How to Rattle and Grunt Your Way to a Bruiser Buck
Learning to use rattling antlers and a grunt call together can help tilt the odds of tagging a mature buck in your favor
Learning the fine art of when to use rattle and grunt calls – and understanding how deer respond to those calls – will help increase your odds for success. (Photo courtesy of Lynn Burkhead)
When the glorious deer hunting days of the rut arrive, most deer hunters worth their salt will carry some sort of method with them by which they can make some whitetail noise.
As in rattling a set of antlers and working a grunt call, all in an effort to shake up a testosterone-crazed big buck spoiling for a fight and looking for some love.
The kind of bruiser buck highly susceptible to such noise, a buck that can be rolled to the turf where a waiting hunter can tag said buck with a hard-earned deer tag.
But using such tools isn't as simple as just smashing the horns together or pushing some hot air through a grunt tube.
Instead, there is a method to the madness of rattling and grunting a big buck your way, something several Outdoor Channel show hosts and hunting personalities have worked hard to perfect over the years of their various hunting careers.
"I don’t think that there is any perfect way to call in a deer using grunting and rattling," said Heartland Bowhunter co-host Michael Hunsucker. "Like most hunting techniques, it’s extremely situational and there are a lot of factors to consider.
"The mood of the deer is one, your setup and how easy it is for them to get downwind of you is another, as is the thickness of the cover that you’re hunting, what other deer are in the area, etc.," he added.
One thing the likable Heartland Bowhunter personality admits he seldom does is throw caution to the wind and call while hoping for the best.
"Although I still try it occasionally, I haven’t had much luck blind calling," said Hunsucker. "Most of the success I have seen has been when I've spotted a deer, then calling to him and watching his behavior (after I call).
"Being able to judge their body language is huge when calling," he added. "It’s very easy to tell if they are interested or not."
For Texas hunter Jordan Shipley, a Boerne resident and co-host of The Bucks of Tecomate television program, the well-thought out marriage of rattling and grunting is a key consideration for him.
"I use rattling and grunting both strategically," said Shipley. "One critical thing to keep in mind is that deer learn quickly, especially with age. So I only rattle when conditions are right for it and even then, I try not to do it too often.
Like Hunsucker, Shipley rarely if ever blind rattles or calls.
"I never rattle just to see if something will come in," said Shipley. "I only do it if I feel like I have a legitimate chance of killing the buck (I'm seeing or the caliber of buck that) I'm after.
"When actually rattling, I try to simulate an actual fight; thrashing brush, (pounding the) ground, raking the antlers (together) and making it sound real," he added.
Speaking of making it all sound real, Shipley doesn't worry much about the size of the antlers he is using or how they might make a smaller buck feel.
"I hear a lot of people say they don't use antlers with much size to rattle with because they don't want to intimidate a buck," said the former UT and NFL wide receiver turned hunting television show host.
"I can tell you, that's bad logic," he added. "For one thing, the type of bucks that I'm after are mature and big.
"And I've also rattled in countless young bucks too, even yearlings and spikes with beefy antlers that had no business messing with a buck that could carry the antlers I'm using.
"So I think one reason for that (kind of behavior) is that bucks coming in to rattling aren't necessarily always coming to fight. Some of them are coming in to see if they can steal that hot doe while the fighting bucks are distracted."
In a similar fashion, Shipley also puts some thought into how he utilizes a grunt call while hunting rutting bucks.
"I typically use grunt calls as a shorter-range tactic to bring a buck closer or to pull one back out that has gone into cover," he said. "If a buck is hung up in cover after coming to the horns, I'll (then) use a grunt to (try and) draw him out at times."
For Iowa-based David Holder, co-host of the Raised Hunting program, the goal is to be as realistic and authentic as possible when rattling and grunting.
"That means that I'll watch real deer and listen to the subtle sounds that they make," said Holder. "I'll pay attention to how loud or quiet they are and then try to mimic them the best that I can.
"I believe in using the deepest grunt call I can find and the largest, or I should say, the heaviest antlers I am willing to carry," he added, noting that he likes to use the Primos Up Roar grunt call, which allows him to make a snort wheeze call too.
"It is personal feelings on where you are in the season as to whether I am easy or aggressive with the antlers."
For Nicole Reeve, co-host of Driven with Pat & Nicole, grunting and rattling are methods that are hard to mess up when they are being employed during the rut.
"They can't hurt during the rut," she said. "It's a great way to try and call in bucks to your location (at this time of the year).
"We like to get set up on the outside of the really thick bedding areas (deer are using on a property) and call. The bucks come running in to see what's going on there because they can't really see from their location.
Nicole says she and Pat also like to add a little something extra to any rattling and grunting that they might do out in the field.
"We also love using a buck decoy if we are hunting more open fields, etc., and also calling in combination with that is a deadly tactic," she said.
David Blanton, executive producer of Realtree Outdoors and a longtime co-host of the show along with Realtree founder Bill Jordan, agrees the combination of grunting and rattling can be a deadly one-two punch for a deer hunter seeking big antlers.
But like some of the others above, he does offer some cautionary advice.
"If you give out three or four grunts to simulate a buck chasing a doe, that's fine," said Blanton, a longtime member of Team Realtree. "But if you blow on it like a duck call, I think that does have a negative effect."
That’s particularly true when a white-tailed buck isn’t too far away from Blanton's position.
"If I see a buck cruising 150 yards away and I don't want to shock him with the (rattling) horns because they'll be too loud and he's too close, then I'll hit him with the grunt call, see how he responds, and if that does the trick, that's all I'll do," said Blanton.
If a buck is much farther away from Blanton, he'll opt to be more aggressive with the rattling horns.
"It (rattling) gives me a greater range of effectiveness," said Blanton. "I can reach out there and bring a buck in from 400 or 500 yards away."
Blanton cautions hunters to use a pair of rattling horns sparingly however, about once every half-hour or so, particularly during the early post-rut phase of the whitetail autumn when the technique can be highly effective.
"When you rattle, I think you've got to be very aggressive and loud, but I don't think you've got to rattle for long," said Blanton.
"I'd say hit the horns for a good 30- to 40-second rattling sequence, then hang them up and resist the urge to pick them up again," he added.
"That often works to the hunter's advantage because the buck has heard it. He may have been 300 or 400 yards away though, and when he comes in, he's not sure of where it (the sound) came from."
Until, that is, the big whitetail hears all too late the faint whistle of an arrow and broadhead combination heading for the boiler room.
Which makes the one-two punch of rattling and grunting marriage in the field a tough combination to beat just about anywhere across the nation's whitetail country.