I have been hunting in West Virginia over the last several years and during that time I have had the great pleasure of getting to know and become friends with an elderly mountain man who has killed more than his share of trophy bucks. During one of my trips to visit him on his secluded farm I arrived while he was working in his barn. As I arrived the barn doors were standing open and I was astonished to see the number of large whitetail deer racks he had tacked to the inside of them. Never in my life had I seen that many trophy racks in one place. I had to find out whatever hunting secret it was that he knew to be able to kill that many quality bucks. In our prior conversations regarding buck hunting he had never once mentioned rack size only that he had killed some heavy deer. This man hunted first and foremost for food not horns.
The more time I spent with him and got to know him the more he opened up to me about the details of his hunting. Finally one fall evening while we were sitting on his porch sipping on a couple of glasses of Jack Daniels he revealed his secret to me. It started when he asked me, "son do you really want to know how I killed all those bucks?"
All I could do was nod my head yes. I was astounded that he was finally confiding in me. "I tinkle them up... that's the secret".
At that particular moment I believed I was about to become a victim of this mountain man's humor in some way. He must have noticed an odd look on my face because he said, "no really that's all there is to it... I'm not pulling your leg young fella." Joke or not I had to ask, what's tinkling? I was still thinking now that I had given him the opening he would swiftly deliver the punch line. Rather than a punch line I got a story. The old gentleman topped off his glass leaned back in his chair glanced toward the barn and began his story. Son, I have been hunting whitetails for over fifty years and have learned that a whitetail deer is one extremely curious critter. If he hears something in his world that he cannot identify that doesn't sound like danger you can bet he will be coming to check it out. The following is my version of what was told to me.
A lot of folks try rattling because they see it done on TV shows down south and out west with regular success but the bucks must outnumber the does in order for it to be successful with any kind of regularity. In West Virginia and in most generally our does outnumber the bucks. The act of rattling is often combined with the use of a deer grunt call and in the hands of the beginner not often works. The beginner makes a common mistake thinking that the bigger the rack used to rattle and the louder the grunt is made the more bucks it will attract. Actually according to the old man the reverse is true. A buck will come to rattled antlers for several reasons they could be asserting their dominance or perhaps want to steal the doe that they think the other bucks are fighting over. He believes that a buck comes because he's curious and like most men they also love to see a good sparring match.
According to this man, using a big heavy set of antlers will defeat your purpose. Of course we all want to do the manly thing and bang a couple of big antlers together to make a lot of noise thinking it will bring the dominant buck from miles away. Nothing could be less true. A buck sparring match is in most cases just that. It begins with the two bucks circling each other and barely touching antlers, it's more of a "tinkling" action, which at times can barely be heard. If a dominant buck hears two huge antlers being slammed together hard repeatedly he knows this is not a natural sound and will shy away from it. Even during the peak of the rut if two dominant bucks meet they will circle and tinkle antlers kind of feeling each other out. There may be one time when the antlers are slammed together but then it becomes more of a pushing and shoving match till one of them gives up and departs the scene. In order to be successful at rattling antlers they must be no more than a six point and small in size.
Begin by striking just the tips of them together lightly as if you're attempting to imitate the sparring routine of the actual bucks, then back off and wait a few seconds then tinkle them together again for a few seconds.
Finally turn the antlers over so the backs are facing each other then slam them together that will imitate the racks meeting. Immediately turn the racks toward each other and interlock them and begin a sliding motion back and forth to imitate horns in a locked position sliding and grinding against each other.
If you're on the ground hunting this is a good time to paw the ground with the antlers and rake the leaves. Then pull them apart sliding them tightly against each other till they are separated. This is the critical time if a buck was close by he may come in on the run throwing caution to the wind but most probably he will circle your position downwind then make his way toward you. This was when the old man said he would have his grunt call ready. He cautioned about random calling, do not do it. Don't call when rattling until you see a deer and only then if he cannot see you. Begin with a short very soft grunt and in most cases if he's interested he will respond immediately. If he does not then try again using three short soft grunts then one a bit louder. If he begins moving toward you quit because the sounds will give away your location and spook him.
Furthermore the old man cautioned against using aggressive grunts or dominant buck grunts that are so popular today unless you know for sure that it's a dominant buck whose coming in because you have actually sighted him. If those calls are used any other time you may scare off does in estrus that were coming to the calls out of curiosity and that would be a major mistake. There is nothing like having the real thing hanging around under your stand as bait. If there is a dominant buck holding back just out of sight, the sight and scent of that hot doe will bring him in quick.
Remember small rattling horns, preferably real ones and tinkle them do not slam the tips and don't over call with the grunt call. If you follow this man's advice there is no doubt in my mind that you will tinkle in your first buck sooner or later. Rattling does not always work, but a good rule of thumb is to try it during the pre-rut, rut and the three weeks after the full rut. It works; I know it does from my own experience. The first time I tried the old man's technique in West Virginia I had hardly got set up in my treestand and began tinkling, before I had a six point come in on a dead run right to my stand. I sat there looking down on him as he sniffed the air and looked around for the fighting bucks. I let him wander out of sight and then grunted once lightly, ten minutes later a beautiful ten point stepped out onto the power line I was set up on and started walking toward my stand. He's now hanging on the wall at my camp. There is a lot to be said about second hand information, I am well aware of that but when it comes from a man who has two barn doors covered with mostly trophy racks I tend to listen hard. Here's a little secret that he shared with me that I will pass on to you. If you want to return the natural sound to an older shed or rack you have to use for tinkling soak it in a bucket of water overnight before using. That will return its natural sounding tone needed for tinkling. Give tinkling a try and maybe you'll be able to rattle in the buck of a lifetime.
Hunt hard, hunt safe and hunt fair. H. "Bumper" Bauer is a freelance outdoor writer and wildlife photographer and is a pro staff member of McLaughlin Game Call Company of Reynoldsville Pa. and Pennsylvania Back Country Television.