October 31, 2011
Boyd Mathes didn't care one lick that it was noon on Nov. 20, 2010. He was heading out to hunt on his southeast Iowa farm. The Buck Hollow Sports archery shop owner and BowTech pro-staffer had been seeing enough activity the past few days that he was convinced deer would be on their feet regardless of the hour.
Mathes posted in his favorite midday bucks treestand, which sits at the end of a finger of woods sticking out into a huge soybean field. With the field in front of him and open timber behind, he could see a long way.
"At this time of year, in the middle of the day, I want to be able to see as much as possible," Mathes said. "Bucks could be anywhere and I don't want to miss them."
As it turned out, Mathes didn't need to see very far. Nor did he have to wait long. The ground was as dry as a bone and the leaves as crisp as fresh potato chips, and he never heard the 150-inch 10-pointer until it showed up right underneath him -- 15 minutes after he climbed on stand.
At 8 yards, the bowshot was a "gimme." The middle of the day had coughed up yet another bruiser buck for Mathes.
"There are certain times of the year when I absolutely love to be out hunting in the middle of the day," he said. "When everybody else is back home eating lunch or taking a nap, I'm in my stand."
Conventional hunting wisdom says early morning and late afternoon are the best times to hunt whitetails. Conversely, the middle of the day -- 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. -- is supposed to be dead. Deer should be bedded until it's time for the evening feed.
True enough, deer follow that schedule for much of the year. But there is about a month-long period when rutting activity makes midday as good a time as any to tag a buck. Also, regardless of the rut, any time your state's firearms season is in, you'll want to be on-stand from 11-2.
During the summer months and early fall, when a buck is focused primarily on food and water, he'll generally be most active during daylight hours early in the morning and late in the afternoon. If he's got a few hunting seasons under his belt, he might not venture out of his secure bedding area at all after the sun comes up or before it sinks below the horizon.
When his testosterone starts to rule his actions and does begin to come into estrus -- typically beginning in late October across the northern half of the U.S. and in Canada, and progressively later as you head south -- a buck's going to be prowling for love, regardless of the time of day.
"As October starts winding down, I'll stay in the stand a little later in the morning, just to see if there are midday bucks up on their feet," said Hunter's Specialties pro Matt Morrett. "At some point, I'll start seeing them at 11 and 12 o'clock. That's when I'll keep sitting through the middle part of the day, because you never know when a really good deer is going to walk by."
The rut is a compressed period of just a few weeks when a buck has to complete the most important job in his life. With his instincts kicking him in the rear to find does ready to breed, his normal wariness takes the backseat. During the rut, a buck you might never see during daylight the other 11 months of the year suddenly moves around under the sun like a Hollywood star in the spotlight.
Mathes and Morrett both view the rut in three phases -- early, peak and late. During the early rut, does start coming into estrus in trickles. Some are in heat, while most are not.
"This is when you'll see a lot of bucks cruising," Mathes said. "They have to cover a lot of ground to find a hot doe because there aren't very many of them around. That's a great time to be in the woods in the middle of the day."
During the early rut, Mathes likes to set up in pinch points, such as a thin strip of trees connecting two larger blocks of timber or a saddle between two ridgelines. He seeks out those tight places through which bucks on the prowl will funnel, hopefully close enough for a shot.
Many hunters mistake the early rut for the peak period because that's when they see the most buck activity. But during the peak rut, it will actually appear as though the action has tapered off. It's now a target-rich environment for bucks on the prowl, and they don't have to travel far to find a hot doe.
This is the lock-down phase. Bucks will pair with receptive does for 24-36 hours, and they don't move around much. Though it can seem like the woods are dead during the lock-down, Morrett likes to be in his stand near security cover at midday because a doe can get up at any time to feed or get a drink. Wherever she goes, her buck will follow.
Morrett defines security cover as a thick patch of real estate near or surrounding a deer's bedding area. When the peak rut coincides with a full moon, Morrett is convinced a midday hunt in security cover can be more productive than hunting the prime time of day.
"I believe deer move all night under the full moon and then they actually lay down at first light to rest," he said. "A lot of guys head in, thinking the activity is dead, but the deer are going to start getting up to move around again a couple hours after daylight, even though it's the middle of the day."
Once the peak rut passes, the late period rolls in, and the number of does coming into heat tapers off. This is Mathes' favorite time to hunt.
"Just after peak rut is the best time to get a really big buck," he said. "They've had a taste of the rut and they want more, but now the hot does are harder to find. A big mature buck is going to have to put on some miles to find those does now. He's going to be on the move all the time."
This is when Mathes seeks out spots where he can see a long way. If he spots a buck cruising, he can use buck grunts, rattling and/or doe bleats to try to lure in that deer.
"Big bucks will be moving out in the open in the middle of the day during the late rut," Mathes said. "It's not going to be in a place that you can see from a road or from a house. It's going to be in a secluded area."
WHEN THE GUNFIRE ROARS
Rifle, shotgun and muzzleloader seasons across North America are relatively short periods lasting a few days to a couple of weeks, typically in November, December and/or January.
"In gun season, you get a lot of guys out in a fairly short amount of time," Morrett said. "You don't really see this kind of pressure any other time during hunting season."
And pressure keeps deer on the move.
Since a lot of hunters think the best times to sit are early morning and late afternoon, the middle of the day is when they tend to walk around in hopes of jumping a deer and getting a shot, or when they head out to the truck to warm up and eat lunch.
In the middle of the day during gun season, post up along escape routes or in the middle of the thickest, nastiest cover around. This is where pressured deer will go for safety.
"When it's gun season, we pack a lunch because we're going to be out there all day," Morrett said. "You just know somebody else is going to get cold and hungry and start moving around about lunchtime. And there's a real good chance they could push a nice buck to you."