By Josh Boyd
As November grows ever closer, avid whitetail hunters grow increasingly excited for what awaits right around the bend. With the changing of leaves and the dropping of temperatures, comes the annual whitetail rut, the onset of which signals a remarkable time for any hunter to be afield.
As bucks begin their search for receptive does, they tend to forget many of the same survival tactics that have promoted their survival thus far, and the countryside both day and night. This exposes a vulnerability, to which many hunters seek to take advantage of, in a bid to fill their tags as well as their freezers.
However, success during the rut typically does not come as an accident. Sound judgment and a wealth of strategy still play a vital role, and pays dividends during this splendid time in the whitetail woods.
The following are five tactics to help you make the most out of hunting this year’s whitetail rut.
Find the Does, Find the Bucks
During the rut, bucks and does go together like apple pie and vanilla ice cream. Where there are does in significant numbers, bucks will also be found. Bucks, by instinct and prior observation, familiarize themselves with areas where does commonly frequent, and seek out such locations during the rut, in search of the first smell of estrous in the air.
As a result, hunters can experience substantial success during the rut, solely by hunting where does are to be found in abundance. These locations often include acorn-rich oak flats, lush food plots, and standing grain fields. Trail cameras can also be used to monitor such locations, in a bid to take stock of bucks that are frequenting the area.
Hunt Travel Corridors
As the rut’s seeking face commences, bucks tend to make the best use of their time, while searching for receptive does. This leads them to travel funnels and pinch points, in a bid to check known doe bedding areas and favored food sources. In most instances, bucks will travel many of the same trails that are heavily traversed by does within the area. This allows a buck to pinpoint the whereabouts of any doe which is, or will soon be, coming into heat.
With a firm grasp of this concept, hunters can position themselves over these same trails, in an attempt to head off a buck’s travels. Doing so also has the added benefit of allowing a hunter to lay eyes on a particular buck, even if they do not step into an opening or clearing when scent checking a field.
Hunt All Day
Contrary to other periods of the year, during the rut, bucks often stay on their feet for a significant portion of the day. This includes the midday hour, when deer often bed after their nighttime and early morning feeding binges. Unfortunately, many hunters are never able to take advantage of this scenario, because they abandon their stand by mid-morning. As a result, much in the way of opportunity is cast to the side.
By remaining on stand from dawn until dusk, a hunter stands a better chance of intercepting a love-addled buck, no matter their time of travel. However, doing so can be a tedious proposition, and requires a hunter to be adequately prepared. Before striking out for an all-day hunt, make sure to pack a lunch, as well as an ample supply of water and energy-rich snacks, such as granola bars.
Rattle Up Success
During the rut, bucks waste no time in asserting their dominance and staking claim to as much of their home range as possible. In doing so, skirmishes do arise, as bucks lock antlers with one another in aggression. The sound of such a fight, with antlers clashing, tends to carry quite far on the cool autumn air, drawing the attention of passing bucks. In many cases, these bucks are attracted to the source of this noise, in an instinctual act of curiosity.
Luckily, hunters who are keen on this fact are able to use this knowledge to their advantage. Rattling antlers can be utilized in an attempt to simulate the occurrence of a knockout, drag-out fight between two competing bucks. This commonly attracts any buck within earshot, often presenting a hunter with an available shot opportunity.
Appeal to a Buck’s Nose
As most any hunter is aware, a whitetail deer’s sense of smell is second to none. This is a fact that is painfully apparent to any hunter who has been picked out by a wary doe from 200 yards away. However, bucks also use this keen sense of smell to track down receptive does during the rut. Bucks scour their home range in search of the first whiff of estrous, often bird-dogging any such doe to parts unknown.
Hunters can use this fact to their advantage, by employing the use of any one of the numerous urine-based doe in heat lures currently available. These products can be applied to a scent wick, or directly to the ground with the use of a scent drag. Either method gives passing bucks the impression that a nearby doe has come into estrus, thereby enticing an inquisitive response. If all goes as planned, the awaiting hunter is presented with a shot opportunity.
Making the Most of the Rut
Although bucks tend to throw caution to the wind during the rut, hunters must still adhere to sound strategy in order to find success. Doing so often comes down to understanding the rut’s dynamics, and making small adaptations to expose a preoccupied buck’s vulnerabilities. By employing the above-mentioned tactics, you will be able to place yourself in prime contention to fill your tag and line your freezer with a winter’s worth of venison.