Georgia’s Rake and Rattle Bucks

Matt Adcock | September 1, 2002

Daylight was creeping through the trees as I nestled high in the solitary oak among the pines. The familiar click of the nock biting the string officially started another day of hunting. But I wasn’t hunting just any buck, I was hunting the biggest buck sign I had found on our entire club.

It was not five minutes after I rattled that I heard the familiar sound of a leaf crunch behind me in the pines. I quickly gripped my PSE Firestorm and turned my head to see what was approaching. A large rack emerged from the pines, and the big-bodied buck was only 10 yards away when he stopped his rapid approach. It appeared the buck was trying to see or smell an unknown intruder in his territory. I was able to get up and turn around slightly, but the deer was just too far to my left to get a shot. The buck advanced, and my heart went into overdrive as the deer approached the water oak in which I was sitting. This was the largest buck I had ever had within bow range, and I knew it would easily be the number one bow-kill for Treutlen County. But instead of walking in front of the tree, the buck turned and walked 2 yards behind it.

I slowly turned back to my right and came to full draw. The cautious buck stopped at 5 yards and continued to look in front of me for the scent he had detected. Trying for a clear shot, I positioned my bow between the branches, but there were just too many limbs between me and the buck. The only opening I could shoot through provided a clear view of the deer’s rack, a view that I will remember for a long time. The wary buck looked around for another 30 seconds before he decided something was not quite right, and he quietly slipped back into his sanctuary. I tried several soft grunts to entice the big deer back, but he knew better. By a stroke of luck, he had won this battle.

The date of this encounter was Oct. 13, 2001, and I had only hunted this deer a couple of times since bow season began. I was attempting to lure this big buck into bow range by using cover scents and rattling. I had talked to a veteran bowhunter and realized that part of his success was due to his ability to call mature bucks into bow range. I will have to agree with him. Calling works.

For the past two years, I “raked,” rattled or grunted in some fashion every time I went to the woods in an attempt to learn what works and what doesn’t. Last season, I called 13 different bucks within bow range, five of those in Georgia. With the right set up and tactics, Georgia bucks can be called into close range.

Timing is Everything

One of the most important factors of calling mature deer is timing. Not only is the time of year you attempt to call important but the time of day as well. I have had success rattling and calling from the first weekend of bow season all the way to early December.

When rattling in the morning, I like to begin just after daylight. I have had success raking antlers and rattling as late as noon, but most of my morning responses have been before 9 a.m.

I have found that in the afternoon there is no use bothering to rattle until the sun is beneath the tree line. If you are hunting thickets like I often am, this leaves you about 30 minutes of shooting light for a deer to respond. And if a deer is going to respond, they will often do it rather quickly. On two different occasions last year, I had to stop rattling and put down my Knight & Hale Rattle Bag because the bucks were approaching so rapidly. One thing I have learned, you better have a place to quickly put your antlers or rattle bag. It does you no good to call in a deer if you are handcuffed and not in position to shoot.

Set Up For Success

How you set up to call whitetails is also important. I like to hunt thickets with limited visibility. I know that sounds strange because most hunters like to hunt in areas where they can see well, but do not be fooled into thinking that mature bucks do not know where most hunters like to hunt. Your best set up is in a thicket between a bedding area and a feeding area. You want to make it as easy as possible for deer to get up and walk into bow range. Just as you wouldn’t have much hope of calling a turkey across a river, don’t bother trying to call a deer in a direction they normally do not walk.

I know everyone has their own preference on how high to hunt, but getting higher is not always better. I have found that a platform height of 16 or 17 feet with sufficient cover is a good height to hunt from when calling. You are low enough to mimic deer on the ground but high enough to escape most deer’s senses. Just remember that deer do not grunt or fight in trees, so the closer you are to the ground, the more realistic your calls will sound to a deer. I also do not sit in the same location more than once or twice, utilizing climbing stands and lock-on stands to move to different locations daily.

Remember that any approaching deer is expecting to see at least one other deer. The deer will be on full alert, and you must have favorable wind direction or you will be detected. Most bucks will circle downwind of your position to verify with their nose what they have heard with their ears. I often try to protect my downwind side whenever possible by setting up close to a field, pasture or pond on my downwind side. I did this several years ago thinking this method was foolproof, but a mature buck came along the downwind edge of the field behind me and caught me off guard.

Since the deer will often circle, I usually wear a cover scent. Early in the season, I use either Bow Hunter’s Set Up from Scrape Juice or Tink’s Doe P from Wellington. I do not want to be too aggressive early in the season, I just want to smell like a deer and not like a human. I have used Bow Hunter’s Set Up for almost 10 years now, and it is a good overall cover scent that can work any time of the season.

By calling, you are giving away your location, so you must be ready to shoot. Everyone knows that a squirrel’s barking can give away an advancing deer’s location, but do not forget about the birds. Small birds like wrens, sparrows and finches can give away a deer’s location as well. Learn these birds’ alarm calls, and this can give you the extra time you need to get ready for a shot. When you have limited visibility, you need as much early warning as you can get, and you can hear much farther than you can see in a thicket.

Early Season: Keep it Quiet

During early bow season, deer often react differently to rattling and calling. I do not try to stage an all-out fight between two bucks during this time of year. I just try to mimic two small bucks lightly sparring. I flatten the rattle bag in my hand and bump it slightly to produce a light, tickling sound. I only use it briefly, and I pause several seconds between sounds. Since the sounds are not very loud, you need to set up within 75 or 100 yards of the deer’s suspected bedding area or the deer will not even hear it. In my experience, when a buck responds to this type of calling, they usually will not come charging in. They will often walk over just to take a look.

Each buck is different and has his own personality and behavioral traits. Let their curious nature and their pursuit of dominance and rank work to your advantage. Sometimes a macho buck might amble over simply to display his dominance. Early last season, I watched a big 10-pointer walk between two smaller bucks that were sparring. He just stuck his chest out and walked into their locked antlers. They scattered like frightened school children.

I often equate early season calling to turkey hunting on a Wildlife Management Area. Call just enough to let them know you are there, and then be quiet. When I use my grunt call during the early season, I often make social grunts. I will grunt once and be quiet for at least 30 to 45 minutes and repeat it again.

Pre-Rut: Turn Up the Volume

As the rut approaches and the bucks get more active, I like to lead off my rattling sequence with a raking sequence. I carry an antler in my fanny pack for just such occasions. The tines have been cut off at sharp angles so I can dig them into the bark of the tree. I slowly and methodically create a rub just as a buck would, pausing often and not getting very aggressive.

You don’t make a lot of noise doing this, just the scrape and scratch of the antlers removing the bark, but when you’re in a thicket within 75 yards of a bedding area, the deer will have no trouble hearing it. I got the idea for trying this by going up trees in climbing stands. When I climb, I go slowly and quietly, and all you hear is the scuffling of the bark. Many times I have had deer come running up to me.

When a buck rubs a tree, it’s a slow process. He will rub a few times, stop and look around, and rub again. Sometimes, it might take 15 or 20 minutes for me to make a rub on the tree I have climbed. Trees with hard, thin bark, like water oaks for example, aren’t as good for this as trees with thicker, softer bark that you can peel or flake off and that makes noise as it falls.

To make my rub sound authentic, I try to make it look authentic. If you ever see a nice rub about 18 feet up a tree, you will know I have been there.

The pre-rut is one of the best times to call mature whitetails. Of the 13 bucks I was able to call into bow range last year, almost half of them responded during the pre-rut. If the non-aggressive approach to calling does not work early in the pre-rut, it is then time to get more aggressive. I begin by using a drag rag with Dominant Buck Urine or Tarsal Juice from Scrape Juice. Then I will make an aggressive rub with sporadic grunts. As the day fades, I will rattle. I often break a few limbs just before I rattle aggressively. A few deep grunts and a louder rattling sequence will follow.

One word of caution: This approach is for when you know you have a dominant buck in the area. Strong scents and aggressive calls will often scare off does and younger bucks. Does and younger bucks do not like the smell of dominant buck urine early in the season and during the pre-rut.

One problem I have had with aggressive rattling is that deer will respond quickly but will not approach where I can get a shot. Obviously, this is more of a problem for a bowhunter than for a rifle hunter. I had four bucks hang up on me last year anywhere from 15 to 30 yards. They charge in looking for the fight, and I have to stop rattling to prepare for the shot. When I stop my calling, the deer stop their advance and begin to question what is going on. After a long stalemate, these deer cautiously walked away. Maybe with a little better setup next year, I can remedy this problem. But this is why it is called deer hunting and not deer killing. These cautious bucks had good instincts to thank for keeping them alive for another year.

The Rut: Nuff Said

The rut is by far the most exciting time to be in the woods hunting deer. Calling during the rut is a very productive way to hunt whitetails.

I called in just as many deer during the rut last year with my grunt tube as I did rattling, so both can be productive. I try to sit in natural funnels or thickets where you expect deer to be traveling. Quick, multiple grunts can get an immediate response from a rutting buck. Rattling in bottlenecks can be productive as well. I killed a mature 8-pointer during the rut last year by using this technique. Just 15 minutes after I had rattled, a doe and nice 8-pointer came ambling by. The rattling might not have played a part in my success, but it certainly did not hurt.

If you like to rattle as loud as possible, the rut is the time to do it. During the rut, I sometimes carry a set of rattling antlers instead of my rattle bag. The antlers just produce more volume.

Post-Rut: Ongoing Research

I will have to be honest with you. I did not have any success the last two seasons calling in bucks during the postrut, but it is not from a lack of trying. I tried to be as systematic as possible and use a variety of calls, but I just did not get the results I was hoping for.

In the early 90s, UGA researchers found in a study of Texas bucks that the response rate to rattling dropped off significantly in the post-rut period, however the highest response rate by mature bucks was during this time. In other words, few bucks responded, but when they did they were the ones you were looking for. Since I was unsuccessful during the post-rut the last two years, I will have to try something else this year to get those bucks into bow range.

Last year, I was fortunate enough to hunt in Georgia, Alabama, Montana, Wisconsin, and Illinois. I used the same techniques I learned here in Georgia to call in deer in all of these states and add over 440 inches of antler to my wall. This proves to me that just about anywhere you hunt, these tactics can be successful. Be patient, persistent, and learn as you go. With Georgia’s rake- and-rattle bucks, nothing ventured is nothing gained.

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