Stages of the Rut

Stages of the Rut

Exploit mature bucks throughout each transitional stage of the rut with these custom-matched hunting strategies and high-impact setups.


The secret to pinpointing, patterning and consistently tagging bigger bucks is learning how to identify each transitional stage of the rut and matching your hunting strategies accordingly.

Accurately reading these transitions, modifying tactics, and adjusting your setups will ultimately be the difference between an action-packed season and a pocket full of unused tags.


With that being said, let's breakdown a deadly full-season game plan that will help you adapt to predictable pattern changes and exploit top-heavy bucks from the beginning of the early pre-rut period to the final stages of the post-rut.

The Pre-Rut


During the early pre-rut stage of the season, big bucks are generally locked to a textbook feeding to bedding pattern. It's not uncommon to find several shooters traveling together in bachelor groups and routinely hitting food sources on a consistent basis.

Gradually these bucks will start to break away from each other toward the end of this first transitional stage of the season, but they will continue to follow a strict feeding to bedding pattern that you can take advantage of with the right strategies and setups.

Custom-Matched Tactics & Setups

At this early point of the season, a buck's stomach not his hormones are in the driver's seat. This is exactly why you need to focus on targeting pre-rut feeding and watering sources. Monitoring feeding areas and isolated watering holes with a series of game cameras will enable you to establish predictable daily routines and choose the most productive ambush points.

Bucks will have a wide array of feeding options, which makes narrowing down a preferred food source extremely important.

Utilizing multiple cameras makes it much easier to piece together a complete pattern. Knowing exactly when and where a potential shooter is feeding, bedding, and watering throughout the day can pay huge dividends.

It's also not a bad idea to rely on multiple setups that will account for various wind directions, hunt times, and pattern possibilities. Treestands and ground blinds positioned along the edges of open food plots, agricultural fields, staging points, bedding areas and travel corridors will enable you to connect with an early-season giant.

Another high-impact hunting tactic is to strategically grow small, no-till ambush plots in-between known bedding and primary feeding areas. A specially formulated mix like Evolved Harvest Throw & Gro can be planted without the need of expensive farming equipment and these plots are very low maintenance.

Establishing these no-till plots within key ambush points that you can reach and hunt without bumping deer in the process is the key. Plus, these smaller ambush plots can successfully be grown in areas that are surrounded by good cover, which means mature bucks that are typically nocturnal will feel safe visiting them during the daylight hours.

The Seeking Phase 

During the seeking phase mature bucks are beginning to break away from their textbook feeding to bedding patterns. As a result, hunting strategies and setups that were smoking hot a week or so ago will suddenly go ice cold.

In fact, dominant bucks are now starting to focus more on monitoring, establishing and defending their breeding territory. As a result, you'll start seeing more scraping, rubbing, and daytime activity.

Custom-Matched Tactics & Setups

At the beginning of Stage 2, you have to immediately switch gears, modify your hunting strategies and change setups to generate more shot opportunities. The trick is to begin focusing on doe high-traffic areas. You have to be aware of transitioning food sources, bedding areas and how does reach these primetime locations on a daily basis.

Once again, utilizing a series of game cameras to monitor key areas will play a pivotal role in your overall success. Setting up cameras near primary doe feeding areas, travel corridors, and bedding zones will ultimately keep you in the middle of an antler-rich environment throughout this stage of the season.

It's also important to remember that most veteran bucks rely on and prefer to use any available cover to help shield or hide their daytime movement. For example, they like to cautiously skirt the inside edges of woodlots when cruising and monitoring does that might be feeding in open fields or food plots. Fence-lines, pinch-points, bottlenecks, low-lying dips, and brush-choked ditches are also big buck highways in open feeding areas. When hunting hilly or steep terrain, focus your attention on flat benches, saddles, gaps and long ridge-lines with good cover that connect doe feeding and bedding areas.

Once you've pinpointed these key areas, try to target well established rub and scrape lines. Dominant bucks are extremely territorial and defensive during this stage of the game and you need to capitalize on this potential weakness.

A killer hunting strategy is to attack all three of a mature buck's primary senses with decoying, calling, and scent applications tactics. Constructing a mock scrape, utilizing aggressive calling sequences, and placing an intruder buck decoy in an area with good visibility can be all it takes to coax a swelled-up bruiser into close range.

The Chasing Phase

Stage 3 is when all Hell breaks loose and mature shooters are actively seeking and actually breeding does. During this stage, everything needs to be geared toward doe activity and commences breeding behavior among dominant bucks.

Earlier setups that overlooked fresh rub and scrape-lines can become far less productive, which means you'll have to make a move and adjust your hunting techniques to stay in the game.

Custom-Matched Tactics & Setups

Without question, lovesick bucks that are chasing and breeding does are a little more vulnerable than usual, but this doesn't mean they're going to be easier to hunt. The truth is things can be extremely chaotic and somewhat unpredictable during Stage 3. A combination of increased hunting pressure and intense breeding activity can really throw you a curve. However, finding ways to attack all three of a dominant buck's senses can help stack the cards back in your favor and dramatically increase your odds of hitting pay dirt.

For starters, attack his nose by using drag-lines soaked in hot estrous doe urine and tarsal scent. Hanging small scent-wicks with estrous doe urine in a wide 30-yard circle around your treestand or ground-blind is another lethal way to attack his nose and spice things up.

Next, utilize a grunt call and doe bleat to mimic the sounds of an excited buck chasing an estrous doe. Begin these calling sequences with an aggressive series of tending grunts followed by a few yearning doe bleats. Top things off with a buck and receptive doe breeding decoy pair and you've got a setup that's capable of fooling his eyes, nose and ears.

Post-Rut

By the time Stage 4 rolls around, the majority of does have already been successfully bred and the chaotic action is starting to fizzle out. Mature bucks are usually exhausted and ready to recuperate from weeks of intense chasing and breeding activity.

They'll need to rest and feed heavily to prepare for the cold winter months ahead, and the rapidly approaching secondary rut. With these sudden behavioral and pattern changes, you'll need to immediately switch hunting strategies and setups to be successful.

Custom-Matched Tactics & Setups

Targeting isolated pockets of thick cover near remaining winter food sources and connecting travel corridors will be your best bet during this transitional phase of the season. In order to increase your shot opportunities, monitor these primetime post-rut locations with several game-cameras simultaneously to establish complete daily patterns. Once again, utilize multiple treestand and ground-blind setups to account for varying wind directions and hunting situations.

If at all possible, plan your hunts to occur just before cold-fronts and approaching winter weather. Mature bucks will often get on their feet and feed heavily under these ideal post-rut conditions.

Another key period to be in your stand is after the weather breaks and temperatures start to warm-up a little. One of my favorite times to hunt veteran bucks with nocturnal tendencies is during the mid-morning to early-afternoon periods after an extremely cold night. Bucks will routinely sneak off the bed to feed under these conditions due warmer daytime temperatures and limited outside hunting pressure.

Secondary Rut

Approximately 28 days after the primary rut, mature does that were not successfully bred will hit a 2nd estrous cycle. In addition, yearling does that were not mature enough to breed during the first rutting period will enter their very first estrous cycle.

This period is known as the secondary rut and it can be an excellent time to intercept a monster buck that was smart enough to survive most of the season.

Custom-Matched Tactics & Setups

Once the secondary rut kicks into full swing, earlier hunting tactics and setups that were used during the breeding period will be productive again. Drag-lines with doe-in-heat scent, estrous doe bleats, and a well placed doe decoy can really crank up the action during this late transition.

There will also be less available estrous does during this period, which can place dominant bucks that still have some fuel left in their tanks in a very vulnerable situation. These late-season brawlers can be susceptible to aggressive calling such as snort-wheezing and rattling due to the limited amount of estrous does. As mentioned earlier, utilizing these tactics together in unison will enable you to effectively attack and exploit all three of a buck's primary senses.

Your setups during the secondary rut should be based on current doe activity, daily tendencies and predictable patterns. Concentrate on late-season doe bedding areas, any remaining food sources, and connecting travel corridors.

Make an effort to plan your hunts before approaching cold fronts and winter storms to take advantage of increased daytime feeding activity. When the secondary rut ends, bucks will fall back into a Stage 4 Post-Rut pattern and you can switch over to those tactics and setups to end your season.

Make no mistake; accurately identifying each stage of the rut and matching your setups and hunting strategies accordingly will take your hunting to a whole new level. In order to consistently take better bucks, you have to continually adjust and modify how and where you hunt.

Big buck behavior, routines, patterns and tendencies are constantly shifting, which means you have to be able to switch gears and make changes on a dime. With the right transitional game plan in place, there's no doubt you'll be able to adapt, adjust and dominate the entire rut this season!

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