Photos: A Week of Rattling Up Bucks in the West Texas Pre-Rut

I spent a week in Texas earlier this month on a sort of on-the-ground experiment. I wanted to see how many bucks I could rattle in during the heat of the pre-rut in West Texas. Here's what he found...
The week was divided in half. For the first part of the week, I rifle hunted the famed Vatoville Ranch near Eldorado, just on the edge of the West Texas Edwards Plateau. The ranch is managed for high buck numbers, a critical ingredient in rattling success.
Austin-based photographer Jared Moossy accompanied me to shoot images for an Outdoor Life feature that will appear next year. Moossy, fresh from shooting combat photos in Afghanistan, sported this popular headgear.
Like most Texas ranches, the standard hunting method here is to climb into a box blind over a bait site and wait for the deer to come to the corn. That's not my style. Instead, I'm much more interested in hiking ridges with rattling horns, and bringing in the bucks to the sound of two deer sparring. I had a fellow traveler in Texan John Mayer, who has perfected the art of rattling during a lifetime of hunting the ranch.
In two days, Mayer and I rattled in 22 bucks. Mostly they were what I call "junior varsity," younger 2-1/2 and 3-1/2-year-old deer that can't seem to help running in to a fight. The cool thing about rattling, though, is that these deer are not inhibited. They generally run right in to the horns, stiff-legged and bristled up. One buck actually had to jump over Moossy as it sprinted in to our set-up. I killed this buck at 15 yards. He's a decent deer. Probably not as large as the ones at the feeders, but killed on my terms in fair-chase conditions.
The second half of the week was spent at a ranch called Live Oak north of Eldorado. The ranch isn't nearly as large as Vatoville, and isn't managed for trophies with quite the same intensity as Vatoville. Still, this pile of sheds and skulls stoked me for the week. I was holding out for a mature deer with at least four points on a side. But the cool thing about this place was how I was going to hunt it: with a crossbow.
As I travel to hunt, I notice that shooting competitions usually break out somewhere in my company. I sure don't mind. This time it was a long-distance precision contest with the new Vengeance crossbow from Barnett. Topping the bow is one of Trijicon's cool little ACOG sights. The competition: Who would be the first to pierce an apple at 80 yards with a crossbow arrow?
I'm pleased to report it was me. On my first shot, doping the wind a little bit, and using the 80-yard reference on the Trijicon, I drove a field point through a Red Delicious. The amazing thing, besides the pin-point accuracy, was the energy the arrow retained, even at that distance.
At Live Oak, hunters sit in blinds made from cedar boughs. The construction is cool. You sink a pair of steel T-posts about 5 feet apart under the spreading branches of a cedar tree, and then wire a panel of hog wire between the posts. Then you cut branches from the tree and thread them through the wire. Cut out a window and you are hidden in plain sight.
The view from inside the blind, with my crossbow cocked, loaded, and ready to rattle.
The view through my ACOG, basically a sized-down version of the optic used on many of the U.S. military's first-line combat arms (ACOG stands for Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight). You can see the little green chevron - it's illuminated by fiber optics in the day and by tritium at night, so it requires no batteries. The sight is zeroed at 30 yards, but features holdover references at 10-yard increments all the way out to 80 yards. It was the precision of the optic that enabled me to center-punch that apple at the range. And it gave me confidence to take a shot on a deer out to 50 yards.
I shot this deer at 52 yards as it entered a clearing of shin oaks shortly after a rattling sequence. While I had all the confidence in the world that I could kill him at that distance, I neglected to think about how he might react to the shot. He jumped the string just a twitch, and I hit him about 4 inches back of my aiming point. He left a good blood trail, but it also included stomach contents. I trailed him for 100 yards before I lost light. I found him the next morning, thrilled to recover such a great deer, but honestly disappointed in my shot selection. Still, it was nice to end a week in Texas with a pair of great bucks and a cooler full of venison.

Outdoor Life Editor Andrew McKean spent a week in Texas rattling in big Lonestar State bucks. See the highlights of his trip and find out what he learned about rattling tactics.