Rut Hunting Whitetails
The most difficult, easiest time you'll spend in the deer woods all season
It’s finally here. The time when all of those bucks that have given us random nocturnal drive-bys on our trail cameras will decide they’ve had enough of living the cautious life. They’ll catch their first whiff of an amenable doe, or maybe just hear two subordinates pushing each other around in the bedding area and decide it’s time to get moving.
It’s a lovely time, the rut. It’s also a strange period for deer hunters because it’s so full of promise. Too full, in many cases. Reality has a strange way of disappearing for long periods of time when we envision the rut, and even when it’s knocking us upside the head after a few days of buck-less sits in stand.
The truth is, the rut is awesome. And it sucks. This depends on a lot of factors, but there is a great way to make it suck less. Several in fact.
Life In A Dead Program
Even though the typical whitetail hunter talks a big game about funnels, pinch points and terrain features that absolutely force cruising bucks to go through specific spots, most of us sit field edges. Or we sit the edge of the same food plots we’ve watched since bow season opened months ago.
This field-edge program is often fairly dead by the time the rut rolls around, although we believe new life will be breathed into it by the seasonal timing. This can be the case, but doesn’t have to be. Just because it’s November 5th and you lug a full-body decoy into a soybean field doesn’t mean the bucks will show up.
Be honest with yourself about your stand choices. Are you going to an easy setup and hoping the rut will make up for your laziness? If so, you might have success anyway, but you probably won’t. To tag out in the rut on anything other than blind luck, you’ve got to keep hunting.
Fresh Sign & Sightings
I spend most of my fall hunting public land in various states for whitetails. What I’ve found is that if I’m not either looking for the freshest sign or moving to where I’ve actually seen whitetails, I’m not usually in danger of filling too many tags. This has bled over into my November hunting, where I’ll admit it’s pretty easy to become complacent.
The thing is, even though there should be bucks cruising all over, they won’t be. They’ll be trotting through very specific spots, and if you’re not set up on one of those spots you’re not going to do very well. Many of these spots coincide with loads of fresh rubs and scrapes, for obvious reasons.
Take a page out of the elk hunter’s playbook and look for the freshest sign and the places where you actually lay eyes on your quarry. When either happens, be ready to set up and hunt.
Stick A Finger In The Air
Nature isn’t random very often. Even though we don’t understand why a buck walked through the woods tonight on a specific ridge and not any of the other nights we sat there doesn’t mean it was just a random decision on the deer’s part. They definitely move more during the rut, but most of their movement is dictated to some degree by the wind direction.
I’m only assuming here, but it seems very likely that in a world where they only get to spend time with a lady friend a couple of times for the entire year, most mature bucks aren’t going to waste a lot of time cruising low odds areas. They also aren’t going to trot through their best-odds areas when the wind isn’t giving them plenty of hints at just which does are in their neighborhood and what their current status of randiness is.
Think about how a deer would use the wind to his advantage during the rut, and use that to your advantage as a hunter. He’s going to scent check areas and travel in a way that he can see danger ahead, and smell danger (and does) where he can’t see. That means that you’ve got to sit winds that are almost as good for him as you so that he believes he’s got his best sense working to keep him safe and get him some tail.
You’ve heard it a million times, but hear me out - spend more time in the woods. If you have to sit in a ground blind and read a book to do it, do that. If you have to strap 76 handwarmers to your body and play Candy Crush on your phone all day, figure out how to make that happen. The best hunters out there fall into a lot of categories, but one where there is always plenty of overlap is time available, and time spent in the woods actively hunting. A two-hour sit in the morning and a two hour sit in the evening won’t cut it. If you have the time, use it.
The rut isn’t as easy as many of us believe, but it certainly can be made easier by engaging in smart hunting. That might seem like a no-brainer, but I always think about it by using Iowa as an example. Bowhunters in Iowa get the entire month of November to hunt, which by conventional rut rationale would suggest they should have an extremely high success rate. Much higher, than say Minnesota, where the gun season opens the first weekend in November. The rub is, they don’t. There are a lot of bowhunters in Iowa who blank, despite having the entire rut to themselves. Don’t be one of those hunters who comes into November thinking it’ll be easy. Keep working, plan your hunts correctly, and give it time.
If you do, you’ll get your chance.