Part 1 of this series rolled out four of our best buck tactics for October. If you didn’t shoot a good buck, or you now have a gun permit burning a hole in your pocket, read on. We’re back with three more awesome strategies for the seeking, chasing and breeding phases of the rut–those turbulent weeks when you really need to be out in the woods anyway. And just in case your hunt for a monster whitetail goes down to the wire, we finish up with one final plan for Thanksgiving week. As with last month’s feature, we’ve got you covered, no matter when you take off work.
The four strategies outlined here are geared to the November rut in the Northern and Central states and Canada. If you live or hunt in Texas or the Deep South, you’ll have to adjust this timetable to coincide with when the rut typically occurs in your area.
No Holding Back Now
For five minutes a 10-pointer kicked up dirt, urinated in a scrape and hooked a limb on a ridge above my stand. When the morning hunt was over, I pulled my lock-on stand and crept up the ridge to where I had glassed the giant. Which scrape had he worked? The place looked like a hog lot, and the stench from his tarsal glands filled the air. I hung my stand in the middle of it all and snuck away.
The next morning that 10-pointer loped down the ridge, hot after a doe he had picked up overnight. No shot, but 30 minutes later a barrel-chested 8-pointer wandered by, his mind in a stupor and his nose to the ground. The shot was easy.
I was able to take that buck because I was flexible. You can dawdle away your precious hunting time in a so-so stand, or you can pick up like I did and go kill a buck. This is the week to do it. Bucks are smashed on testosterone, but most of them are still sticking to some semblance of a pattern, cruising the same ridges, draws and thickets for does and bedding in the same locations each day. Even if you spot a monster chasing a doe this week, chances are he won’t run her far. The deer will probably loop round and round the same 50- to 100-acre patch of brush or timber.
After spotting an eye-popping whitetail, sneak in and check things out. If a ridge or draw is laced with fresh scrapes and rubs, Mr. Big should be back–maybe later that afternoon or tomorrow morning. And there’s a bonus. While most bucks are still homebodies this week, some have gone on the lam, wandering out of their core areas in search of the first estrous does. A vagabond will home in on a ridge or draw where he smells other rutting deer. That’s where you need to be.
Don’t think twice about moving in and hanging a bow stand downwind of a trampled doe trail or a rub-loaded thicket. This week you want to be in travel corridors, places where bucks move between feeding and bedding areas scent-checking does. Set up downwind of well-worked scrapes. Bucks are looking for does, most of which have not come into estrus yet.
Make Your Own Action
The latest research from noted whitetail biologist Dr. Mick Hellickson advises that the peak of the rut is the best time to rattle in bucks. You can sit in a stand and rattle or you can take your game to the deer. Try the aggressive approach, which is more fun and more likely to put a big rack in your sights this week.
This technique works best in semi-open country where you can see rutting deer and go to them–brushy river bottoms out West, timber-company land laced with clear-cuts back East, farmland anywhere…you get the idea. Try it on private property that has light hunting pressure, or on a public tract where archery season is still on. For obvious safety reasons, you don’t want to sneak around and sound like bucks fighting where a lot of guys are hunting during a firearms season.
This plan requires a radical change in thinking. Instead of climbing into your best stand before sunup every day during the peak of the rut, drive out to your hunting area, take a vantage on a field edge or hill and glass at first light. Look for an 8- or 10-pointer chasing a doe or nudging a gal back into a section of cover. When the deer disappear into a ditch, thicket or patch of timber, make your move.
Make sure the wind is right, blowing from the deer to you. Hide behind terrain and foliage and sneak quietly to the downwind edge of the cover that the big boy is in. Set up in a makeshift ground blind where you can see off to the sides and behind, because most bucks will circle downwind. Break out your antlers and rattle like crazy for a minute or two to mimic a couple of bucks fighting over a doe. Pick up your bow or gun and get ready. The wild-eyed buck might be in your face before you know it, but give him 30 minutes; he might circle in slowly, or a satellite buck that heard your racket might crash the party.
If your first set doesn’t pan out, move to a new area and glass some more. It’s unlikely that you’ll spot two shooters to rattle to in one morning, but when whitetails are rutting hard in open country, you never know. Even if you don’t find another buck, no sweat. Hit a second and maybe a third brush-choked draw or block of timber where the wind is right, and where you know from past experience that does bed. If the gals are in there, a buck probably will be too. Crack the antlers together and stay sharp.
Let the Action Come to You
This is a tough week. With so much going on in the woods, it’s hard to decide how and where to hunt. The rut is still ripe in most places. You might spot a shooter wandering around or dogging a doe. You might not see squat, because many of the big boys have become as nocturnal as vampires. Many are holed up and servicing does in thickets, to boot. You might see or hear a herd of deer running wildly over hill and dale. Gun season is on in many areas; other guys kill some bucks and scare the daylights out of many more. All things considered, it’s best to go find a funnel and sit tight.
Study an aerial map and find a hidden spot where two or three ridges and draws converge, maybe in a creek or river bottom. The place has to be thick and rough–the kind of place deer run to and other hunters don’t want to deal with. Ideally, a few doe trails will run off the ridges and drop down into the area. This is perfect, because the “hunt-the-does” strategy applies now.
A narrow ridge covered with heavy brush is an awesome spot for a bow stand. If you hunt with a shotgun or rifle, set up where you can watch a draw from above. Hunt as high as the terrain and cover allow. You’ll see more from a high vantage point, and the wind and thermals should be fairly steady up near the top of a ridge.
Get on post early each morning, and hunt long and hard. You might spot some does sneaking down a ridge with a buck hot on their heels. Watch for a buck popping over a ridge, shortcutting from one draw to the next. Glass into thickets for a bedded doe; look around her for a big-racked mate. Look and listen for deer pushed by other hunters. When they’re spooked they’re apt to roll in over a ridge and dive into a draw for cover. You never know what might happen. But if you hunt the setup all week you will certainly see some deer.
It’s funny how things come full circle. Last month we advised you to look for hogbacks, draws, strips of timber and the like where bucks scraped like fiends as they prowled toward food sources and scent-checked for does during the last week of October. Now, exactly one month later, go back and check those spots again in hopes of running across an old 8- or 10-pointer cruising for the last estrous does. There is scientific evidence for doing so.
A University of Georgia study a few years ago found that when bucks start chasing and breeding does in mid-November, they virtually stop checking scrapes. But along about November 20, some bucks go back to checking old scrapes in their core areas, and they keep it up through the first week of December. The older bucks know from experience that the does that were not impregnated during the November peak-breeding phase will reenter estrus. They just don’t know exactly when this will happen, so they keep checking scrapes, waiting for the remaining does to be ready to breed once again. This phase won’t come until 28 days after the does originally came into estrus (usually a week or so into December).
There are a couple of caveats. Many of the bucks have been tagged and the survivors are wary and nocturnal now. As a result, you won’t see nearly as many bucks cruising around as you did back in late October. But it only takes one!
Also, it’s Thanksgiving, one of the most heavily hunted weeks of the year in many places. Poke around and find a spot where nobody else is hunting. That might be a ridge near a cornfield you bowhunted on back in October, or a scraped-up draw where you moved in on a buck the first week of this month. Keep your options open.
When hunting in the morning, set up in a funnel, near thick bedding cover. Watch for freshened scrapes–sign that a buck is still in the area. With the moon dark this week, some deer should move in and around thickets as day begins to break.
In the afternoons, sneak as close to small, out-of-the-way bedding areas as you dare and watch trails that lead to late-season food sources, especially if the trails move through thick cover and have scrapes along them. Bucks and does are tired, thin and hungry. They should be bedding as close to food sources as they can. They’ll hit the feed before dark if the pressure isn’t too heavy. You might finally tag Mr. Big. It’s been a long eight weeks, but, man, what fun.
Week 1 Planner
–Backpack in a climber tree stand if there are a lot of straight trees in your area. You need to stay versatile this week. If you hunt a site for two days without spotting many deer, don’t waste any more time there. The does have moved, and the bucks have too. Stay mobile. You might have to move two or three times before you find a hot spot.
–Crisp mornings are best for hunting a ridge or draw back in the timber. Hang tough. A rut-dazed buck might wander by any time until 11 a.m.
–Carry a call and rattling antlers. If a buck cruises by out of range, grunt or rattle at him. Most of the time he’ll stop, and sometimes he’ll turn your way.
Week 2 Planner
–Rattle on frosty, still mornings, when bucks are active and can hear the horns for hundreds of yards.
–Travel light so you can move quickly and quietly. A good binocular, a bow or a gun and a set of antlers are all you need.
–Mix deep, gurgling grunts with your rattling sequences.
–This is full-moon week, so some deer will chase and breed during the midday hours. Stand-hunt on a ridge that’s loaded with deer sign from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Then take a break if you need it and either stay put or move closer to a food source. Make loud, deep grunts in the morning and at midday near bedding areas to pull in a buck that’s looking for does.
Week 3 Planner
–If gun season opens, monitor where people park their trucks and hike into the woods. Try to find a funnel that other folks overlook.
–Access your funnel from downwind and try to get in and out without jumping any deer.
–Hunt all day. When other hunters leave the woods at 10 a.m., they get deer moving.
–Try a few rattling volleys in the morning, and grunt every now and then all afternoon. Bucks are still rutting, so keep calling.
Week 4 Planner
–Try to hunt Monday through Wednesday, before the crowds of hunters hit the woods come Thanksgiving weekend.
–Lay a doe-in-heat trail into your morning stands. It can work better now than in the pre-rut because fewer estrous does are left. A cruising buck might cut your trail and charge in to check you out.
–If the pressure is not too heavy, keep cracking the horns. In a recent Texas study, biologists rattled in more 3 1/2- to 5 1/2-year-old bucks during the post-rut than they did in the pre-rut or peak of the rut.
–If other hunters have overtaken all your best scrape spots, go back to that out-of-the-way funnel you hunted last week. There’s a good chance your competition has driven some does and bucks in there.
November Rut Timeline*
Saturday, November 1 The seeking phase of the rut is in full swing. Some bucks will begin to expand their range, wandering out of their home core areas to check does. Other big boys will stay closer to home, especially in areas where feed and cover are prime.
Tuesday, November 4 The seeking phase launches into the chasing phase of the rut. If a doe smells right, she’ll attract several bucks. During the next two or three weeks, mature bucks may lose 20 to 25 percent of their body weight as they dog and breed does.
Friday, November 7 The rut phases merge and the woods get wild! You might spot a giant buck trolling for a doe…or chasing one…or breeding. Some bucks rub and scrape haphazardly to vent sexual energy, but the serious scrape-making is winding down.
Sunday, November 9 The full “rutting moon” turns the action up even more. Many deer will move hard between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. for the next few days, especially in areas with light hunting pressure, so don’t leave the woods. Big deer lose their heads during this time.
Monday, November 10 Give or take a few days, most mature does enter their first estrus cycle. Some days you’ll spot bucks chasing does or trolling for them. Studies have shown that bucks impregnate 80 percent or more of mature does during this time.
Sunday, November 23 The new moon is back. For the next few days, your best chance for a buck is probably at frosty first light near a bedding area. After the dark nights deer should move well, especially in areas where the hunting pressure hasn’t been too high.
Monday, November 24 The rut is running out of steam in most of the Northern and Central states and Canada at this time. Some old, surviving bucks go back to checking old scrapes and bedding areas, looking to hook up with one final estrous doe.
Sunday, November 30 The post-rut begins. Some big deer keep cruising and checking scrapes. Does and bucks concentrate on the best late-season food sources–leftover mast, soybeans and corn. Rut-thin deer feed like pigs to bulk back up before winter.
*Dates approximate for Central and Northern states