The term “trolling” carries with it one very specific tactic. You drop a line in the water let it flow out behind the boat and drive around in circles hoping to stumble across a fish. But we’re deer hunters, right? Trolling has no application in the woods. Except, there is.
I was hunting with a good friend somewhere around eight years ago when I first tried it. We talked about the concept for several seasons. Finally, while on a trip West and after one of those wind-blasted mornings so common in the Great Plains, I’d eaten enough sand. The rut was rolling, the winds were whipping, the conditions were right, and we were bored. It was time to give the oft-discussed Hail Mary a shot.
And damned if it didn’t work. Let’s go trolling.
There’s nothing complex about a trolling system and, truth be told, as unique as the concept was to me the first time I tried it, I’ve since learned that it maybe isn’t as novel an approach as I once believed. That said, I’m firmly convinced that it’s not seen to be a productive consideration by the majority of deer hunters.
I suspect this approach will work just about anywhere there are whitetails, but it seems particularly suited to hunting areas of broken cover and herd makeups that create competition for does during the rut. Competition leads to conflict over a desired mate. Conflict leads to clashing of antlers. Clashing antlers are key in trolling for whitetails.
You’ll also need a fair bit of ground to work with. Yes, this can be done on a smaller parcel, but it’s going to have a much less pronounced scope. The goal here is to cover ground and to target as many potential buck-holding lairs as possible. It’s a numbers game.
Since I was hunting an area of the West that held a number of publicly accessible parcels, each containing small bits of cover and all containing far more acres of flat, sparsely vegetated dirt this tactic made perfect sense.
With maps loaded, my buddy and I hit the road with rattling antlers in hand. Along the way, we stopped at every piece of ground we had access to. We’d put the wind in our face, hike into a patch of cover, and crash the antlers together. Trying our best to sound like a pair of pissed-off alphas, we clashed and crashed until a buck showed up or it was obvious one wasn’t hanging out there.
The open country made this a pretty simple task. There simply weren’t many places for a buck to hide so when one didn’t show in 15 minutes or so, we were trolling on to the next location.
You didn’t need much to pull off a trolling session. Your weapon of choice is required and, of course, something to rattle with. I’ve used just about every rattling system available including the tried-and-true set of authentic antlers. I personally opt for a small Knight and Hale Rack Pack because I like the way they stash in a pack. But use what gives you confidence.
A good grunt call should also be at the ready. I’ll throw in some aggressive grunts just prior to and following a rattle session and keep the grunter handy in case I do see a buck and need to try and steer it to my location.
That’s really all you need. There are, of course, other items you can choose to include but the above are the necessities. This is an on-the-ground affair, so keep that in mind. I don’t soak in an area long enough to feel I need any sort of seat cushion or portable seating. I do, however, keep a 4’ by 4’ square of die-cut camo material in my pack to help create cover when needed.
In fact, the very first setup saw a buck come storming in less than 10 minutes after we’d left the truck. The fact that it didn’t leave the scene with a new piercing was because I hadn’t really believed the tactic would work and hadn’t taken my pre-rattling prep seriously enough. I was in an okay position to shoot, but not a great one. I had cover, but not enough.
When the buck popped over the lip of a small bank, it was at 20 yards and closing. I had no opportunity to draw before the buck was less than 10 yards. When I was able to jerk the bow back, I couldn’t swing to follow the deer as it rushed by. In short, the whitetail circus had come to town and I was the chief clown.
After that, we took the time to consider where bucks might come from, to ensure shots were available and to tuck into cover better prior to the first mating of the antlers.
That’s it. That’s really all there is to this. The goal is to cover ground, quickly penetrate into bits and pieces of cover, and let the antlers do the talking.
Obviously, this is a tactic that shines brightest when conditions are on point. You’ll need a solid buck-doe ratio that encourages competition for those does during the rut, weather conditions that allow the sound of the antlers to carry, and enough ground to bounce around in. Hit a spot, make some noise, wait about 15 minutes, and move on.
Feature image via Sam Soholt.