November’s Magic: Hunting the Whitetail Rut

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Is the Rut Your Favorite Time of Year?

To researchers, the word “rut” usually means the actual breeding period. But most hunters think it means that much and more, namely the time bucks are going bonkers while rubbing, scraping, chasing and fighting. Here’s a brief look into that magical world of November.

The MarathonThe MarathonThe MarathonThe MarathonThe Marathon

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1 | The Marathon

A whitetail’s rutting switch is usually thrown by late October (in the North). For the next 30 days a buck develops an ever-increasing case of hormonal frustration. Buck behavior throughout this time is predictable and intense. During the course of my 40-plus-year career in the outdoor world, my strategies have been centered around taking advantage of the behaviors bucks exhibit during the magic of November’s rut. More than 70 percent of the bucks I’ve harvested have come from hunting bottlenecks containing scrapes and rubs, along with knowing how and when to call wary bucks into shooting range.

Rut SignRut SignRut SignRut SignRut Sign

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2 | Rut Sign

Many research projects have been conducted over the course of the last 30 years dealing with how whitetails scent-mark their territory. Research conducted by Thomas Atkeson and Larry Marchinton in 1982 determined that bucks mark scrapes and rubs in their breeding territory with scent from their forehead. I was a part of a scrape study with Legend Lures from 1988 through 1994 on the Avery Estate in the heart of New York’s Adirondack Mountains. During this time, we discovered that during the two-week period prior to peak breeding, mature bucks would make or work six to 12 scrapes every hour they were on their feet. The majority of these scrapes were in prime travel corridors — old logging roads, field edges and tight bottlenecks.

Don’t Miss: Rubbing Behavior in White-Tailed Deer

The Right Place at the Right TimeThe Right Place at the Right TimeThe Right Place at the Right TimeThe Right Place at the Right TimeThe Right Place at the Right Time

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3 | The Right Place at the Right Time

Locating a rub line and scrapes in a prime bottleneck is one of the most important keys to successfully hunting the rut. If you can find a ribbon of cover that affords deer the path of least resistance, you’ll be in position to cross paths with most any buck in the area. Bottlenecks are typically saddles on hillsides, ridge lines, river crossings, or slivers of cover connecting bedding and feed locations, to name a few.

The better bottlenecks will usually have heavy scraping sign in them. Look for the trail in a bottleneck with the greatest amount of sign, and then find the perfect ambush location, where the wind is in your favor.

Stir the PotStir the PotStir the PotStir the PotStir the Pot

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4 | Stir the Pot

One way that I enhance scrape hunting is by hanging a mock licking branch every 50 yards along the trail I’ll be hunting over. Using plastic draw ties, I attach a mock licking branch on an existing branch, about 5 ½ feet off the ground. If there is no existing branch over the trail, attach the mock licking branch to a wire strung between two trees.  Once done, expose the earth below each licking branch, which makes the site look like a natural, active scrape. I’ve used attractant lures on the branches, but have discovered it’s not always necessary.

Don’t Miss: How to Make a Mock Scrape

Make Them Pose for the ShotMake Them Pose for the ShotMake Them Pose for the ShotMake Them Pose for the ShotMake Them Pose for the Shot

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5 | Make Them Pose for the Shot

With or without lure, bucks usually begin working the mock scrapes within 48 hours. The mock scrape will concentrate deer activity, so be sure to clear a shooting lane that is at least 10 to 15 feet wide.

Pick a FightPick a FightPick a FightPick a FightPick a Fight

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6 | Pick a Fight

Calling, both with a grunt tube and rattling antlers, has revolutionized the way I hunt whitetails and increased my success immensely. Regardless of where I hunt in North America, I find that for every buck I rattle in, up to 20 will respond to grunting, bleating and wheezing.

Don’t Miss: Quiz: How Well Do You Know the Rut?

BattleBattleBattleBattleBattle

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7 | Battle

Whether you are a novice or seasoned veteran, it’s important to realize that you don’t need to know how to make every vocalization a whitetail is able to make. Researchers have isolated between 200 and 400 different sounds deer make, depending on which research you look at. You don’t have to know them all. There are four basic sounds (with variations) that whitetails make: bleat, grunt, wheeze and snort. Master these and you will be amazed by how many bucks you can call within shooting range given the right circumstances. Because bucks mean serious business when these vocalizations are thrown out.

Calling All BucksCalling All BucksCalling All BucksCalling All BucksCalling All Bucks

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8 | Calling All Bucks

Though antler rattling is not as successful as calling deer with a grunt tube, don’t rule it out.  In the North, from late October through the month of November, white-tailed bucks often engage in impressive head-to-head combat. Having photographed and witnessed many buck fights over the years, I’ve come to appreciate what rattling can bring to the table.

When I rattle during the rut, I do so aggressively, with a sequence that lasts no longer than one to two minutes. Few fights I’ve witnessed during the rut have ever lasted longer, so I keep it short and loud and make it as aggressive as possible. Also, don’t over rattle. Instead, space the rattling sequences about 40 minutes apart.

Don’t Miss: 5 Signs the Rut Is Here

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9 | Closer

Whitetails have built-in mechanisms to alert them of impending weather changes and have an uncanny ability to know when barometric pressure is falling, even if the sky is clear. When conditions are changing, their feeding habits can increase dramatically prior to the arrival of bad weather and after the storm has passed. Several studies have been completed regarding the effects of barometric pressure on whitetail activity. Illinois Biologist Keith Thomas found that the greatest whitetail feeding occurred when barometric pressure was between 29.80 and 30.29. When the barometer is falling or rising through this range during the rut, deer activity should be greatest of any period of the year.

The RutThe RutThe RutThe RutThe Rut

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10 | The Rut

Finally, stay on stand all day during the rut if you can because during the week to 10 days prior to peak-breeding, bucks can be expected to be on the move 24/7 as they search for the first estrous does to breed.

Don’t Miss: Check Out Realtree's Rut Report

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