On a cold November morning in central Kansas, I climbed into a lock-on I’d hung about 15 feet off the ground in a tree that wasn’t much taller than that. My stand was nestled in a hedgerow that divided a field of standing milo and a thicket of belt-high grass and thorny plums.
An old fence gap between the two habitats looked like the perfect ambush site, and I’d waited all week for a mature buck to walk through the opening. Hoofprints in muddy tractor ruts were evidence that at least some deer were doing so, but the right buck hadn’t yet. Sometimes it never happens the way you think it will.
With less patience than I started the hunt with, I reached for my trusted rattle bag just as the sun peeked over the horizon. I clashed the little pouch of wooden dowel rods together as hard as I could for about 30 seconds, waited, and did it again. It was oddly still that morning, and it seemed as if the sounds of combat I created echoed for miles.
I saw a dark blur of movement 500 yards across the plum thicket and over the neighboring property line. A fence there marked the start of a cattle pasture, and I thought I must’ve seen a bovine fleeing from the sounds of my call.
But then, I spotted a colossal-bodied 8-pointer standing abreast of the barbed wire, looking straight at me. He was dead still. His head was straight up with his ears at full alert. It was cold enough for me to see steam coming out of his nostrils.
I clashed the rattle bag once more, and the buck jumped the fence as though it wasn’t even there. He then barreled toward my stand in such haste that I almost didn’t get my bow off its hanger and drawn before he’d closed the distance. At 27 yards he stopped broadside, and I sent an arrow through him. About five minutes later, my pounding heart had somewhat slowed down.
What’s the point? Sometimes you shouldn’t wait for deer to come to you. When conditions are right, you can experience some of the most incredible whitetail hunting on earth by using attractants to lure big bucks into shooting range.
There are many proven attractants that should remain in every whitetail hunter’s arsenal, especially during the rut. To illustrate this point, we gathered the products seen above.
- Rattling Forks
- Super Charged Scrape-Dripper
- Magnum Key-Wick High-Intensity Scent Dispenser
- ScrapeMaker 4-N-1 Tool
- True Talker OG Deer Call
- The Original Can Call
- Hot-Scrape Synthetic Estrus with Scent Reflex Technology
- Grave Digger Doe Estrus
- EverCalm Herd Scent
What’s best is that each of these items or a similar one can easily fit into your pack or on your person, so there’s no excuse to leave home without them. In bow season, throw a decoy into the mix and that pretty much covers the category. Now let’s break down some whitetail attractants with long “rap sheets” for killing big bucks:
No matter if you use actual or imitation antlers to replicate buck combat, this long-range calling technique plays against a buck’s territorial senses and natural curiosities by convincing him that two bucks have engaged in battle.
Control the volume of a rattling sequence by exerting more or less force. It’s possible to reproduce light sparring sounds by tickling antlers together softly. However, I almost always prefer a more aggressive demonstration that imitates a violent encounter. Thrashing antlers against brush adds realism.
Combining rattling with the use of a buck decoy can be highly effective, but “blind rattling” should never be ruled out. As with any form of calling, be wary of overdoing it.
Bucks grunt for many reasons, but territorial and tending grunts are the two vocalizations most often reproduced by hunters. Mature bucks will sometimes interpret a low-pitched, drawn-out grunt as a challenge to fight. As the stages of the rut advance, eager bucks may respond to territorial grunts in order to claim breeding rights.
In contrast, the tending grunt is performed staccato. Short bursts replicate the sounds of a buck chasing a doe. Many modern grunt calls also now contain trumpet-like air channels that can be used to create the ultra-aggressive “snort-wheeze” vocalization, which indicates strong intent to battle.
Most doe bleats aren’t loud, so it’s understandable that hunters seldom hear them. In general, bleat calls are most effective during the breeding season, when bucks are actively searching for receptive mates.
Best used sparingly, the “baaawl” sound of a mature doe can pique the interest of cruising bucks and draw them closer to your stand. Be careful, though, as mature bucks will often circle downwind before approaching.
Fawn bleats can work throughout the season, as they trigger the maternal instinct of does. The idea is to encourage nearby females to investigate the sounds of a lone fawn. With any luck, a responding doe could have a big buck in tow.
A whitetail’s olfactory system is far more effective than a human’s. (For much more on that, see pg. 88.) Hunters have capitalized on that knowledge by using organic and now even synthetic scent lures to attract deer.
Estrus doe urine and buck testosterone can be used (where legal) throughout the season as cover scents/attractants. While bucks are actively checking community areas for does, hunting over actual or mock scrapes, rubs and licking branches that have been treated with scent can create up-close shot opportunities. When all works as planned, you can use deer scent to draw bucks into shooting lanes they otherwise might not enter and then stop them there for a good shot.
Strap it to your back or lug it in by hand, but don’t leave home without a full-body decoy when the conditions are right. And that’s usually during the pre-rut period, when bucks are first becoming aggressive and laying down sign.
In my opinion, a buck or doe decoy can help a hunter in two incredible ways. First, it can totally alter the travel pattern of mature bucks in open areas. Providing visual evidence there’s a challenging buck or receptive doe in the vicinity is sometimes all that’s needed to reroute a cruising bruiser right under your stand.
Second, a properly positioned decoy can line a buck up broadside and provide the hunter with a perfect shot angle at a distracted target. Before fighting, bucks most often will approach one another from the rear, then circle to meet head-on. Always set a buck decoy so that it’s quartering slightly off to one side of you, never facing directly at or away from you.
Trial & Error
There are stores full of viable whitetail attractants. No matter which items make it to your pack, my advice is to practice with them before implementing them in the field. Likewise, don’t be afraid to experiment with a variety of tactics and presentations to find what works for you.
As is true with all other hunting gear, no product mentioned here is a magic bullet guaranteeing success. Deer activity, environmental conditions and time of year will largely dictate their effectiveness. But when you can fool a wild whitetail’s senses and lure him within range of bullet or blade, there’s really no greater thrill.