I know a lot of people who use rattle bags or antlers to rattle in bucks during the rut. However, most of the people I talk to have very little success rattling. I prefer using a rattle bag over actual antlers, mainly due to it being compact and lightweight. It’s also easy to put down if a deer comes in. The bag I use is an OLD Knight and Hale rattle bag that I bought because I liked the sound of it. I don't like it when the tone is too low and it sounds like two 180" deer are fighting with heavy massed antlers. Your average buck isn't going to want to tackle something that sounds like that. I like a "medium to high" tone in my rattling calls, because it sounds like younger bucks.
I have the best luck rattling in the first three weeks of October. Yes, even in the Louisiana heat. This is fairly surprising to most hunters, since it is usually still in the mid to upper 90's for a high. I attribute this early season luck to bucks still running together in bachelor groups so there is more sparring going on early than any other time of year. Come November/December they're no longer sparring. They're actually fighting for a reason and many bucks just don't want to fight so they'll turn and leave, unless they're just curious or rut crazed hoping to steal a doe. I have rattled bucks in during late season but not as often as I have in the pre-rut. I think the biggest keys to having rattling success are having a buck in ear shot, how you rattle, and the timing and location.
Most of the time on TV, you see people bashing the horns together in a knock down drag out "I'm gonna kill you” type of fight. I don't necessarily think that's the wisest approach when it comes to rattling, especially here in Louisiana. In south Texas or Missouri or locations with higher populations and less pressured deer, I'm sure it works well. However, it does not produce as often (never for me actually) as a less aggressive style of rattling. I've hunted bucks specifically for the past 8-10yrs and that's put me in areas with a higher concentration of bucks. What I mean by saying I hunt bucks is that I am not simply just trying to fill tags. I am scouting out specific deer to hunt during the summer and focusing on those bucks throughout season. The benefit to this is it has put me in areas that bucks like to frequent and by default put me in the vicinity of more bucks. Because of this, I've been privileged to hear one or more fights throughout season for the past several years. These experiences have allowed me to hear what a fight actually sounds like.
I've never heard a constant, “clang clang clang crash clang clack clang!!” like you see on television while watching a buck fight. You have to think about what deer are doing when they fight. They aren't putting their horns together and shaking their heads like a bull dog with a ragdoll. Ninety percent of the fight, they are pushing their body weight into each other. You only hear the horns click when they are shifting their weight to get better footing. It's mostly antlers grinding against each other, then a click of antler, then a long pause of silence (because they're pushing), then another click click, then another long pause. And it will often last ten straight minutes or more. This is what I try to mimic when I rattle.
During the early season, don't include many, if any, vocalizations. Just start rattling. Later in the year as the rut kicks in, start off your sequence by throwing in some grunts and maybe a snort wheeze. Regardless of the time of year, I rattle for 5 to 15 minutes straight every time. However, it is a very "laid back" rattling sequence. Click click-pause for 20seconds, click -pause for 10secs, click click click- pause for 30secs (something along these lines) real easy and non aggressive. Sometimes I will wait for a minute or more before I click my "horns" together again. It shouldn't really disturb the woods around you much if you rattle like this. Birds and squirrels should still be out and about doing their thing and not running for the nearest cover. I've had does walk up while I was rattling and never act alarmed. Bucks usually walk in cautiously, but on occasion (usually in the rut) they'll run in. Bucks are more likely to come in out of curiosity than out of wanting to fight, especially in the early season. They’ll often show 20 minutes after you’re through rattling, because they took their time closing the distance. Keeping it low key will lessen the chances of spooking the buck before he gets in range.
Wait to rattle until 1.5-2 hours after daylight or before dark. Bucks are on their feet more often during these daylight hours than any other time of day, so you will have higher odds of a buck hearing you. Areas with freshly hit scrapes are great places to rattle from since typically numerous bucks work the same scrape. Another great location is inside the edge of thickets in places where deer cannot see as far. If you decide to rattle in open timber, employ the help of a decoy. This will often help seal the deal. Otherwise, a buck will stop once he can see the location you are rattling from. If he does not see another deer, good luck getting him to come any closer. Once a buck is headed your way, you need to be able to read the deer to know what to do next. Generally it is best to quit rattling once the buck commits. If he hangs up, then a few low grunts or a snort wheeze will often draw him closer. Experience is the best teacher to know how to handle each scenario. Next time you decide to wake the woods with the clash of antler, take a moment to try this subtle approach. You may be surprised at what may come slipping through the brush.
Harmon's Equipment List
Bow- Blackwidow PSA III
Stand- Muddy Vantage
Camo- First Lite Fusion
Essentials- Simmons Tiger Shark Broadheads, HCB Strings, Black Eagle Deep Impacts, Knight & Hale Rattling Bag
Harmon Carson- LABH Contributor (Haughton, LA)