Many whitetail hunters neglect to bring their antlers or rattle bag into the woods until just before the rut. Rattling works early on in the season too; however, bucks react for a different reason than the “testosterone filled triggers” that draw their response later on. Rather than coming to the sound to protect territory or for a chance to earn the right to breed a doe, they are responding to be social with the other bucks in the area.
Normally, for rattling to work well you need a balance to the buck to doe ratio and age structure of the herd. Competition for breeding rights is important if rattling is to work well during its traditional timeframe. While a balance is always best for a herd regardless of the time of year, it is not necessary for rattling to work well during early season since they are responding to be social with other bucks. So early season rattling can work even if the buck to doe ratio is skewed badly in favor of the does.
Rather than smacking your antlers to imitate a knock-down, drag-out battle, you simply “tickle” them together. Instead of an aggressive fight, imitate two brothers in a friendly “arm wrestling match.” Bucks simply spar to see where they will rank in the breeding hierarchy later in the season - they aren’t fighting to compete for territory or breeding rights. Use soft, social buck vocalizations to add realism to the scenario and non assertive smells like Golden Buck or Trail’s End #307 placed crosswind from your position to draw them in if they decide to drop downwind to scent-check the area.