Conventional rut hunting advice trends toward finding terrain features that funnel deer movement. This is Whitetail 101-level stuff, but doesn’t always work or isn’t always possible. For example, where I live just north of the Twin Cities, finding funnels and pinch points isn’t all that easy. It’s flat as a pool table on most of my spots and the deer can (and will) travel just about anywhere they please.
This is different than the bluff country along the Mighty Mississippi where I grew up. Those hills and ridges did wonderful things for deer movement because there were certain saddles and dropoffs that just promoted the kind of travel a deer hunter wants. These two examples, in the same state and only two hours apart, are simple evidence that there are a lot of variables that go into hunting deer correctly and finding the right rut ambush sites. You’ve got to figure out what’s best for each spot you hunt. I’ve had this lesson drilled into my skull every year since I started bowhunting as a middle schooler.
Knowing this, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find consistency across multiple spots in several states. I travel out of my home state of Minnesota each November to bowhunt at least one state on public land, and while that may be Oklahoma this year, it’ll be North Dakota next year. Or maybe Wisconsin, or South Dakota, or Nebraska, or wherever.
If there is one thing that has factored into my success in those states it’s H20 and nothing else. Here’s why:
Consistency Of H2O
Most hunters think food is the key to killing a buck during the entire season, and even during the rut when he has love on his mind. During the breeding season, hunters who aren’t sitting pinch-points usually focus on where the does should be feeding on the hopes that their boyfriends will show up. The problem with this strategy is that food sources change often, and they are the spots that we tend to hunt the hardest throughout the entire season. This is especially true when it comes to agricultural areas. After all, who doesn’t love sitting over a soybean field?
No one, that’s who. The problem with this is that everyone loves hunting food sources and the accumulated pressure usually takes a toll on all deer activity by the time the rut rolls around. If you hunt pressured ground you know this more than anyone.
What this means for the hunter waiting for a doe to drag a slob of a buck into a picked cornfield is that it might not happen. If it does, it often happens late in the evening. A better bet for daytime encounters where the ladies should draw in the bucks is water and it doesn’t matter if you aren’t seeing a pile of mature bucks visit a river crossing or a cattle pond in mid-October. As long as the ladies feel secure at the watering hole, they’ll probably visit every single day — maybe even multiple times during the day.
You can see where this is going. Those same ladies that stopped streamside for a drink every day in October will do the same in November. And the bucks know it. What’s even better about this, is that a lot of the best water sources will be tucked into cover, which encourages daylight movement.
The other reason that I love sitting by water during the rut is that when the deer are chasing, they are getting thirsty. Even if their running occurs in the thickest of thickets, or along a hardwood ridge, eventually the does being pursued are going to get thirsty. Where they go next is pretty easy to figure out.
This produces rut action all day long as the midday temperatures peak and the relentless bucks nose does back and forth in the cover. Naturally, you’ll see more visitors during warmer weather days, but even when it’s frosty cold the deer get thirsty from all of their rut-related ground covering.
If you do experience unseasonably warm weather during November, hunting water only gets better. This is what happened to me last season while bowhunting public land in Nebraska. It was 75 degrees and definitely not the kind of weather you want to produce the best deer movement.
Realizing that, I hung a stand next to the only water source on the property — a small stream. Seventeen minutes into the sit I was tagged out on a goofy six-by-four that was locked into looking for does along the waterway despite the fact that it was really, really hot.
When I think back to the rutting bucks I’ve killed over the least several seasons, nearly all of them died near some sort of water feature and most of them were on public land. That pattern can’t be ignored.
And so I won’t this year. And neither should you. If you have a suitable water source, from a small cattle tank to a decent-sized interior river, hunt it. It may not be the kind of funnel-hunt you expect during the rut, but who cares? Thirsty deer will come and you could have all-day action, which is the best kind.