November 27, 2023
A decade ago, on a December rut-hunt in the brush country of South Texas, me, my two sons and Bass Pro Tour angler Kelly Jordan watched while Chris Mahfouz put on a virtuoso performance while clashing together a set of big Muy Grande whitetail antlers.
Within seconds, a wide-eyed buck showed up with nostrils flaring, saved only because he wasn't mature enough to spend a tag on. On that same day, I even rattled in a buck of my own, a 10-pointer passed over because he wasn't quite old enough yet.
And a few years ago in early December, while on a Mossy Oak hunt at the legendary Vatoville Ranch, I watched again in wide-eyed wonder as a similar rattling session brought a buck into shooting range in less than a minute. Clearly, antler rattling does work, at least in the right place and at the right time.
That right time for rattling success could be now as the post-rut takes over in the whitetail woods. In fact, the post-rut can be surprisingly good for hunters wanting to catch up with a bruiser buck seeking some late romance in the woods.
But don’t take my word for it, because in the story "Does Rattling Work?" by Dr. Dave Samuel and biologist Bob Zaiglin for Bowhunter Magazine, there's plenty of evidence that it does, at least according to a study done by Dr. Mickey W. Hellickson just more than a decade ago.
That study was conducted on the Rob and Bessie Welder Wildlife Foundation Refuge in South Texas, an 8,000-acre research facility near Sinton that features plenty of observation stands, the thorny, scrubby terrain typical of the South Texas brush country, and plenty of young, middle-aged, and old wise-guy bucks. The effort, done as Hellickson pursued his doctoral degree from the University of Georgia, revealed some surprising results, according to an article that Hellickson originally penned for the Quality Whitetails magazine and later reprinted in the Texas Ranch Journal.
A first-of-its-kind scientific look at the antler-rattling hunting technique, Hellickson found that while the study revealed some expected responses, one of the study's findings is of particular importance for any post-rut deer hunter still hoping to call their taxidermist this fall.
With 171 different rattling sequences recorded (60 in the pre-rut, 60 during the peak rut and 51 in the post-rut), a total of 111 bucks responded to rattling in both loud and softer sequences of varying lengths. In addition to louder rattling sequences having a better response rate (95 percent for loud sequences versus 35 percent for soft sequences), the data suggested that the peak rut may be the best time to rattle, at least for those wanting to see high numbers of responding bucks.
"The highest response from mature bucks occurred during the post-rut when an equal number of middle-aged and mature bucks responded to our rattling," wrote Hellickson in his Texas Ranch Journal article. "During the post rut, most of the young bucks, and many of the middle-aged bucks had returned to bachelor groups, so their response rates declined. Mature bucks however, tended to still be alone and in search of receptive females. Although mature bucks were still actively seeking does, most does had already been bred by this time. This meant there were a lot fewer 'hot' does during the post-rut to keep the mature bucks occupied."
Pay close attention to the end of Hellickson's statement here: "Because mature bucks were still actively engaged in breeding behavior, and because fewer does were "in heat," the response rates from mature bucks were highest during the post rut."
Meaning that if you want to tag an old, grizzled wise-guy veteran carrying a serious set of whitetail head bones on top of his noggin, don't leave home without your rattling antlers during a post-rut hunt.