ground as they jockeyed for position. At one point, the smaller buck literally fell to his side while still locked up; not a great position to be in if you are hoping to keep from having your neck snapped. That disadvantage was short lived as his quick reflexes brought him back to his feet.

The sheer force and strength being exerted by these titans could best be described as a match to the death; it was that intense. By now, more than two-minutes into the second round, you could hear their breathing becoming much more labored. Mouths open and sides heaving with each breath brought them closer to exhaustion.

As the shutter on my camera clicked at 9 shots per second I wondered, “How long can this last and what will the result be?” Finally, the two separated with the smaller buck immediately racing out of the metaphorical ring. The victor followed for a short distance grunting with each bound. Satisfied that he had proved his dominance, the big buck stood for a long time sucking in oxygen before ultimately walking off.

Old Dog – New Trick

 

Here I was, standing amidst some of the largest and most prolific scrapes I’d ever encountered in my deer hunting career. There had to be at least two-dozen table top size scrapes within a 100-yard radius with debris thrown back as far as 15-feet. Rubs on various size trees were also scattered about. To say that my senses were at a heightened state would be an understatement; I was wired. The location was a finger of woods coming off a ridge that separated two 7-year old cuts. The question that came to mind was what to do next?

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As many of you know, I’m a tracker/still-hunter and pride myself on sneaking up onto unsuspecting deer.  However, through the years I’ve learned that it is good to adapt to whatever the circumstances and conditions dictate on a given day. At that moment, at that very spot, in light of what I was seeing, the best tactic would be to rattle. That’s right folks, that was not a typo or misprint, I said rattle.

Fortunately, I had remembered to grab a set of rattling antlers prior to leaving on this hunting foray. I positioned my hunting companion in front of me and began my two-minute rendition of two bucks going at it. Less than five-minutes later a doe and her fawn sprinted past us from out of the cut. Just as soon as they disappeared I caught the tell-tale scent of a bucks musky, urine drenched tarsals in the breeze blowing in our face. Despite not seeing or hearing him for several moments we could follow the buck’s progress as the wind shifted. And then it was gone, no more scent, no more activity.

After waiting for another half-hour I decided to push on. We hadn’t gone far when I stopped, turned and exclaimed to my partner, “There’s way too much activity going on here for us to leave the area just yet. We’re going up to that log and sit for a couple of hours and watch this trail.”

It didn’t take nearly that long. We had barely sat down as I turned slightly to my left in order to remove my camera pack when I noticed movement, not in front of us but from behind. It was at that moment when my associate, who was sitting to my immediate right, whispered, “big buck!”

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Turning and shouldering my rifle in one fluid motion I saw the buck walking, with his head down directly towards where I had rattled 40-minutes prior. As I placed the unsuspecting buck in the cross-hairs, the muzzle blast from the guy next to me rang loudly in my left ear. The buck hunched up at the report and then did the absolute unexpected; rather than dropping at the impact or fleeing in any direction, he looked right at me, lowered his head and charged like a locomotive carrying eight daggers destined for my midsection. From a ten foot distance I shot the beast, which put him into a nose dive that ended with him skidding to a halt right at the front of my boots. Talk about high drama, I can only imagine what it would have felt like had this been a charging Cape buffalo, lion or elephant.

Nothing Happens until it Sells

 

Was that big buck responding to the rattling? I’m convinced he was. But that is not to mean that I’m at all proficient with rattling. This was in fact the very first time I had ever tried it. Beginners luck, perhaps, but I would like to think that like calling turkeys, the caller has to sell to the animal that indeed this is the real deal.

Although being a first time rattler, I had one huge advantage going for me; I’d experienced numerous buck fights played out in front of my camera and knew intimately what it was supposed to sound like. I also realized that I had nothing to lose as clashing antlers were normal in the deer woods, and if sold correctly, I had everything to gain.

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I’m not sure how other more proficient rattlers perform, or if there is even a wrong way to rattle. Either way, all I did was duplicate what I had seen and heard from living, breathing whitetail bucks as they fought. First, I  vocally emit a single grunt, wait 15-to-30 seconds and snort wheeze. During the next 30 seconds I imitate the sounds of bucks circling each other using my feet against the ground. And then, with force I would begin clashing the antlers together, all the while breaking branches and pounding the ground. As I play out this mock battle I’m literally visualizing what I’ve actually seen. After approximately two minutes or so, I stop. Depending on what does or doesn’t happen next will dictate whether or not I do another short sequence.

Confirmation

 

It is important to understand that although rattling can and does work, in order for bucks to really respond there needs to be a competing mature buck population. This becomes evident to the hunter by the sheer number of rubs and scrapes found. The greater the number, the greater the competition.

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Two days following the aforementioned hunt found the two of us located in a very strategic location, once again surrounded by multiple scrapes on a clear cold morning. This time, after having observed my rattling sequence my partner would be the rattler. Fifteen minutes after we set-up I grunted once, waited 30 – seconds and snort-wheezed and then gave the go-ahead to begin. Twenty minutes after the initial sequence I was asked, “Should I do another short sequence?” I hesitantly responded with, “Yeah, go ahead, but make it light.”

No sooner had he finished when we could hear deer hoofs walking on crisp leaf litter and antlers brushing against limbs. Not one, but two bucks were circling just out of view, one to our left the other directly downwind. Initially, I thought the buck that would offer the best shot was the one circling to our left as his footfall was getting closer and the woods really opened up. However, that was not to be the case as the buck below us walked into an opening and began to stomp. Believing that this party could be over sooner than expected I dared not wait to see what the other buck looked like. This one was certainly a shooter.

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Approaching the downed buck after a 100-yard tracking job cinched in my mind that rattling does indeed work and works effectively.

Conclusion

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Rattling, like any other tactic becomes another instrument in the deer hunter’s ever expanding orchestra to capture this elusive creature. Knowing when, where and how to use this technique can make all the difference…even for an ‘Old Dog’ that can indeed learn ‘New Tricks’.

(Editors note: The Province of Ontario, Canada, where these bucks were taken allow party hunting.)

All images and text on this site are copyright protected and the property of R.G. Bernier

© 2013 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.

 

 

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer