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Racks & Rattles

Our 2015 deer season began way back in late winter, when we scoured the rugged canyon draws and ridges for sheds.  We did not find many, but my daughter found a perfect set lying in the tall grass along a dirt road, looking as if the former owner had simply placed them there gently and deliberately.  The rack was not huge, but it had eight points, was tall, and had near perfect symmetry.  We were excited about the possibility of seeing this buck in the fall, with another year of maturity.

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We tied those antlers to a cord so that we could use them for rattling, and I daydreamed about the rut crazed buck coming in to the sound of his own antlers mimicking a fight.  There was one problem with it, though.  The tines were so long, they would often poke our hands, breaking the skin even through gloves, when we got into intense rattling sessions.  Besides, these were beauties, and Teresa did not want them damaged, so when a Lakota neighbor gifted us with a buck he had shot (The reservation surrounding us has an earlier rifle deer season than the state does), my daughter sawed off the antlers and put cord on them.  The rack was a little more compact, but had good weight for good resonance.  I had my rattle bag, which has proven effective enough in the past, so we were all set for the rifle season.
 
The rut was still in full swing in mid-November, so on opening day, Teresa and I set up on opposide sides of our land, both planning to rattle.  I chose a spot on the southwest corner of our land, toward the top of our biggest draw.  Deer traveled along the edge, to and from a butte south of our border.  My son Gregory chose a spot close to the road at the bottom of the same draw, where there is a well used trail.  We were all hoping it would work well for him, as he had not yet gotten his first deer.  I picked up my rattling bag when it was light enough to shoot, and rolled it in my hands, slammed it against my leg, while holding a grunt call in my mouth, trying as best I could to sound like two bucks in a heated battle.  Satisfied that I had done a good enough job, I put down my bag.  I started looking and listening, and as I glanced behind my right shoulder, I spotted a magnificent buck standing out in the open, looking intently in my direction, just about fifty yards away!  I could not move a muscle, but continued to grunt, hoping he would move to a less awkward angle, and go behind a big pine long enough for me to raise my gun.  He kept his eyes on me and he carefully stepped closer, stopping at about thirty yards.  He never gave me an opportunity too raise my rifle.  I watched with admiration for his beauty, and could see every muscle twitching as he got ready for flight or fight.  Finally, he apparently decided he had enough, turned away, and casually bounding toward the edge of the draw.  I decided not to take a risky running shot, and I hoped he would go past my son.
 
A half hour later, I heard the boom of Gregory's .30-06.  I waited for a while, then slowly made my way down the draw, being careful not to spook any deer or interrupt any tracking that my son might be doing.  By the time I got to his stand, he was gone.  As I walked toward the barbed wire gate, I started seeing drag marks, and picked up my pace.  There was the big buck, with his leg tagged, just inside the gate.  A perfect heart shot indicated there had been no need for tracking.  I knew my son had walked home to get the farm truck, so I waited by the deer in the off chance it might be spotted from the road and stolen.  Both of my children came, with huge smiles on their faces, and we pieced together our stories.  It was, indeed, the same buck I had rattled in.  He had come from my direction, and was trailing a doe that Gregory had seen a short time prior.  I had no regret about not getting a shot at him.  What a beautiful buck for a young man's very first deer!
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A few mornings later, Teresa hunted her favorite spot on the eastern half of our land, in the draw where she had seen many bucks the previous year.   She rattled for ten minutes, stopped for a while, rattled for five more, paused for a while again.  Her third session was about five minutes, and she had to put the rack down when a very high racked buck came trotting in.  She bleated a couple of times to stop him, and dropped him where he stood with her 100 grain .243.  As with Gregory's deer, I waited a long time before making my way to her spot, and by that time, she had already run home to ask her brother for help, and returned.  It took all three of us to drag the monster to the pickup truck Gregory had parked on the dirt road.  When I studied the rack, I thought it looked familiar.  Back at home, we compared it to the perfect shed pair.  It is definitely the very same buck, judging by the shape and character of the rack, just a bit taller and heavier.  Our year had come full circle!
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We had each started the season with two tags, but in spite of our best efforts, the only other deer we harvested was the little doe I shot toward the end of the first week.  There was no fruit at all in our canyon this year and last, and without fruit, there is not much to make them travel through.  Next year we plan to plant some food plots in order to improve our hunting, and hope for a good fruit year.  I have no doubt that without rattling, we would not have been as successful, so this is a method we will continue to use and perfect.  It is hard to match the excitement of having a dominat buck answer to rattling!