By Lynn Burkhead
You can now count Sherman’s Jim Lillis among the true-blue believers when it comes to the subject of calling whitetails into shooting range.
After several years of antler rattling success throughout his hunting career, Lillis finally found reason to believe in his grunt call for the very first time several years ago.
“I did some grunting and had an eight-point and a smaller buck come in,” Lillis said of an encounter he had with a Texas buck near Sweetwater.
“But the eight-point locked up at 60 yards and wouldn’t come any closer, so I tried to call him a few more times with the grunt call. He would come a little bit closer and then ease back out again.”
The reason, however, for the buck’s cat-and-mouse behavior may have had little to do with Lillis’ ability to work a grunt call properly and plenty more to do with an unseen challenger closing the ranks quickly.
“When he left, I looked up and a good 10-point was coming in to my bleats and grunt calls,” chuckled Lillis.
While the retired senior regional director for Ducks Unlimited didn’t get a shot at the buck, he did have reason to believe for the first time that calling a deer isn’t just something seen on hunting videos and Outdoor Channel and Sportsman Channel television shows.
Calling all deer — “I’ve rattled up bucks before, but I can truthfully say I’d never had much response to grunting until that experience,” said Lillis.
In addition to his belief in the grunt call, the North Texas bowhunter — who took Grayson County’s top bow-harvested buck back in 2007 at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge — has found increasing faith in recent years in the bleat call, particularly the “can call” style made famous by Will Primos.
If the hunting in your neck of the woods is at a standstill, stir things up a little bit by turning a “can call” up and down.
Turn that call over when a whitetail is in hearing range and you might want to prepare for a serious case of the shakes as a big-racked buck closes in, just as one did on Lillis a few years back.
“I called up a 160-class buck a few years ago when I was trying to calm down a young deer that was blowing,” said Lillis. “I was using a bleat call to do that and this buck came in trying to see what was going on.”
Again, while no shot was presented, rest assured Lillis never ventures far from his truck these days without his rattling horns, a grunt call and a bleating can call in hand.
Antler Rattling — Speaking of rattling horns, the art of smashing whitetail antlers together to “rattle” a buck into range is a technique that got its start deep in the heart of Texas.
But while the tactic’s origins are found in the Lone Star State, antler rattling is used all over North America today to lure in big whitetails.
One of the techniques biggest proponents is David Blanton, executive producer of the Outdoor Channel television show Realtree Outdoors.
“Rattling isn’t magic and it’s not going to work every time, and not even most of the time,” said Blanton, who also sees plenty of hunting time in front of the Realtree cameras next to company founder Bill Jordan and his son Tyler.
Perhaps the biggest reason Blanton loves to rattle from a stand is that it allows him to be proactive, something that has accounted for a number of big whitetail bucks gracing his Georgia wall.
“It gives me a greater range of effectiveness,” said Blanton. “I can reach out there and bring a buck in from 400 or 500 yards away.”
Blanton cautions hunters to use a pair of rattling horns sparingly, about once every half-hour, particularly during the pre-rut and early post-rut phases of the whitetail autumn — when the technique is most effective.
“When you rattle, I think you’ve got to be very aggressive and loud, but I don’t think you’ve got to rattle for long,” said Blanton.
“I’d say hit the horns for a good 30- to 40-second rattling sequence, then hang them up and resist the urge to pick them up again,” he added.
“That often works to the hunter’s advantage because the buck has heard it. He may have been 300 or 400 yards away though, and when he comes in, he’s not sure of where it (the sound) came from..”
Until, that is, when the whitetail hears all too late the whistle of an arrow heading for the buck’s boiler room.
Using dekes — One trick that Blanton has found highly effective during the rut is the use of not one, but two Flambeau doe decoys when big bucks are on the prowl.
“I get the (first) doe and put on antlers (to simulate) a little buck, then I take the second one, a doe (also), and don’t put the legs on her, to simulate a doe being bedded down,” said Blanton.
The veteran deer slayer takes extra care on how he positions the two decoys in front of his stand.
“I take this little buck and put it about 10 feet away from the bedded doe, and she’s looking back at him,” he said.
“In my mind, what I think it conveys is a doe that is coming into heat, but she’s submissive and doesn’t want to be bred by this little buck, so she lies down.
“Since they’re looking at each other, to me, it’s a very, very convincing set-up.”
Given Blanton’s annual taxidermy bill, he’ll get no argument from me.
Because as the mid-November rut kicks into high gear here in Texomaland, it’s time for local hunters to shake, rattle and roll with a grunt call, a set of rattling horns, and even a couple of decoys.
Because with just a little bit of woodsy luck, Mr. Big might be waiting in the wings.