Just last week I was hunting a big ranch out in southwest Texas with Steven Ray, who makes a set of heavy duty rattling antlers he calls Rattling Forks (www.rattlingforks.com). Steve will be the first to tell you that antler rattling is not a tactic that always causes bruiser bucks to come charging out of the brush. But a glance at the trophy bucks he has on the wall that “came to the horns” will attest to the fact that antler rattling, executed properly in the right areas, most definitely produces results. I believe it to be the most exciting method of hunting whitetail bucks.
“When I first began developing my Rattling Forks, my goal was to produce rattling antlers that could produce sound that carried a long ways, even in windy conditions.” says Ray. “If bucks can’t hear what they perceive to be a fight over a potential girlfriend, then they won’t come in; pretty simple! But the material testing needed to develop this “just right” sound with increased volume was anything but simple. After much research and testing, the final product can best be described as two fork horn antlers with beams as thick as an elk’s antler and tines that when brushed lightly together, creates that clicking sound made by two smaller bucks sparring. Whack them together hard and the sound can be heard a great distance.”
Ray’s Rattling Forks are designed so that when the points are brushed briskly together, they produce that lower volume clicking sound made by two smaller bucks sparring but, when whacked together sharply, the sounds mimics to bruiser bucks in a fight to the death battle.
The country out west of San Angelo where Ray and I were hunting is rugged with canyons, mini mountains and limestone outcroppings that dropped abruptly into draws. All of these geographical features muffle sound. As anyone that has hunted this country will attest, in some places it’s impossible to hear a rifle shot a quarter mile away, especially if there is a brisk wind blowing, as there often is in this part of the state.
Ray hunts from a high rack truck and shuns hunting around feeders. “Feeders most defiantly attract does and younger bucks and the occasional mature buck during legal shooting hours.” says Ray. “I’ve found through the years that the majority of mature bucks like to hang out downwind of the feeding stations and check out the possibility of receptive does coming into and out of the area. Trail cameras positioned around feeding stations often evidence mature bucks hitting the groceries at night.”
The ranch we were hunting was crawling with whitetails and Ray had little doubt that we would be able to take a big management buck on my 3 day hunt. The plan was to spend the first few hunts filming deer coming into the horns and give me an introduction to Ray’s style of hunting. Ray uses geographical features such as roads, construction areas (which are plentiful in the is country thanks to the current oil boon) and as funnels when choosing a spot to rattle. Wind is also a big factor. A wind ten to fifteen miles per hour is favorable for a couple reasons. A stiff breeze puts the cedar and mesquite tree limbs in motion which helps conceal the slow moving high racked truck when it’s time to move to a new area to rattle.
Ray pays close attention to the area directly downwind from where he is rattling. The ideal situation is to choose a spot with limited access from downwind. The base of a mountain is desirable out in this country or, possibly a haul road used by the oil company workers. One area of the ranch has a long stretch of high fence separating the lease from the adjacent property. When wind direction allowed, we would set up and rattle with the fence as a backdrop. This allowed us to focus on the 180 degrees upwind for approaching bucks.
We spent the first couple of days filming rattling sequences throughout the ranch. Some of the bucks that “came to the horns” were young, hoping to slip in and steal a quick encounter with a receptive doe while the big boys battled it out. We also rattled in a couple of wall hangers. It wasn’t until the last morning of the hunt, though, that the perfect management buck that I was looking for gave me an opportunity.
The wind was blowing a sustained 15 to 20 miles per hour and we crept along the ranch road in the high rack. I’m positive we looked like part of the landscape to any deer we encountered. On several occasions, we spotted deer forty or fifty yards undisturbed forty or fifty yards back in the brush. We made a big circle downwind of a mesquite flat and parked in some very dense cedars.
Rather than tinkling the tines of the Rattling Forks together as he usually did on the dead calm days, Ray put his horns to their best use by whacking them together with force which created a sound that cut through the brush. From a clearing about 150 yards away, we both detected movement. A buck, and what appeared to be a good one was looking our way. Ray took little time in pronouncing him as a shooter. “He’s a ten point, fully mature with about a 16 inch spread. I think he’s about all he will ever be in the antler department. Take him when you get solid!”
I could have waited for the buck to close the distance. He was obviously headed our way but I’ve hunted deer long enough to know it’s best to take the shot when it’s presented. The buck came about ten yards toward us, ears erect listening to Ray create the mock buck fight. Then he turned broadside for an instant, looking at his back trail and I nudged the trigger on the .270. The shot was good. As with most heart shots, my buck humped up and ran about forty yards and then, we could see antlers protruding above the grass!
To learn more about Ray’s Rattling Forks and rattling in bucks, visit www.rattlingforks.com.
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