The rut is anything but a time of assured success.
By Bob Robb
The whitetail rut. If you assume that big old bucks living their lives like Dracula and never showing themselves during daylight hours will suddenly forget all about how to stay alive amidst the onslaught of camouflage and orange-jacketed hunters, you’re headed for a season of disappointment.
Experienced deer hunters know it ain’t that simple. Bucks of all ages do throw caution to the wind at times and run wild and does are often scared out of their wits after being chased night and day for weeks. But while a doe-distracted buck of wall-hanging proportions blowing into your fire zone sends the adrenaline flowing, hunting the rut can more often be a time of utter frustration. Here are my suggestions for curing the 10 most perplexing problems a rut hunter can experience.
Common wisdom has it that, to find the bucks, you find a local doe group and sit of it. But if you’re seeing a ton of does but no bucks trailing them, the trouble is usually that those does are not yet ready to be bred. You can either hang with them until one or more come into estrus or go find another group of girls, the latter of which usually depends on the land you’re hunting, hunting pressure and how much time you have.
Why are you hunting scrapes during the rut? Scrape activity generally fizzles out two to three weeks before the rut’s peak. If the rut’s in prime time, find some girls with their tails straight out or to the side and pacing as nervously as a cat on a hot tin roof.
It seems like a lot of whitetail hunters have become so dependent on their electronic scouting tools that unless they have Old Mossback patterned on camera, they aren’t ready to go hunting. The thing is, during the rut, bucks start running willy-nilly and trying to pattern them is a fool’s game. Better to set up in a funnel located between two known doe groups, get the wind right and put in your time.
During the rut’s peak, rub lines that denote traditional travel corridors are some of my go-to stand locations. Better still is a junction of two traditional rub lines marked with at least one signpost rub. Bucks always travel through such places.
In unseasonably hot weather, daytime deer movement shrinks, even though rut activity continues. That’s when stands set near water, along ridges that get a cool afternoon breeze and the edges of shaded thickets can be productive when field edges are not.
What Triggers the Whitetail Rut?
An old wives' tale has it that it is cold weather that brings on the whitetail rut. In truth, temperature has nothing to do with it. It’s the photoperiod, the interval in a 24-hour period during which a plant or animal is exposed to light, that regulates hormonal production directly tied to antler growth and the breeding season. During hot weather, whitetails still rut, they just shift the bulk of their movements to the coolest part of the day—after dark. You can learn more here.
I meet hunters every year who swear that scents are a total and complete waste of time and money. I beg to differ. I shot my largest buck ever—a 181-inch 10-point— that followed a drag line I’d laid down with doe estrus scent to a scent wick 40 yards from my stand. This is the time of year to use doe estrus scents every time you hit the woods. Here’s how to use them.
It is not unusual for buck movement during the rut to occur more heavily during midday hours, and I’ve had a lot of success between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. That’s because bucks that are between does are on the move looking for love. Now is when you need to be on stand all day long
Research shows that the more you hunt a stand, the more mature bucks avoid it, even during the rut. Also, conditions change. Agricultural crops are different or absent via harvest, the mast crop is nonexistent, urban sprawl has affected the area, whatever. What it means is that a stand that was hot for many seasons can suddenly be as cold as ice. It’s time to assess the conditions and react accordingly, including moving your stand.
Maybe you're fidgeting on stand, or maybe your stand isn’t hidden worth beans. Maybe the wind was wrong, but you decided to hunt the stand anyway, or maybe it’s your clothing. Research conducted at the University of Georgia shows that deer vision is 20 times more sensitive to blue wavelengths of light than the human eye. Try using laundry detergent with no UV brighteners.
Research shows that, during the rut, mature bucks you’ve never seen before leave their core area to cruise through your hunting area looking for does. If you are afraid that you might spook them by using deer calls, don’t be. This is the time when you must go for broke, knowing that, if they get past you, they might never come back. Bang some horns to get their attention, then hit them with the snort-wheeze. You just might be surprised at what happens. You can watch a deer calling tutorial here.