Hunting the Rut

Whitetail enthusiasts will argue that nothing compares to hunting the rut. The cool, crisp air. The wildlife sounds. The solitude. The appearance of a swollen necked, heavy antlered mature buck cruising for does.

In many locations, bucks are most vulnerable from late October into November. Their search for receptive does seems to overpower their desire for self-preservation. For this reason, anyone can stumble into a once in a lifetime buck. However, consistent success requires a thorough understanding of the rut and whitetail behavior. You must locate and understand deer signs. You need to read the weather conditions, locate food sources, and be mindful of wind direction and scent control.

As days become shorter and sunlight decreases, the testosterone of bucks increase. At the same time, the estrogen levels of does increase. In most cases, breeding opportunities last for a short period of time. It is this time period that offers the greatest opportunity to bag a mature buck. Although there are numerous factors that affect the duration of the rut, utilizing the opportunity is in your hands.

The rut consists of three phases, pre-rut, rut, and post-rut.  To make the most of each phase, key in on the prime stand locations. The biggest difference between the pre-rut and post-rut is stand location. The pre and post-rut stand locations are based on available food sources and travel corridors. During the rut, stand locations are based on doe feeding and bedding areas, as well as their travel paths. If you can locate the does during the rut, you will find the bucks.

Continued hunting of buck sign, such as scrape lines or rub lines,during the rut will almost guarantee an unfilled tag. That does not mean there will not be buck sign a few yards away from a harvested mature buck during the rut. Buck sign, like a solitary rub or a scrape beneath a licking branch, will sporadically appear throughout any hunting location when the rut is in full swing. Just keep in mind that signs only guarantee where a buck was and not where a buck will be. Instead of hunting buck signs, focus on food sources and typical doe hangouts.

Bucks will move any time of the day during the rut. They are checking trails frequented by does and checking food sources favored by does.  You have to evaluate the available food sources. The preferred food in an area will draw in does, which in turn draw in bucks. However, food sources change rapidly during this time of year. During the rut, food sources can offer better hunting in the afternoon.

Mature bucks rarely show up on heavily traveled trails. They tend to utilize secondary trails. The rut changes this phenomenon. The heaviest traveled trails become the preferred travel routes for mature bucks. During the rut, the best trails offer the best concealment. Those trails often provide a direct connection from a bedding area to a food source.

During the rut, hunting a mature buck requires preparation and knowledge. Many times it is mistakes a buck makes that provides a successful hunt. There are some tricks a hunter can use to boost his odds. Just remember a buck can appear anywhere at any given time during the rut.