10 tips for hunting the rut
October 27, 2010 by
The rut is almost upon us. Which means the world has pretty much seen the last of me for a bit. I'll be in the woods. And if you have any interest in tagging a mature buck, you will be too.
I've read and heard plenty about how big bucks let down their guard and act "stupid" during the breeding season. Well, that's not exactly true. What they do, however, is move in daylight. And that makes life just a bit easier. But if you think you can just jump into any tree and kill a big buck, you'd better think again. That only happens in Iowa. Just kidding. Sort of. But if you hunt an area that receives fairly heavy hunting pressure, you still need to do just about everything right to put a truly mature deer on the ground.
Keep that in mind -- I'm talking about mature deer. For the purposes of this discussion, that means bucks that are age 3 1/2 or older. I don't kill bucks that are younger than three. To me, it simply doesn't make sense. We all talk about tagging a big buck. We all dream of that Buck of a Lifetime -- well, here's a little tip. Those bucks aren't Bucks of a Lifetime. They are simply older deer in most cases. See, if we'd allow bucks to reach age 3 before targeting them, there would be a whole lot more big bucks running around. Because a buck with large antlers is not a genetic freak. He's simply older than most of the bucks hunters are targeting. Anyway, let's focus on 10 tips for making this rut a success.
1. Don't Jump the Gun: I have pretty much stopped reading forums frequented by hunters. Why? Because it drives me crazy when guys starting posting on October 20 that "The Rut Is Here!!!!!!" And it's not just because they insist on using 30 exclamation points. It's because they are dead wrong. Young bucks are stupid. They are easy to kill because of it. They will chase a doe on October 1. They will chase does on October 10. And they certainly chase them on October 20. The rut, however, has not begun. It's simply drawing near.
Mature bucks in heavily pressured areas do not chase does. They cruise for them. They look for them. They do not chase them. They don't need to in most areas because there are plenty of does and few mature bucks. When a big buck knows a doe is ready to breed, he simply finds her and claims her. End of story. If you start hunting your best rut stands too early, you will educate those mature bucks that are still in a nocturnal routine. Halloween is the day. Hunt your best stands any time in November. Not before.
2. Smell Like Nothing: I am not a fan of urine. There are all manner of urine-based scents available. I'm sure at some point they work to some degree. But we're talking about pheromones -- those are what permeate the air when a doe is in estrus -- and pheromones last only a matter of seconds when exposed to air. It can't be bottled. I'm not saying that urine scents don't work. I'm sure they can in some cases. But for my money, I prefer to simply be 100 percent scent free and allow my stand locations to pay off. In pressured areas, bucks have seen, heard and smelled just about everything. I want them to neither see me, hear me or smell me.
3. Hunt the Ground, Not the Sign: Like everyone else, I love to see big rubs and scrapes. During the rut, they mean almost nothing to me. I don't care if the area I hunt has buck sign or not. Because I'm not hunting sign. I'm going to hunt areas that funnel deer movement through a specific area. I can absolutely guarantee that somewhere on the land you hunt is one tree that the majority of deer in the area pass by. It might be a pinch point, a natural funnel or some other terrain feature that forces them there. But that tree exists. And that's the one to hunt in the rut -- even if there isn't any buck sign nearby.
4. Get Out of Bed: It amazes me that we wait all year for these few magical days in November and then slip into the stand just before daylight. That's a big mistake. Two of the bucks I killed -- a 4-year-old drop-tine buck and a 150-class 12-point -- walked by my stand in the dark. Both passed by about an hour before the first hint of daylight. I had already been in the stand about 45 minutes when they went by. How do I know it was them? Because I use quality Nikon binoculars and you can see deer at 30 yards in the moonlight. Had I not gotten on stand long before daylight, I may well have bumped those deer. I was hunting near bedding areas and beat them back home. Do the same. Get out of bed. You can sleep in December.
5. Stick it Out: I killed my 2008 droptine buck at 1 p.m. That means I had been in the stand for about seven hours. I had not seen a single deer before then. Did I think about leaving? Oh yes. In fact, I was almost ready to call it quits because the action had been so slow. Then I looked up and saw the buck cruising past. That's how the rut works. It's fits and starts of intense action. To be honest, I'd rather hunt from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. during November than just about any time of day. Early morning is great as well. But that midday period can be awesome. That's when the big deer roam because they seldom see hunters then. Well, if they walk midday this November, they're going to see me. Right after they hear the the soft twang of my Hoyt.
6. Ignore The "Dock Talk": I'm borrowing a fishing term here. In fishing tournaments, guys are always talking about what they caught and what the fish are doing before the tournament starts. If you listen to it, it screws up your game plan. So don't listen to what your buddies are saying about the rut and what the bucks are doing. Just hunt what you know and hunt with confidence. It's my experience that the dudes who really know what big bucks do, well, they don't share that information too often. Do what you think is right. Do what you have confidence in. You'll hunt harder because of it.
7. Be Aggressive: I struggle with this one. I am wired not to disturb deer. That's what I believe to be the key to success. But in the rut, the odds are good that you'll see bucks you've never seen before and will likely never see again. If a shooter is passing by out of range, do what you can to get his attention. Grunt calls, doe calls, rattling antlers. I've had limited success with all of them. But if a good buck is cruising through and I don't think he's a local boy, I'll throw the kitchen sink at him in an effort to turn him my way.
8. Watch the Wind: Another reason I avoid the chatrooms: I've heard plenty of guys say that during the rut, they don't worry about the wind because bucks are coming "from everywhere." Completely untrue. Bucks that are hard onto a doe may come from anywhere. But bucks that are cruising for does come from one direction -- quartering downwind. That's right. They walk downwind. But not straight downwind. They quarter it because that gives them the best wind for scenting does. When they smell one, they simply need to make a J-turn and find her. Use that to your advantage. Draw a map of your area and stand locations. Draw an arrow to mark wind direction and then draw a line that quarters downwind. That's where cruising bucks will come from. Then choose your stand accordingly.
9. Take the First Best Shot: If there is any one problem with the rut it's the fact that bucks are almost always moving with a purpose. If they're on a doe, they move fairly quickly after them. If they're cruising for a doe, they are also moving fairly quickly. Cruising bucks are easier to stop than those with does. But when you have a good, clear shot -- shoot. Don't wait around for something better. Those bucks can be gone in a blink.
10. Don't Waste It: The rut is a fleeting phenomenon. It doesn't last long and some days are much better than others. Hunt every single minute that you can. Got 45 minutes before work? Get in the stand. Can only hunt the last hour of daylight? Get in the stand. Got a 60-minute lunch? If you can swing it, hunt it. You never know when the buck you're after will move. You have to be in the woods.