I've used real and fake horns, no luck, I've used a rattle bag and have had success. I talked to a guy from Texas about it and he told me the key to rattling is to realize a lot more deer show up than you'll ever see or know. I've had more than a few bucks come in, but not often. It will work in PA, it just has to be at the right time with the right bucks.
I've had lots of success over the years when I can see a buck passing out of range and can watch his reaction to my rattling. I can't tell you how many I've brought in, its been a bunch. I shot a few of them. Blind rattling has only ever worked a few times. I always use real antlers.
In my opinion every year is different when rattling here in Pa. I've had success in the past at certain points throughout the season but more times than not, I haven't seen a big response. This year is different though. Since last Tuesday, Oct 17, I have rattled in 11 different bucks and it seemed to taper off this past Friday and Saturday. Keep in mind they were'nt all shooters but that kind of response has my head spinning. I've never had the kind of response to rattling like I've had this year. I don't rattle a lot, or very loud at this point in the season, but I've come to the conclusion that timing is everything. As a matter of fact last Wednesday I had my 8 year old daughter in the two man stand with me and she asked to use the antlers. So I gave her a quick lesson and let her have at it. 5-10 minutes later a 120-130" 8 pt came walking through the pines. he stopped at 42 yards but wouldn't come out of the pines to give me a shot. He made two scrapes, stared in our direction for a few minutes then walked back down into the hollow with a doe. She was SUPER PUMPED knowing that she rattled him in. Point is, try it. You never know whats going to happen. Just take the temperature of the deer and try to mimick where they're at. At this point of the season, I wouldn't be having all out battles hammering the antlers together but thats coming soon. I usually go for about 30 seconds and increase in volume throughout the set. I also try to grind the antlers more than slam them together. These are just my thoughts on the topic. Again this may just be one of those years but so far, it has worked well for me.
I have probably rattled 20 times in my whole archery career. I have 2 vivid memories of it working, both were pretty awesome encounters. I am mostly trying to not let the deer know I am in the woods so I rarely use any calls but I know lots of people that swear by it, especially earlier in the season.
I don't know if anyone listens to the Mississippi State University Deer University podcasts but they are full of great information regarding everything deer. Here is a link to a recent podcast on the science of antler rattling. This pretty much sums up my experiences with rattling. The dissertation that this comes from is also available from the University of GA library website if anyone is interested in reading it.
65% of bucks responded to rattling but you often don't know they are responding. On the ground, you will probably miss two thirds of the bucks that actually respond simply because you cant't see them respond. Rattling caused 100% of radio-collared bucks to respond.
Loud aggressive rattling is better than quite "tickling" rattling that is often written about in magazines.
Mornings were better than afternoons which were better than mid-day. Mornings are probably better than mid-day because bucks tend to be more active in the morning or evening and more likely to be within ear shot of you when you rattle.
Most bucks responded within 10 minutes of the first rattling.
Peak rut is the best time to rattle followed by post rut which was better than pre-rut. Peak rut tended to bring in more younger and middle aged deer where post rut rattling tended to attract the most older bucks.
The last point was rattling will work everywhere (even PA!) but it is highly dependent upon your buck population, buck to doe ratio, and a balanced buck age structure.
I've only recently got into loosing my fear of making noise during prime times and have had quite a bit of success so far. I started about 4 years ago and rattling has helped be bag 4 good bucks and I have had 1 other small buck come in as well as a few doe.
Just like everything else (scents, estrus bleat, grunt call, etc.), some times they worked and brought them in, other times no luck. I'm usually doing it when nothing else seems to work. Every one that has come in for me has come in quiet, trying to figure out what was happening. I've only had luck with real antlers, remember reading something about deer hearing the difference in pitch between a real antler and rattle bag. Not sure if that is accurate, but I have noticed them come into real antlers and not the bag.
I have never had any luck when I try to rattle but this happened to me purely by accident.
I went in fairly early one afternoon to clear out some dead cedars and put in a climber. I knocked down a dead dried up cedar that snapped off limbs on the way down. As I was dragging the tree away I hear grunting and deer running. Two young non-shooters, a spike and a scrub rack raced in to about 15-20 yards. I froze and just watched. It was pretty entertaining. They eventually got a nose full of me and got out of there.
I have gotten busted more than it has worked for actually bringing one close enough to shoot. Usually I get at least one a year to respond to me and I blind call. Might not be the biggest but it's still exciting. Timing is everything as stated earlier as well as how loud and aggressive. Last year got busted by a 130" 8 who was looking to kill something till he hit my wind. It's fun and exciting when it happens and yes I know I may push more deer off than what will approach but it only takes one and boy is it fun when it happens.
Yesterday right after the afternoon rain stopped I rattled in 3 bucks in the span of 15 minutes. Rattle bag.
I have rattled in PA bucks from spikes to P&Y class. Have been doing it for about 30 years.............couldn't tell you how many bucks I have put in bow range with my rattle bag. Most have gotten passes. Have probably hung my tag on somewhere around 10 PA bow bucks that have come to rattling.
What percentage of success is necessary to decree that "it works"?
If your friend is using the standard of calling and rattling success as demonstrated by binge watching deer shopping on game ranches on the outdoor channel and comparing it to hunting PA then......no it doesn't work. By the same standard I've tried to call spring turkeys..........and that doesn't work either.
In reality hunting I've rattled & grunted (simultaneously) in a couple bucks and successfully used doe calls on a couple bucks........in rifle season (don't hunt with a bow).
Also manage to call a turkey every couple years or so.
There are few absolutes when it comes to hunting or animal behavior.
If this sounds a little sarcastic, my apologies.
I'm gonna go take my meds now.
I think if done properly it does work just not all the time. Honestly, what I think works better than rattling is to scrape a tree with your horns and shake some branches than do a light rattle sequence with a few grunts. Not sure if you use a climber but if you do, have you ever had one come in moments after you got settled into your stand or even while you are climbing ? It has happened to me several times and to many others I know as well. Too many times to just be a fluke. There have been times where I thought I was being way too loud only to have a buck come in that was probably only 100 yards away the whole time. They're hearing the bark getting rubbed and think it's another buck. I think that sound for whatever reason gets better responses than just rattling alone. I have called bucks that I have had a visual on by raking the tree hard. Almost to the point where it sounds unnatural. If there is nothing in sight and I have a limb with leaves in reach I will shake the branches hard along with raking the tree. To me these sounds don't scare them because they hear it all the time. The only downfall is sometimes they will circle downwind of you but if things are slow I definitely would recommend trying it throughout the course of the day. You just never know.
I've tried plastic rattle antlers, rattling bags with wood and with plastic rattlers over the past 10 years here and there and I NEVER have had any luck. I sold all of em and just sit quietly and wait for the deer to show up.
Rattling is the one "tricky" technique (grunts and scents I also consider tricky) that has worked for me. I rattled a couple sheds together and barely put them down when a nice 8 point showed up which I promptly arrowed. I don't do it often and always blind, but the fact that it worked once tells me that it is at least possible that it can work again. I cant make the same claim about scents or grunting. I usually only try it when nothing much is happening (hence only rattling blind) and I don't even carry the antlers with me until the last two weeks or so of the archery season.
Once, in early October, I was making a fake rub (with a real antler) on a small tree. I wasn't hunting so I wasn't trying to be quiet. I heard a noise and turned to see a small buck watching me. Both of us were surprised that day.