In the days leading up to the peak frenzy of the annual white-tailed deer breeding cycle – the rut, as deer hunters call it – most hunters know that it pays to carry a pair of rattling horns with them into the woods.
After all, a big buck spoiling for a fight as the season of love finally arrives often can’t resist the sound of headbones smashing and grinding together.
Whether that fight is a real one or an imaginary battle staged during the last few days of October and the first week or two of November.
But what about early December when the rut is winding down and the frenzied days of the 2015 rut are becoming nothing more than a memory that will sustain deer hunters until next fall arrives?
According to Realtree Outdoors executive producer and veteran Outdoor Channel personality David Blanton, hunters should not put their rattling horns away just yet.
“Once the rut starts winding down, it’s a good time to rattle again,” Blanton has told me as we’ve discussed the subject in the past.
“A lot of does have come in and out of heat, but the bucks are still aggressive.”
Especially since the rut is winding down and the local bucks know that it will be another year before the scent of a doe in estrous is wafting through the air again.
Mind you, Blanton’s observations aren’t just anecdotal ones gathered during his career of hunting across North America and gathering footage for the Team Realtree video cameras.
In fact, a landmark study in south Texas a few years back by wildlife biologist Dr. Mick Hellickson found scientific proof that the post rut is indeed a great time to rattle in a big, mature whitetail buck.
While the three-year-long telemetry study on a Lone Star State wildlife refuge found that the overall highest rates of bucks responding to rattling sequences (as biologists observed from elevated tower blinds) occurred during the peak of the rut, Hellickson’s research also found that the highest percentage of middle- and mature-aged bucks responded during the post-rut phase of the fall.
Meaning that the early days of December can be a dynamite time to smash a pair of rattling horns together in many areas of deer country as hunters hope to lure in a crafty old buck still looking for that one, last receptive doe.
So how does a hunter capitalize on such information and rattle in a post rut buck?
For starters, a hunter has got to have something to rattle with, either a real pair of antlers, a pair of sheds, some synthetic antlers or a rattling bag.
In my case, whether I’m hunting in the pre rut, the peak rut or the post rut, I rely on a pair of beefy sheds that I obtained a decade ago.
As long as I occasionally “freshen up” that set of shed horns, they still work as well as they did the day that I first clashed them together.
I’m not the only veteran deer hunter to use a pair of sheds, either.
“I use a pair of sheds and try to keep them fresh so they don’t dry out,” says Clayton Wolf, the wildlife division director for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and a veteran Lone Star State deer hunter.
“You can rub them down with linseed oil and keep the antlers out of the sun (when storing them). That way, they’re not as prone to age and dry out.”
But whether a hunter uses a set of freshened-up sheds, real antlers cut off a harvested buck or a synthetic set of antlers purchased at a local box store, a key to post-rut rattling success is knowing when and how to use them.
For a post rut hunt, Blanton uses the technique about once every 20 to 30 minutes, smashing the horns together in 20- to 30-second bursts.
“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.
“The reason I say to rattle for short periods of time is that while you cannot over rattle, the more you do rattle, the more you give a buck the chance to pinpoint exactly where that sound is coming from.”
Keep in mind that most bucks will try to pinpoint rattling noise by approaching cautiously from the downwind side.
And don’t forget that even with post-rut bucks desperate to find love one final time before it fades away on the north wind for another year, antler rattling is not a magical “silver bullet” technique that solves all of a hunter’s problems.
“Rattling isn’t magic and it’s not going to work every time, and not even most of the time,” said Blanton.
“And a lot of times, even when deer do respond to the horns, they may not come in walking or charging in like you read about in magazines.”
Or see on an Outdoor Channel television show as Blanton or some other hunting personality sits in a deer stand.
Bu that doesn’t mean that Blanton is about to give up on the technique as December rolls up on the calendar.
Because when it comes to deer hunting during any part of the fall season, there are few things more exciting than smashing and grinding a set of antlers together.
Before sitting back and waiting with anticipation to see what happens next and what type of buck might respond.
Even if the rutting frenzy is winding down for another year.