Never Leave Home Without Rattling Horns
White-tailed deer hunting strategies may vary from region to region but there's one tried-and-true call that seems to work throughout the whitetail range
Jordan Shipley's wife, Sunny, rattled up this nice 130-inch 9-pointer for Jordan's grandmother. (Jordan Shipley photo)
Without question, Texas is indeed a unique place when it comes to both deer hunting culture and strategies.
From the mesquite and prickly pear cactus-choked senderos of the South Texas Brush Country to the rolling oak-filled terrain of the Texas Hill Country to the brushy draws of the state's Cross Timbers region near the Red River, the state looks visibly different than most other deer hunting hotspots in the Midwest, Canada and the Deep South.
With boot-leather tough terrain – not to mention warm, dry weather much of the year – a plethora of hunting methods have arisen in the Lone Star State, tactics that one will be hard pressed to find elsewhere.
From tower blinds and tripods rising above the low-slung brushy terrain to the practice of leasing hunting land (Texas is 97-percent privately owned) to the metallic clattering of corn feeders going off in an attempt to lure bucks out of the thick brush, deer hunting is certainly different in Texas.
But while such methods are rare outside the land found between the Red River to the Rio Grande, one tried and true hunting technique born and bred in Texas has proven itself to be a necessary component for deer hunting success just about anywhere else on the continent.
And that's the tactic of horn rattling, a practice that got its start when the late Robert "Bob" Ramsey tried the art of smashing and grinding deer antlers together on his family's Hill Country ranch way back in 1932.
More than eight decades later, the tactic remains incredibly effective today, which is one reason that you'll find Outdoor Channel hunting personality and life-long Texan Jordan Shipley never leaving home during Deer Season without his rattling horns in the truck.
And yes, I know that the correct term technically speaking is antler rattling, since deer have antlers on top of their noggins, not horns.
But down deep in the heart of Texas, the practice is fondly known to hunters from Abilene to Llano to Zapata as the art of horn rattling.
And since this deer hunting tale involves Shipley, a former Texas Longhorns football great turned co-host for The Bucks of Tecomate television show, then what other term could have been used?
But seriously, I digress.
Especially since the truth of the matter is that whether a hunter calls it horn rattling or antler rattling, the technique works well just about anywhere, especially in and around the whitetail rut.
And that's why the technique will be front and center over the next month or two from the plains of Texas to the Deep South to the American Midwest to the Rocky Mountain foothills and far beyond.
Because deer are deer wherever they are found, and wherever they are found, horn rattling usually works.
Which is why Shipley loves to employ the tactic as he looks to find memorable hunting footage and compelling stories for Outdoor Channel programming.
One of those stories took place last year when Shipley traded his bow for a television camera, filming a couple of people near and dear to his heart as the rut kicked into high gear down in Texas.
"The most memorable buck that I've rattled in – or I guess I should say, that I've seen rattled in – was when my wife, Sunny, rattled in a buck for my grandmother, Addie," said Shipley.
"We were all sitting up against cedar trees wearing ghillie style suits and he came right on in.
"It doesn't get a lot better than to see your wife rattling up a 130-inch 9-pointer for your 82-year-old grandmother to shoot," he added. "I filmed the whole thing and was only 65 yards away when she made the shot with a Remington 700 .280 rifle.
"That was pretty special."
Indeed. Which brings to mind a question – is horn rattling as simple as banging a set of headbones together?
Not really says Shipley.
"I feel like the most important thing when it comes to rattling is to pick the right spot," said Shipley, co-host of The Bucks of Tecomate television show along with his wife, Sunny, and North American Whitetail magazine founder David Morris.
Keep in mind that the real estate needs for a successful horn rattling session can change a bit depending on what type of weapon a hunter is employing on a given hunt.
"If you're hunting with a rifle, you'll want to set up in certain (spots since you're talking about a longer shot opportunity) and if you're hunting with a bow, you'll want to set up in other ways (given the close yardages of bowhunting)," said Shipley.
In either case, knowing what the wind is doing is a top priority.
"A buck is always going to try and circle downwind from where he thinks he heard the noise," said Shipley.
"If you set up where most of your visibility is upwind of your position – and you have very little visibility downwind – you're not going to see very much in the way of deer coming in," he added.
"They love to come in downwind and circle and look and try to catch your scent line. If you aren't careful, they're going to know you're there even if you can't see them."
If the Boerne, Texas resident is gun hunting, Shipley has certain things that he wants to find before setting up shop for a rattling session.
"I'll pick an area where I can see them when they get within a 100 yards or so of my position," said Shipley.
"I'll try to pick a spot where I've got about 180 degrees of visibility with a lot of pockets where you can see them circling and ducking in and out of cover."
If Shipley has his Hoyt Nitrum compound bow in hand for a hunt, the same idea comes into play albeit with different distance requirements of 20 to 40 yards.
If real estate is the first key, a second necessity is what to use, either the real calcified thing or a synthetic product that is mass produced.
Either way, the key for horn rattling is to be able to make some noise.
"When it comes to rattling horns, my theory on all of this – and I'll admit, people have different opinions on this – is that if they can't hear you, then they won't come," said Shipley.
"Because of that, I'll take a solid set of real horns with decent mass to rattle with," he added. "These horns will attract older, mature bucks and the young bucks come up to them all of the time."
When conditions are good, Shipley has found that horn rattling – either with real antlers or synthetic products – can lure in multiple whitetails in a short period of time, as many as seven or eight bucks during a good 15 to 30-minute session.
That's especially true on days that feature good rattling conditions, those cloudy days with only a light wind, a still frosty morning after a front has passed by, a windless dawn with a light drizzle present or whenever sounds get amplified and carry on for a ways.
What about when conditions are optimal?
"When the wind is high, you'll need bigger (sized) horns," laughed Shipley.
"I like to make a good amount of noise on those days (when conditions aren't great) and let them hear you."
Because of that, Shipley's go-to-set of horns are a bit on the beefy side.
"The set (of antlers) I use is from a mature 10-point frame," he said. "I cut the brow tines off, smoothed the bases out a little bit and I always wear gloves (when I'm using them)."
All of which allows Shipley to bang the sizable antlers together, to really bear down and grind them together, to rake surrounding vegetation and to generally make a pretty good racket for a sport commonly thought as being a bit on the quiet side.
With just a little bit of luck – whether it's in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Montana, Wyoming, Ohio, Wisconsin or some other deer hunting hotspot – the process of clashing, grinding, and shaking a set of horns together can work some deer hunting magic.
Causing another bruiser buck to earn a trip back to Shipley's Lone Star State home where some hard earned venison will soon fill the freezer.
And another set of big headbones will soon hang from the Shipley living room wall.