How to Rattle For Moose

We all know about rattling for whitetails, but rattling for moose? Brad Fenson tells us how — and why — we should use the rattling technique this fall.

Television hunting shows have really helped promote the concept of rattling for white-tailed deer but very few realize that rattling is a great technique for monster moose. When you stop to think about it — little is known about moose antlers, how they are used by bulls and why rattling is so effective with the biggest member of the deer family.

Rattling Experience

The first time I really paid attention to rattling moose was when a buddy and I were hunting during the rut, and we had located a big bull tending a cow in the middle of a large bog. The moose could clearly see over the dense wall of heavily browsed willow and alder and I wasn’t sure how I was going to get close enough to find a hole to shoot through. My hunting buddy suggested that he start thrashing the willows to draw the bull’s attention, allowing me to sneak closer without spooking the bull. It seemed like a long shot but as soon as the clash of antlers and willows resonated from the bush behind me the bull fell into a deep trance.

I slowly slipped towards the pair of moose while the bull stood and stared at the trees where the sound of a rival bull had garnered his absolute attention. At one point the bull looked over at me and I swore that he made eye contact with me. It didn’t cause a single hair to bristle and he soon turned away and once again focused his attention on the noise of what he thought was a rival bull.

I managed to sneak to less than 100 metres and find an opening in the shrubs to line up on the bull’s vitals. I cocked the hammer and slowly tightened up on the trigger but instead of a bang there was a pop. The cap had been hit and should have ignited my powder but for some reason the load failed me miserably. Normally the chaos of having a misfire, activity of finding another cap, opening and closing a rifle, would have send any quarry running for cover. The bull only glanced briefly and refocused on the noise of his rival. I did pop another cap and this time sent a bullet from my muzzleloader that knocked the bull flat off his feet.

I was amazed that the bull had stayed focused on the antler thrashing behind me, showing no concern or alarm over my presence. It was an eye-opener and the moment when I started to pay much more attention to antlers and the sights and sounds that they could mean to another moose.

Moose Experts

A good friend of mine, Pierre Frigon, is what some describe as moose crazy. A visit to his house will undoubtedly result in the viewing of hunting videos, looking at pictures and hearing him bellow like a love-sick cow moose just at the thought of getting out hunting. He lives and breathes moose hunting and is obsessed by everything that moose are, do and think. He has taken more big bulls than most hunters could ever dream of and it was during a visit to his place that I got my first glimpse of hardcore moose rattling.

Pierre had a video from a recent moose hunt where he used two extremely large shed antlers from a bull moose to recreate a battle between dominant bulls. I must admit that the larger the antlers the deeper the tone and richer the sound when pounding them together.

The technique is a bit of an art and science but Pierre has worked to master his antler rattling, which is more like a UFC moose challenge. It could hardly be called “rattling” with the intense recreation of the battle.

Pierre likes to hunt remote, fly-in locations, where he always has a chance to find a monster, mature bull. He picks a specific location where the sound of his battle with echo over water and onto distant ridges. Moose are genetically designed to hear well — with their large ears and dish shaped antlers that collect and funnel sound waves into their eardrums.

If you have a mature set of moose antlers you can prepare them by removing them from the skull at the burr. Freshly shed antlers are just as good as long as they aren’t dried and weathered. Fresh, dense bone will provide proper tone, which will carry unbelievable distances.

Start by taking one of the antlers and attach it to the trunk of a large aspen or conifer at chest height. It helps to clear all branches to avoid getting injured. A ratchet strap will hold the antler in place so that it doesn’t get moved during the fighting sequence. Fastening one of the antlers down increases the safety of the activity, as it would be nearly impossible to use them freehand or with the aid of a hunting partner.  Having one stationary antler and one to bring the fight with is the best way to approach this performance. The tines coming off the antler should face into the tree to prevent them from impaling you when smashing the handheld antler into the one fastened on the tree.

Leather gloves will help to maintain a good grip above the burr of the handled antler. You don’t have to get carried away and swing the antler with life threatening furry to generate lots of noise. Slow and methodical, just like sparring moose works best. A solid connection between the two antlers will produce a deep and distinctive sound that will carry a remarkable distance. The handheld antler needs to be used to thrash and rub the stationary antler. Having it on the tree, and up off the ground, will allow the sound to resonate even better. You will hear the bone clashing sounds echo off distant trees and shorelines, carrying your message to come and see who is fighting.

I’ve used Pierre’s tried-and-tested technique and have to say that I’m impressed with the way it sounds and works. I like to set up a rattling tree and use it as long as conditions are good. That is, as long as the wind won’t alert an incoming bull to my presence.

Moose Hunting Technique

I prefer to set up close to camp where I can rattle morning, noon and night and am as consistent as possible. Be cautious when setting up in the morning as a bull could have approached during the night and be waiting nearby to locate his new sparring partner. Start with a couple soft cow calls and listen carefully for the guttural grunts of an interested bull. If you’re sure there isn’t a bull close by, start the day’s rattling sequence.

It is important to stay alert, even though it can often take hours or days to get a big bull to come in. During the rut bulls will often tie up a cow and stick with her until breeding is completed. They will then head to their next best chance to find another cow and just because you haven’t had an immediate response doesn’t mean the bulls don’t know where you are. Again, being consistent and patient is required to be successful.

Set up, start rattling and stick with it. This is a proven method of attracting big moose. Whether you hunt on a remote fly-in lake or work a secluded piece of forest; be confident that there is a big moose out there and actively work to attract him. Mix in some calling to make the scenario real. Two bulls fighting over a cow ready to be breed is common in the moose woods. Fights can be over quickly but some will carry on for ludicrous amounts of time. Some bulls will actual fight to the death in order to have the opportunity to breed. The excitement often makes the cows act randy and they’ll bellow their enthusiasm as they kick up their heels waiting for a victor to be determined. Don’t be afraid to mix in cow and bull calls to make the entire scenario more realistic.

Use binoculars and glass your surroundings often. It also pays to listen intently for any auditory response from a moose. Good optics can be essential in picking up a bull that is held up in the timber to check out the wind or watch for movement. Watch for the swaying of antlers and a stiff legged walk that will make the bull look intimidating. I still remember how that bull watched me approach as he stood staring at the trees trying to get a glimpse of his rival. Moose size up their competition by checking out antler size and most incoming bulls will look long and hard before running into a fight.

When they do start their approach you usually hear a deep guttural noise that the bull produces with each advancing step. It almost sounds like a deep swallowing noise, like guwoof or glunk. On a still day you can hear the distinct sound from a long ways off. I’ve often located bulls on a dead calm evening by listening for their grunts, only to return in the morning as close as possible to throw out a challenge.

I once spotted a moose on a distant hillside that was grunting and posturing in response to my attraction methods. I couldn’t hear the moose and knew he could hear me by watching him through my binoculars.

I still recall watching Pierre’s video of a monster bull, with a spread of well over 60 inches, appear on the distant shoreline of the lake where he was hunting. The bull worked the entire shoreline until he stood less than 50 metres from the rattling tree, staring intently. The video clip was awe-inspiring.

Bulls can show up when you least expect them and if it is windy and you can’t hear them you better stay alert. Watch for the flash of the antlers, which is what bull’s look for when trying to locate a rival.  Moose will always work their way to a downwind position and if you don’t see them coming they’ll smell you and head for the hills before you ever get a chance.

When things eventually work out it usually happens fast. You may sit for a day or two or even four or five but when a bull eventually shows up his presence will snap you to attention. Practice bracing your rifle against a tree or on shooting sticks so that you can pick a shooting lane if possible. Thinking up potential scenarios before they happen will only help you capitalize once your chance presents itself.

Try rattling for moose and you’ll soon be packing along a set of antlers just like you do when deer hunting. It only makes sense that the most dominant bulls will always come to check out the competition or try to steal a cow, if at all possible.

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