The whitetail rut is upon us. Bucks are running ridges and field edges in search of receptive does. This is the highlight of deer season for most. It’s the time of year we deer hunters dream about during the other 11 months.
Hunting the rut doesn’t mean you are automatically going to fill your tag. Sure, many hunters will find luck by simply being in the right place at the right time, but sound strategy helps ensure the serious hunter will wrap his or her tag on a nice rack. Knowing where to hunt by studying what to look for is imperative.
Rubs are markings on tree trunks made by bucks rubbing bark off with their antlers. Rubs let you know bucks have been in the area, but finding rubs during the rut doesn’t necessarily mean bucks are still around. During the rut, bucks will leave their core area to chase receptive does. While the chasing phase is taking place, you’re better off hunting a core doe area, than a core buck area.
Bucks make scrapes on the ground with their hooves. These scraped out areas, usually under low overhanging branches, are used to locate receptive females and mark territory. Does urinate in scrapes, announcing their ready to breed. Active scrapes have fresh looking scratch marks in them or moisture from urine. Scrapes covered with leaves may be in use. Find an active scrape and you’ve located a good spot to intercept a buck traveling in search of does.
Funnels are my favorite place to hang treestands. Undoubtedly, you’ll see bucks running straight across wide-open expanses during the rut, but you’ll find more bucks consistently working funnels. If you can locate a narrow strip of cover connecting two much larger tracts of timber or other deer habitat, then you should count on a buck cruising through there at some point. When I find the right funnel, I like to hang two stands, one on each side so no matter what the wind direction, I can hunt the area.
The most important aspect of hunting the rut is staying on a stand for extended periods of time. Record books point to mid-day as a prime time to harvest a buck during the rut. Dawn and dusk are still prime times to be on stand. However, there’s a real good chance of catching a buck on his feet at anytime of day during the rut. If you can stay in the woods, do it. Pack a lunch, sit in a comfortable stand and wait it out.
Using scents and calls during the rut can increase you’re likelihood of a harvest. There are numerous deer scents available to hunters. When traveling to my stand, I pull a drag-rag doused in doe urine. This leaves a scent trail right to my stand that any cruising buck that crosses it is likely to pick up and follow. A grunt call can be an effective tool to bring in bucks from a distance. If you see a buck traveling out of range, grunt at him. If you grab his attention, and he commits to coming towards you, stop grunting. Let him come. If he hangs up, or veers off course, give him a few more enticing grunts. Rattling antlers together simulates two bucks fighting. Remember back on the playground, when a fight took place, everyone ran to watch. Deer often do the same. Clashing antlers together is the equivalent of screaming fight. This can draw the big boys in to see who is invading his territory.
The rut is a magical window of time for deer hunters. Even if you don’t tag a buck, chances are you will still witness something incredible. Be it a buck fight, breeding behavior or just a glimpse of a true giant that spends the majority of the year moving at night. Hunt enough and the rut will give you something to remember.