Story and photos by: Larry Weishuhn
Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Rattlin’ Bones!
“Give me those horns! All you’ve rattled in is promises and hot air!”
“And what pray tell, what have you contributed?” I countered to Johnny Hudman, nay demand. “What about those five bucks I rattled in at the last set-up? And don’t you tell me they were simply apparitions. You may not have acknowledged it, but they came charging in!”
Pushing back his hat Johnnie stared off into the distant sky, “Well…yeah technically, I guess you could call those five yearlings, bucks. They were males, but surely didn’t have much on their heads in terms of antlers…” As he stood up he continued, “Let’s head down the road for a new set-up. But this time I’m rattling!”
Rolling my eyes, “Whatever…” said I, handing him my rattling horns which I had been using for the past twenty plus years, sheds from a nice, ten-point buck, given to me by Tim Schmidt with the Double T Ranch back when.
“Let’s spray down with TRHP’s Scent Guardian before we walk into the next place. Walking with the wind at our back we’ll disturb less country. And, I want to set up so we can watch down wind. Older bucks are going to approach down wind. When we get there, spray a bit of TRHP’s Hunters Creed, that too will help bring them in and keep ‘em around for a while,” said my hunting partner. Between the two of us we had rattled in many whitetail bucks from north of Albany down to the Brush Country of South Texas, and beyond.
TRHP’s Scent Guardian destroys human odor so we felt comfortable walking with the wind to where Johnnie wanted to rattle. I knew the area from past hunts, a large mesquite flat, meaning a relatively flat area with a dense stand of mesquite trees, prickly pear and tasajilla, also called pencil or Christmas cactus. Near the center of the almost 100-acre thicket was an one-acre opening, traversed by dry creek.
We sat down, a gnarly mesquite at our back, near the edge of the opening where we could see all of it. No sooner had Johnnie started rattling and I grunting with natural voice than two good-sized, although young 8-points charged in directly downwind. They stared in our direction. Suddenly the buck on the left looked quickly and hard to his left. Obviously another buck was approaching. He, a handsome three-years old ten-point strode out of the mesquites. Right behind him came a big-bodied, rut-swelled neck, darkly stained hocks (typical of mature bucks) 8-point. There was no doubt he was the dominant buck, the three other bucks avoided him to such a manner I almost expected them to bow to the “master”.
One of our goals of the hunt was to shoot an older, mature 8-point buck. “Same antlers he had when we rattled in last year. Take him.” Whispered Johnnie, never missing a beat with the rattling horns.
My .375 Ruger, topped with a Trijicon AccuPoint variable scope cranked down to 5x resting on shooting sticks was pointed directly at the older buck. Crosshairs settle on the buck’s quartering to shoulder. Hornady’s 250-grain GMX Outfitter dropped the six-year old in his tracks.
Hudman extended his gloved right hand in my direction. “You done good Pilgrim!” said he.
“You didn’t do so bad yourself… ‘Course if I had been rattling, that Boone & Crockett we saw here last year would have come in…” Hudman laughed out loud!
Rattling “works” wherever whitetails exist. Rattling works best where there are a lot of bucks that can hear the imitated sounds of two bucks fighting. Over the years I have rattled in bucks where the buck to doe ratio was as wide as one buck to 15 does. So I know it can happen. However, I have rattled in many more bucks where the buck to doe ratio was considerably narrower, say one buck to two or three does.
I generally start rattling when I see the first active scrapes and continue doing so through the end of the hunting season. I always set up where I can watch downwind, but in so doing look for shooting lanes to the left and right of directly down wind giving me more shot opportunities.
The last couple of years I have been hunting with Craig Archer, ranch and hunting manager for the Hargrove Ranches (www.hargrovehunts.com) in the Lower Texas Panhandle, a land of sand and shinnery (shin oak, so named because it does not grow tall), near the badlands of the Double Mountain Brazos River. Craig has become one of my favorite hunting partners particularly when it comes to whitetails in country that does not look like the excellent whitetail habitat it is, and which is also populated with an expanding desert mule deer herd. I am headed there in a few days, this time to primarily hunt mule deer.
One of the beauties of rattling in this unique terrain and vegetation area is you can see bucks coming to horn from great distances. One of the things I have learned about rattling in this type of habitat is to use big antlers that make a lot of noise so the sound carries a long way. Last year, we watched bucks coming directly to the sound of the rattling horns from better than a half mile distant.
Throughout much of North America, November is an excellent time to rattle. This fall no matter where you hunt whitetails, do not overlook using rattling horns. Try rattling throughout the day, off and on for fifteen to twenty minutes, even if you are hunting from a permanent blind or from a treestand.
I find it interesting sometimes the same bucks that ignore the sound of rattling, say at first light, come charging in later during the day, and vice-versa. That is one of the reasons I rattle throughout the day. You never know when they will respond.
If you have not already rattled in a buck, do not give up! One promise I will make, once you rattle in that first buck, you will be hooked on rattling for the rest of your life. Two, you can listen to some of my latest hunting adventures by listening to my weekly “DSC’s Campfires with Larry Weishuhn” podcast (www.biggame.org/dscs-campfires/).