We were an hour’s hike from where we’d left the truck at the end of a rutted track in the graying dawn. A couple of inches of new snow covered the ground. Tracks indicated deer were on the move. When we approached the edge of a big tamarack swamp, Denis drifted up against a short spruce tree that broke his outline. He gestured for me to do the same.
“Big bucks patrol these swamps looking for does that come here to feed,” he whispered.
Then he pulled a pair of medium-size rattling horns from his belt and held them at chest level about a foot apart. I thought,_ Now I’m going to see how an expert does it._
The Art of Rattling
In 25 years as a deer guide at Carleton Lodge on Anticosti Island, Quebec, Denis Pedneault has used rattling antlers to bring in more than a thousand bucks during pre-rut, full-rut, and post-rut conditions. Clearly, this man has a technique that works. I expected to witness a virtuoso performance filled with foot-stomping, branch-breaking, antler-clashing explosions of sound. Instead Denis merely clapped his antlers together like this: Click. Clack. Clackett. He did that just twice, without much force. The sound was slight, only a hint that two bucks had come together. Then Denis knelt in the shadows and laid the antlers beside him.
We waited a minute. Then Denis repeated his quiet little sounds. Click. Clack. Clackett. When no deer appeared after another minute or two, he stood.
“We move,” he whispered.
What kind of a rattling performance was that? I thought. I didn’t understand why he had not rattled with more bravado.
I followed Denis out into the swamp. It was grassy and wet underfoot. Scattered islands of yellowing tamarack trees and laurel bushes grew nearby on low hummocks of dry ground. We crept to one island and took cover in the laurel.
Clack. Clackett. Clackett.
I figured this might be barely audible to a deer at 300 yards on a still, frosty morning.
Waiting for Denis to begin demonstrating his antler-rattling virtuosity, I was totally unprepared when a great gray buck slid out of a little tamarack island less than 100 yards away and stood broadside, staring our way. His antlers were thick and high.
The buck was a better-than-average 8-pointer. His body was large and heavy. I began to raise my rifle, but something held me back.
Denis demanded, “Why didn’t you shoot?” after the buck had slipped away into the tamaracks.
“I don’t know,” I said. “First morning, first buck. I wasn’t ready. I expected you to make a big rattling performance before a buck would appear.”
“I don’t do it like that,” he replied. “I’m not trying to create the sounds of a battle. Too much rattling may overwhelm a buck’s curiosity and cause him to lose interest. I rattle just enough to make the buck curious. “The first little rattle gets the buck’s attention. The second little rattle is just enough to tell him, Yes, that’s antlers. Then I’m silent. The buck begins to wonder what’s happening. He comes to see.”
**Deer All Around Us **
I followed Denis around the Anticosti swamps and thick evergreen forests for four days, hunting for places where tracks or intuition said deer were concentrated. Whenever we found those places, we would take cover and Denis would quietly rattle.
“I rattle whenever I’m in a place where I think a buck may be hidden nearby,” Denis said. “Bucks respond to rattling best if they don’t have to move a long distance to investigate the sounds.”
We never stayed in one place long. If a buck didn’t appear after three or four rattling sequences over a 10-minute period, we’d move a few hundred yards, take cover, and rattle again.
Whenever we saw a doe moving, Denis would put the antlers to use. “She could have a buck trailing her,” he surmised.
Once we saw two does with fawns ffeeding along the edge of an opening.
“That’s a good sign,” Denis said softly. “A buck ought to be here somewhere.” He rattled briefly. “Watch in all directions. He could come from anywhere.”
Just as Denis readied himself to begin a second set of rattling sounds, I saw a flash of gray inside the thick spruces. A moment later a 6-point buck appeared, looked briefly at something to our right, then disappeared in the spruces again. Denis gestured for me to turn to the right. Then he clicked the antlers together once, very lightly.
A minute passed. Nothing. Denis clicked the antlers again. Then he nodded and crouched down. I saw the movement of hooves under the spruces. A gray body flashed momentarily in the branches. Then the buck stepped out around the tree and came into view.
He was a beauty with a thickly swollen neck and a handsome 8-point rack. This time I was ready. I dropped the buck in his tracks.
During the time that we hunted, Denis rattled in 16 bucks that approached to within easy shooting range. Most were 4- or 6-pointers, but five big 8-pointers came to his rattling within that period-and one even bigger.
It was windy on the last day. I was surprised when Denis backed up against a thick spruce thicket, then faced downwind to rattle at the edge of a big swamp. “Won’t they smell us?” I asked.
“When wind is strong the rattling sounds can only be heard from downwind,” Denis replied. “Our scent won’t carry far in the few minutes that we’ll be here because we’re backed up tight against a thicket. The wind comes over the top of the thicket and causes a backwash that will keep our scent close to us for a while.”
Apparently our scent stayed close long enough, for Denis had only rattled three times over a five-minute period when a 9-pointer materialized out of nowhere. I was looking off to one side when Denis whispered, “Here he comes!”
I shifted my glance just as the buck gave me a momentary view of his great rack passing through a thicket. His shoulder appeared as I raised my rifle.