November 19, 2010
The legendary whitetail rut is a magical time of the year when lovesick bucks with swollen necks and extremely high testosterone levels develop really bad attitudes. This brief and unique period causes something to snap inside of a buck's mind. As a result, wide-racked giants that are typically locked to a strict nocturnal schedule will temporarily let their guards down just a little. This creates a window of opportunity for hunters looking to drop the hammer on a top-heavy buck with raging hormones. However, in order to be successful, you still need to hit the woods with a proven game plan that will enable you to exploit and take advantage of all three primary senses of monster bucks. If you want to consistently punch all of your tags when the big boys are on the prowl, then you really need to give the following rut-attack strategies and setups a try this season.
THE 3-SENSE ADVANTAGE
During the actual whitetail breeding period, we all know that utilizing rut-related scents can be a highly effective technique for coaxing a shooter buck into close range. There is also no doubt that aggressive calling like deep-throated grunting, intense rattling and hot doe bleating can drive a poor old buck crazy when the rut cranks up. All of this is absolutely true, but unfortunately, with these two strategies you're really only attacking two of a buck's primary senses. In order to get the most out of your setup, you have to go the extra mile and actively engage a buck's third sense by using techniques that will also fool his eyes. Without question, strategically attacking a buck's nose, ears and eyes will dramatically increase your chances of generating a close encounter with a massive-racked monster.
For just a moment, think about the concept behind utilizing scents, calls and decoys simultaneously. In the past, how many times have you been working a buck with your calls just to have the sneaky son of a gun hang up or circle back around your current position? A mature buck that has survived a few seasons will often react to calling by easing around your setup in order to get the wind in his favor. In many cases, the buck will immediately bolt when he picks up your scent or doesn't smell the deer that is making all of the commotion. With this notorious situation, your hunt can quickly go up in smoke and you're forced to painfully watch another shooter buck disappear into the thick underbrush.
However, adding a new degree of realism to your setup can help you avoid these heartbreakingly close encounters that ultimately end with no chance at a clean shot. Learning to combine lethal scent application strategies, high-impact calling and deadly decoying tactics can stack the cards back in your favor. Basically, your chances of making a big dog eat some dirt will dramatically improve when the buck you're after can actually hear, smell and see what appears to be the real deal. Here are some sneaky little rut attack strategies and setups that will get the job done and fool even the toughest thick-racked customers that you're likely to encounter. Matching these combination tactics with each stage of the whitetail rut will enable you to put more bucks on your wall this season.
STAGE 1: Attacking Ambush Scrapes
Constructing mock scrapes can definitely attract and reel in thick-necked studs during the first stage of the rutting period. Unfortunately, the majority of veteran bucks will routinely visit and work these scrapes under the protective cover of darkness, which drastically limits your shot opportunities. A high-impact strategy for breaking this nocturnal schedule is to create mock scrapes in key ambush areas where bucks naturally feel safe. Isolated pockets of thick cover near popular doe hangouts, secluded big buck bedding sanctuaries or sheltered staging areas near current food sources can be prime locations to setup during the rut. These rut-hunting hotspots are exactly where you need to strategically layout a series of mock scrapes that will help you intercept a massive brute with a lot of bone on his head.
With this strategy, try to find an overhanging branch that is just tall enough for a buck to reach with his rack. Bucks love to work these dangling limbs with the various scent glands that are located on their heads. The next step is to utilize a sturdy stick or rake to clean away all leaf litter and debris beneath an overhanging branch. Be sure to wear latex gloves and knee-high rubber boots during this process to avoid contaminating the area with unwanted scent. Once you have reached the soil, dig out a small section in the center of the scrape and place a bag of Grave Digger from the makers of Code Blue. Next, cover Grave Digger with the leftover loose dirt and generously sprinkle the top layer of soil with your favorite doe-in-heat scent and intruder buck urine. As time passes, this impregnated strip of soil will continuously release varied amounts of buck scent to keep the scrape active and fresh. The big boys won't be able to tolerate the dangerous blend of dominant buck urine and natural gland secretions from these mock scrapes.
On the overhanging branch above the scrape, hang a buck scent-station (elastic wick, custom cut rag, or cotton balls doused with scent) that will inevitably attract any nearby dominant bucks. This is a very crucial step, because the prevailing wind currents will carry the scent and allow you to reach bucks at greater distances. Next, attach a timed scent-release device like the Drop-Time electronic scent dispenser from Code Blue on one of the branches. This innovative product will routinely freshen the scrape by releasing scent at the designated times you have pre-selected. You can actually condition a buck to start checking and working the scrape during your own personal key hunting periods. It's possible for the buck you've aptly nicknamed the nocturnal nightmare to gradually switch back over to the dayshift with this dirty little strategy.
Deadly Decoying & Calling Combinations
During this first stage of the rut, mature bucks are becoming more agitated and territorial. It can be very easy to instigate a fight with a fired-up giant that will not tolerate another male in his territory, especially near hot scrapes and does. This is exactly why a strategically placed buck decoy near a mock scrape coupled with aggressive calling can create some intense confrontations. All it usually takes is a few series of challenging grunts mixed with an occasional snort wheeze to completely enrage a nearby dominant brawler. With this type of calling, I also like to use my compact Pack Rack from Knight & Hale to make some noise. This rattling device produces some unbelievable fighting sounds that will definitely draw the attention of any nearby buck. Last season, my son James and I utilized this technique to tag two really nice rut-crazed bucks in the steep mountain country of both Kentucky and Tennessee.
STAGE 2: Attacking 360 Degrees
As the second stage of the rut approaches, bucks begin to cruise, search and even chase after the first estrous does. During this period, hunters need to switch gears and use strategies that will increase the length of their reach. Going with tactics that enable you to cover more ground and attack bucks from a full 360 degrees can be just what the doctor ordered. Try hanging small scent-stations in a wide circle all the way around one of your favorite rut-hunting stands. Again, you can utilize elastic wicks, custom cut rags or large cotton balls sprayed with hot doe and dominant buck scent. Personally, I like to attach at least one of these scent-stations on sapling tree limbs about every 40 yards in a complete circle around my setup. This allows me to effectively reach bucks that are cruising for does in all directions. Simply expanding your coverage area with the right scent combinations can make a monumental difference during the rut.
Another killer scent application strategy that will also help you cover more ground is to pull drag-rags when approaching your favorite rut-hunting stand. Dragging a trail of fresh estrous doe scent can really get the big dogs fired up and generate a lot of action on a cold November day. Any buck that crosses near your path will lockup on the scent and track you down like a floppy-eared beagle that is hot on a rabbit's trail. When using a drag-rag, remember to avoid walking in a straight line to your stand, because this can drastically limit your coverage area. Instead, utilize an extended zigzag pattern that will increase your chances of grabbing the attention of a buck that is busy cruising for does.
Deadly Decoying & Calling Combinations
After laying out a circular perimeter of scent and pulling a drag-rag, set up a doe and buck decoy combination in an area that offers good visibility. Make sure the buck decoy is quartering away from your stand and facing toward the fake doe. Next, utilize a grunt call and doe bleat to simulate an excited buck chasing a hot estrous doe. The new Rack Blaster from Knight & Hale can authentically produce both vocalizations that are needed for this strategy without changing calls. With this calling sequence, start with an aggressive tending grunt and end with an emotional doe bleat. Remember, it's very important to add some feeling and emotion to your calling. In fact, the bleat should have a slightly distressed tone to mimic the sound of a doe being harassed by an anxious buck that is ready to breed.
STAGE 2: Attacking With Heat
During stage three of the rut, more does are hitting their estrous cycle and are ready to breed. It's not uncommon for mature bucks to be completely locked down with a hot doe or trying to hook up with one anyway. At this stage of the game, you better be focused on the does if you want to punch a buck tag. Utilizing a variety of estrous doe scents and application strategies should definitely be a part of your plan. With that being said, one of the hottest new scent dispensers that I've seen lately is the Temptation from Code Blue. This device is literally hot, because it actually heats up your favorite liquid scent to the exact temperature of a live estrous doe. The electronic scent warmer creates a vapor trail with a stronger aroma that will travel farther than conventional scent-application methods. With the Temptation unit, there is no doubt in a big buck's mind that what he smells is the real deal.
Consequently, I have personally field-tested the Temptation device for the past couple of seasons with remarkable results. Many years ago, I would slightly heat my tarsal glands and homemade drag rags in an old microwave that was stored in my garage. This bizarre technique used to drive my wife crazy, but back then I was looking for a way to replicate the exact smell of a live deer. With an electronic scent warmer like the Temptation, there is really no need to waste my time stinking up my garage and making a mess. This compact device simply runs off four AA batteries and can be placed directly on the ground or attached to a tree limb. A green LED light indicates when the unit is turned on and you will not believe the scent vapors this device will create.
Deadly Decoying & Calling Combinations
Try placing the Temptation unit inside of a cleared shooting lane that is close to a doe decoy. This deadly scent-application strategy can add a degree of realism that will bring mature bucks in on a dead run. Next, to really spice things up, add some high-pitched estrous doe bleats to your setup. Any buck that is nearby will not be able to fight the instinctive urge to investigate the situation. The killer combination of hot estrous doe scent, yearning bleats and the actual sight of a realistic doe decoy is more than any hormone-driven buck can stand. With this setup, you better be ready to shoot in a hurry!
Over the years, all of these rut-attack strategies and tactics have allowed me to throw more than my fair share of lovesick bucks in the bed of my truck. There is no doubt that combining high-impact scent application strategies with deadly decoying and calling techniques will dramatically improve your overall success. Your ability to attack all three of a whitetail buck's primary senses will enable you to tag and bag more rut-crazed bruisers on a consistent basis. This season, make sure you climb into your tree stand with these hard-hitting tactics so you can start making life hard on the top-heavy bucks in your neck of the woods!