If there is one thing I’ve learned about hunting the whitetail rut, it is to expect the unexpected. Bucks do crazy things in November, and sometimes it seems like their love-drunk behavior will allow you to get away with anything. Then, as soon as you let your guard down, that seemingly “dumb” buck blows your cover and you’re left wondering, how did that go wrong?
For me, most of those moments I’ve experienced during the rut have had to do with the wind. Maybe it switched, maybe the thermals caused my scent to do something I didn’t anticipate, or maybe a buck just came from a direction I never thought he would. Nonetheless, my rut “failures” have often stemmed from bucks getting a nose-full of my scent.
I feel like hunters are more likely to be winded by bucks in November than any other time of year. Simply put, we rely heavily on November to help us get within range of mature bucks, and that means we push deeper into cover and ignore certain things that we live and die by during other parts of the season. This is a strategy I’ve always employed, and it’s one that I still believe in; however, since I’ve certainly experienced its drawbacks and consequences, I’ve found some tools to help me bullet-proof my scent while hunting in November.
Off-Season Homework: Based on buck sign and trail camera data, I knew during my early days of taking bowhunting seriously that I was hunting the right spots. However, that data wasn’t correlating into on-stand encounters with big bucks. The problem? My scent was traveling in ways I didn’t realize; I hadn’t taken the time to study what the wind and thermals did in my hunting areas.
I solved this problem by going into my hunting areas during the off-season and studying the wind. I would go into spots on various winds and release milkweed from my stand position and note how it maneuvered across the landscape. By mapping the wind in these areas, I gained a better understanding of how my scent traveled, and it allowed me to better plan my hunts in the fall.
On-Stand Tools: Whitetail hunters all know to keep the wind in their favor as much as possible, but bucks don’t always come from where you want them to, and rut hunters are much more likely to push the limits on wind direction to try and bag a buck. Because of this, I’ve added an Ozonics unit to my rut strategy. Running an ozone unit provides another reliable layer to your scent control. Also, an Ozonics unit is a guaranteed way to ensure that you have scent-eliminating protection in the downwind direction.
Access, Access, Access: The final element of limiting the number of encounters between my scent and mature rutting bucks was perfecting my access. I learned this the hard way, as I watched a mature public-land buck in Pennsylvania cross my scent trail just outside of bow range. He bounded off with his tail flagging, and I decided that day that finding the perfect way to access my spots would be a prerequisite for all my hunts.
Success In The Field
On Nov. 19, 2022, I used my 3-prong scent strategy to have it all come together on a bowhunt in Kansas. While filming for North American Whitetail TV, my cameraman and I were nestled on the ground behind some cedar limbs I had cut and placed in front of us. Our backs were to a steep bank where I expected no deer to come from, and we faced a timbered draw that served as a travel corridor.
As it often happens, I heard leaves rustling from the direction where I expected no deer to come from. Seconds later a fully mature Kansas buck appeared just a few yards away in the brush, and I watched as he looped to my right and entered the draw. My access was perfect, so he never crossed my scent trail. However, he did come from the downwind direction. I had an Ozonics HR500 unit running, and he never smelled me. One perfectly-placed arrow from my grounded position ended my hunt for a mature Kansas buck.