The rut is on, and that means bucks are on the move as they search for does in estrous. Like teenage boys, bucks have one thing on the brain. As a result, the best way to intercept these love-crazed giants is to think like a deer.
Although deer hunting can turn into a rather complex game of chess, there are a few constants that every hunter should have in his playbook. If you looked at how successful deer hunters score big during the rut, you're likely to find they consistently hunt the right areas during the rut. To get the most out of your deer season — and to score on a big buck this year — focus on hunting these eight prime locations while the rut is in full swing.
Small Patches of Cover
These often-overlooked parcels of land are magnets for bucks during the rut. Because hunters tend to walk right past fence lines, overgrown ponds, and small stands of timber, bucks will be less pressured, and it's a great place to catch a deer unaware. These pockets of cover offer bucks a place to lie-up with a good view, and you'll be surprised how many big deer you can find in a small patch of land.
It's no secret that deer like to hang out at the junction of two habitat types. One of the best places to tag your buck is along the forested edge of an agricultural field, but also look for places where dense bedding cover butts up against feeding areas. Both bucks and does will travel along these natural corridors, so position yourself here and plan to sit all day. You're also likely to catch a buck as he transitions between feeding, bedding and searching for does.
As rutting activity increases bucks are frequently on the move, patrolling for does and keeping an eye out for rivals. If a buck isn't actively trailing a doe that's ready to breed, you're likely to find him cruising along the trails in his home range. Focus your attention on heavily used trails that lead into and out of bedding cover and be ready to intercept a buck at any time. This is a good place to catch a buck unawares as he is transitioning from patrolling his territory to lying up in dense cover.
Contrary to popular belief, bucks do utilize food sources during the rut. The caloric demands of trailing and breeding does require bucks to spend a portion of their time during their rut feeding. While most hunters are busy trying to shoot a buck that's preoccupied with does that are ready to breed, make sure you position yourself near a known food source. Big bucks are often taken by surprise when they come to feed, and does that are coming to a food source will often draw in resident bucks.
Some of the biggest bucks are hanging out just outside the city limits. If you've got a place to hunt on the edge of the urban sprawl, you're likely to have an opportunity to tag a really nice deer during the rut. Suburban deer spend their time moving from one patch of undisturbed cover to the next, and you need to be in a position to cut them off. These deer are often relegated to small patches of cover, so spend your time in the transition zones that will bring the deer into range as they move from one area to the next.
Where the Does Hang Out
Bucks are focused on does, and if you do the same you'll be in position to intercept a big deer. Because does tend to have much smaller home ranges than bucks, you'll find those does in the same areas throughout the season. Once rutting activity starts, position yourself within the home range of those does, especially at the edge of heavy cover. They'll bring the big bucks right to you.
When a buck isn't on the move, he'll likely look for a secure place to bed down, and one of the best places is in a wooded draw. They provide excellent cover, and in the evening the cool thermals will pull scent into these areas. In the morning, you can catch bucks that are returning from patrol, and in the evening you'll be in position to see the deer when he begins moving again. Narrow creek beds are a good place to set up shop, and you're likely to be in position to catch a deer transitioning between resting periods and actively searching for does.
Marshes and Swamps
Wet ground provides bucks with a safe haven from hunters and a good place to while away the midday hours. Sometimes this swampy ground is hard to hunt, and these areas are oftentimes overlooked by hunters who are focusing on more traditional locations. You can either still-hunt these areas or set up on the edge of the wet ground, and expect bucks to pass in and out of these areas at any time of the day. When they show up, you'll be ready.
Wisconsin probably isn't the state most people think of when it comes to great whitetail hunting, but it certainly has a track record for producing giant bucks. According to Boone & Crockett
, Wisconsin has produced the highest number of trophy entries in the last 10 years. In that time span the state has produced more than 700 trophies, which is about 130 more than the next closest state (Illinois).
A great example is Paul Keller's 2012 buck (left), which scored 231 4/8 B&C. The state also has some great public land opportunities if you're able to get away from the crowds, which only improves your chances of bagging a brute this year.
When Bill Ullrich killed his 220 1/8 B&C trophy buck
in October 2012, it only confirmed what most of us already knew — Illinois is the whitetail Mecca for big bucks. The state ranks No. 2 in the last 10 years for trophy entries with B&C (around 600), and has a great reputation for producing monster bucks. Yes, public land is hard to come by and private outfitters charge a hefty price, but if you're on the hunt for a record-size buck, Illinois has to be somewhere near the top of your list.
When it comes to premiere whitetail hunting, one of the first places that comes to mind is Iowa. And rightly so. The state ranks No. 4 overall in trophy production during the last decade and has a reputation trophy output. True, the drawing process is a bit of hassle for non-residents, but the fact remains: If you want to bag a bruiser, Iowa is worth the trouble.
Just ask Bo Russell, who killed a 231 4/8 B&C buck in Des Moines County in 2012. As big as his deer was, Russell's buck was only the second largest bow kill of the year. That just goes to show you how high the bar is when you're hunting Iowa.
In many people's eyes, Kentucky has been a sleeper state for some of the best whitetail hunting in the U.S. But with a consistent track record for producing trophies over the last decade (Kentucky ranks No. 5, with around 415 B&C entries), it's hard to imagine the Bluegrass State staying under the radar for much longer.
With tons of room to roam and plenty of affordable opportunities, Kentucky is a great place to kill a trophy buck in 2013. Jason Tuttle found that out last year when he killed a 182-inch giant in the middle of the rut.
Missouri is another state that sometimes gets overlooked for trophy whitetail production — especially when talking about states like Iowa and Illinois — but it measures up rather nicely. Missouri ranks No. 6 in trophy production over the last 10 years, which is just behind Iowa and Illinois but just ahead of Kansas. If you're planning an out-of-state excursion, Missouri is still low-profile enough to avoid the headaches that come with other popular whitetail destinations.
If you have any doubts about Missouri's trophy potential, just talk to Ryan Smith, who killed a 202-inch monster in 2012.
Indiana might have flown under a lot of people's radar in years past, but everything changed after Tim Beck killed the No. 2 non-typical of all time
in 2012. Beck's 305-inch megabuck captured the attention of everyone around the country, and is only one example of the state's trophy potential.
Indiana ranks No. 7 in trophy production over the last decade, which is no small feat. There's quite a bit of public land, too, so there are plenty of opportunities to go around.
Kansas is certainly not a surprise on this list. If you're looking for a trophy, Kansas is one of the best places to start looking. The state has always had trophy pedigree, but in 2013 it became one of only six states to have a 300-inch deer on record
. It's also in the Top 10 for trophy production over the last 10 years.
Lucas Cochren's 2011 buck is only one example of Kansas' record-book status. His buck scored 238 4/8 B&C and typifies what comes out of Kansas every year.
Though some may not believe it, Minnesota has more to offer than famously stereotypical northern accents, ice hockey and freezing cold winters. Eleven percent of the land in Minnesota is publicly owned, which means there is a lot of great access for deer hunters. The state ranks 9th in B&C trophy production, averages about 200,000 deer kills a year and has a relatively low to moderate hunter density (5-8 hunters per sq. mile). There are about 1 million deer statewide, though a high number of licenses (800,000) and pressure during gun season are definitely setbacks.
If anything, Jeff Iverson's 2012 buck proved that Minnesota is as good as ever when it comes to trophy production. Iverson's buck scored near 230 inches, very close to the state record. All this means Minnesota is a great place to kill a trophy buck this year.
When you think of Texas, you think big — big belt buckles, big cowboy hats and big trucks. As with everything else, whitetail populations and harvest numbers are bigger in Texas, too. Harvest numbers are annually around 600,000 — no, that's not a typo — and there is a deer population of about 4 million statewide. Texas has also produced over 200 B&C trophy entries in the last decade (No. 10 overall) and it has a low hunter density (0-4 hunters per sq. mile). About 97 percent of Texas is privately owned, which means it's pretty much private or bust. Whitetail combo hunts are fairly cheap, however, and licenses plentiful (1.1 million licenses sold a year).
One of the best bucks to come out of Texas was A.J. Downs' megabuck, killed in 2012. His 256 4/8 B&C trophy typifies what Texas is all about — and what the future holds for those who venture into the Lone Star State for a trophy buck.
Ohio is a big time trophy-producing whitetail state with solid harvest numbers and lots of public land access. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of public land opportunities to choose from, a healthy whitetail population of about 750,000 and plenty of licenses to snatch up (about 420,000 annually). On top of that, Ohio is the No. 3 overall B&C trophy producer in the last decade with nearly 450 entries.
Stanley Suda killed an amazing trophy buck in 2012, which scored in the 230-inch range. His buck, which was killed in early October, typifies what Ohio is all about — churning out big bucks on a yearly basis. This makes it a perfect destination to kill a trophy buck this year.