Deer Hunting the Rut

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Ever heard that phrase, “Rather be lucky than good?” This is the time of year to remember it. The rut’s reputation is one where bucks throw all caution to the wind and could come running past your stand at any time of the day. Dreams of a big deer can come true – or spiral down the drain – in a matter of seconds.

At no point is “AIS” (that’s A__ in Stand) time more important than right now. As you read on, you'll see why.

THE DATES: Nov. 6 - 24

THE LOCATION: Southeast

THE STRATEGY: Hunt all day. Focus on does, because that’s where the bucks want to be. And don’t lose faith.

By Will Brantley

I sat in my stand one frosty morning in November several seasons ago, watching a parade of deer movement. I’d started out sitting over a hot food source – a big food plot in this case – that I knew numerous does were using. I saw a pile of bucks that morning, and it seemed like only a matter of time before I’d get a shot with my bow.

The action finally slowed at 11 a.m., and so I decided to climb down, grab a quick bite for lunch and change stands. I wanted to tuck back into the woods a bit from my morning post, closer to a thicket. I figured bucks would be cruising that area at midday, checking for bedding does.

I ran into a bit of a problem en route to my new stand, though. A Motocross race. Ever listened to one? It’s loud in the way only a hundred whooping fans watching a pack of two-stroke dirt bikes can be. And it fired up across the creek, maybe 500 yards away.

It didn’t inspire confidence for the evening sit. And then it got worse. As I made my way to my stand, I heard a group of the dirt bikes actually headed my way. Some of the spectators, with machines of their own, decided to cross the creek and explore a bit around the edges of my food plot and that thicket where I suspected all those does to be bedded.

There was a pretty good confrontation when I informed the riders that they were trespassing. They told me that they “Ride out here all the dayum time,” and spun their tires for good measure before leaving.

I was in neither a pleasant nor optimistic mood after climbing into my stand. It was 1 p.m. by that point, and there’d already been the redneck trifecta of shouting, cussing and motorcycles in my hunting spot. I could’ve packed it in and headed home. And I almost did.

But at a quarter till two, I saw some movement. A deer was coming. An 8-pointer. He slipped along the edge of the food plot, hopped a ditch, and was soon trotting through the timber toward the thicket and my tree. I double-lunged him at about 9 steps with the serenade of dirt bikes still playing in the distance. He wasn’t my biggest buck ever, but he was certainly one I’ll never forget. He illustrated perfectly that first rule of hunting the rut.

You have to go hunting. And stay in the stand.

Big Buck to Prove It: I’d show you the picture of that buck from the story, but this one that Annetta Morris killed in Iowa is far more impressive. Annetta and her husband, Cally, are owners of Hazel Creek Taxidermy, and host of The 15-Yard Files. Annetta’s buck, a B&C-class 8-pointer, chased a doe under her stand at noon on a hot Iowa day. Prior to that, Annetta hadn’t seen a deer for hours. Watch video of the hunt here.

And Another Big Buck to Prove It: OK, so Annetta’s deer isn’t exactly a Southeastern buck. But this one is. Although Andrew Friel didn’t spend all day in a treestand, he did shoot this giant Tennessee buck right in the middle of the day. And on land open to public hunting at that. Read about it here.

Key Dates to Remember:
November 9: Kentucky’s gun opener
November 15: Mississippi’s gun opener
November 23: Tennessee’s gun opener

Gear to Own: A good book. Look, sitting all day in a tree is easier said than done. Reading a book keeps me occupied during the down time. And staying occupied means keeping still.

Deer Camp Etiquette Tip: November means gun season in many places. And gun season means a lot of new hunters are in the woods. Although ribbing and joking are deer camp traditions to be cherished, don’t take it too far. If a new hunter shoots a little buck, or misses a big one, making them feel bad about it ain’t cool. This is supposed to be fun, remember?

Southern Deer Lingo of the Month: An ‘Ol River Bottom Buck. By legend, this a creature with especially thick, dark-chocolate antlers, a hulking frame and an even ghostlier reputation than your average mature deer from hill country. He lives in the wet lowlands, and the rut is about the only time you’re apt to see him.

Do I believe there’s actually any difference between a River Bottom Buck and any other buck? Of course not. But I’ve heard the phrase from good deer hunters in this area all my life. And there are some things a man just doesn’t question.

THE DATES: Nov. 6-24

THE LOCATION: Midwest

THE STRATEGY: Stick to the thickets

By Tony Hansen

I’ve written no small amount of content about rut hunting. But it’s not often that I get to start off with these words: These rut tactics work. And I just killed a 6-year-old buck in Michigan to prove it.

The rut is that magical time of the deer season when all things are possible. But it's not exactly the magic bean it’s often made out to be. And my buck is also proof positive of that. Here’s how it went down.

First, you’ve got to understand that the rut is not a precisely defined period. It’s actually a series of phases that often overlap. The pre-rut period, which Brantley and I covered in our last installment, is a phase best defined by bucks that are anxious to breed and a population of does that wants nothing to do with them. This can create some pretty solid action as bucks begin to move more freely in search of the first hot doe. But it’s when that first buck finds that first hot doe that things really start to crank. Welcome to the rut. Full blown.

On Friday, November 1, the forecast called for heavy winds and a chance of rain much of the day. Despite the unsavory conditions, I knew the first days of November usually trigger the start of the full-blown rut, so I decided to spend the day in two of my best stand locations. In the morning, I’d hunt a thick area of cover that is a known bedding area and would afford some protection from the wind. If bucks were cruising, I felt good about my chances of seeing them.

And see them I did. A half-dozen bucks walked by during the first three hours of daylight, and each of them was looking frantically for a doe. If I had to guess, I’d wager that a doe or two had come into heat and the frenzy was underway.

About lunch time, I decided to head to a different area with a small food plot that has plenty of nearby bedding cover. With bucks on their feet, I felt my odds of finding a shooter on the prowl would be best near an evening food source. I was accompanied on the hunt by a camera man for Antler Geeks. About 4 p.m., I heard him frantically whisper that a buck we call “Kicker” was headed our way through the tall grass.

The buck was doing exactly what big bucks during the rut do. It was on its feet, sticking to cover and letting its nose tell him if any hot does were near the food plot. The buck never entered the plot and had no intentions of doing so -- which makes perfect sense if you think about it.

Bucks in heavily hunted areas like this don’t live long if they make it a habit of prancing about where they can be seen. Kicker did what smart bucks do: He stayed hidden and got the job done without exposing himself.

This is a top tactic right now. Find a location near areas of heavy cover. This cover serves two purposes. First, it’s likely a location where does will bed. Second, it’s an area where older bucks will feel secure.

Notice also the time that buck showed up – 4 p.m. On most days, that’s about the time I’d be headed to my stand. But not during the rut. I’ve had my very best hunts during the midday hours when the rut is rocking. In fact, of the dozen times I’d seen this particular buck over the past three seasons, this was the only time I’d seen him outside the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Morning hunts during the rut should focus on areas of cover, preferably along some type of habitat edge that will help funnel deer past your location. I’d stick to that location until about 3 p.m. Then, head for a stand located closer to a primary food source that will attract does. I won’t desert the cover completely. Instead, I look for areas of cover leading to those food sources.

Bucks will soon be breeding does if they aren’t already. That means there will be some slow times mixed in with the good times. Don’t vary from your tactics. Get in the cover, get near the does. And stay there.

KEY DATES TO REMEMBER:

November 8: This is the day in my estimation. Year in and year out, the 8th of November provides an ideal mix of rut phases. There are does being bred, and that may have some big boys locked down. But it also means other bucks will be frantic if they don’t yet have a doe.

November 17: If you believe in the whole moon phase deal, this date marks the second full moon after the Autumn Equinox. Deer guru and Realtree.com contributor Charles Alsheimer believes this is what triggers the rut. Thus, based on his theory, things should be rocking.

GEAR TO OWN: This is the time when you must carry a good grunt call to the woods with you. I like a loud call, and the Flextone Buck Commander model is just that.

DEER CAMP ETIQUETTE TIP: Tink’s 69 belongs outside. At all times. Enough said.

MIDWEST LINGO: “Is it off yet?”

This does not refer to the rut, deer behavior or the final season of Glee. Rather, it is the question that will be asked on a daily basis by cornbelt-based whitetail hunters. When the corn is standing, much of the rut can occur in that sea of stalks. Get the corn off and things get far more interesting in the timber.