ANIMALS AND BIRDS do stupid things for the same basic reasons humans do: pursuit of food, sex, a party going on or a nice fight. Ever since clever man began hunting, he's tried to lure prey into range by duplicating sounds associated with these social phenomena, and game-calling has become as much a part of the sport as weapons and cold feet.
Thus the proper gobbler hunter scratches out yelps on a wooden box to imitate the cries of a lovesick hen. He sputters a feeding chuckle on his duck call to lure in a flock of mallards, whistles after quail, clicks half-dollars together to duplicate the cluck of an angry squirrel, or emits cacophonous harronks on a variety of gadgets to sound like a party of contented geese.
Now comes professional bowhunter Tom Flemming with the assertion that "there is nothing in th world easier to call in than a whitetail buck in rut."
Sex strikes again.
Flemming, 38, a handsome fellow who retired from the Post Office on disability, is the self-appointed "rattlin' man." He spends much of his life touring the country to appear at outdoors shows or to perform in-the-field demonstrations of his tactic of "rattling up" trophy male deer.
Flemming says he's killed more than 80 bucks with bow and arrow and called in hundreds more by clashing pairs of antlers together in the woods to imitate two bucks locking horns in a mating-season fight.
"It's mind-blowing to a buck when he hears two other bucks fighting," says Flemming, who honed his technique in the woods around his native Davidsonville, Md. "He's either curious or furious, but one thing's sure -- he's coming in."
Rattling for bucks has long been popular in Texas, Flemming says, but he's convinced it will work anywhere there are bucks, as long as the technique is applied properly at the proper time of year. "The deer has to be psychologically and physically ready to fight," he says.
Hereabouts, says Flemming, rattling works between November 1 and mid-January -- the rutting season.
Like most folks hearing Flemming's rattling rap for the first time, I have my doubts. It sounds too good to be true -- particularly when he describes angry eight-pointers crashing through the brush to get next to his tree stand seconds after he strikes the first rattling sounds.
But Tom Hardesty, a veteran deer hunter from West Virginia, says he has had genuine success rattling bucks with Flemming's technique.
And a lot of other folks seem convinced of the rattlin' man's credibility. This month Flemming flies off on expenses-paid trips to Wyoming, Alaska and British Columbia to demonstrate bowhunting and rattling techniques, and he represents 10 outdoors equipment companies on his travels.
Flemming's book, "The Complete Book of Rattling Whitetails" ($12 plus $1 postage, Locked Horns Inc., P.O. Box 143, Davidsonville, Md. 21035), offers his advice on the subject, which turns out to include as many common-sense pointers on the art of deer-hunting with a bow as specific details on rattling.
He's an absolute stickler on scent and noise in the woods, for example, and demands that those he hunts with neither smoke nor chew tobacco, that they change clothes after pumping gas into their cars, never speak in the woods, and get to their tree stands an hour before light.
Follow all those rules, hunt good territory, and chances are you wouldn't even need to rattle.
But Flemming says rattling draws a crowd. "When you rattle," he says, "you're not hunting a buck; the buck's hunting you."
Flemming paints a compelling picture of male deer charging a tree stand, their neck muscles swollen and ready for battle, tongues hanging out in fighting fever, utterly oblivious to the bowhunter waiting above.
I'll have to see it before I'm sold. But it makes for some nice conjuring in the weeks before season opens. RATTLIN' BASICS
Flemming recommends using a pair of deer horns with four tines on each antler. He holds one antler against his thigh and strikes it with the other, simulating "horns and meat," as he puts it. You have to practice awhile to keep the tines from locking together.
He mounts his portable tree stand near a fresh buck scrape an hour before light and doesn't rattle until about 8 a.m., when the deer are settling down. "But if you have to go to work at 9, rattle earlier," he says.
Flemming never recommends rattling while on the ground, since a buck might come charging in before you can mount your stand, and he's against moving around once you've started rattling.
His rattling sequence: Rattle for 45 seconds, then wait 30 seconds with bow in hand. Rattle 30 seconds, wait five minutes with bow in hand. Rattle 30 to 45 seconds, wait 20 to 30 minutes with bow in hand. Begin again if no response.