Much of the deer season—and hunter effort—revolves around the rut. But once it’s here, what do we do to increase our chances most effectively?
The rut is something that we hunters passionately wait for throughout the year but especially once the various Southern states’ deer seasons begin. Regardless of where we will be afield, we will have to make some major decisions during this time.
All deer activity is local, just as is such highly relevant factors as buck-to-doe ratio, weather conditions and existing hunting pressure. Yes, I know that moon phases and photoperiods play a crucial role in the rut. However, knowing what is going on locally on your 40-, 400- or 4,000-acre tract is often more important than just about anything else.
In any given county in any given state—because of various local factors—the bucks may be in the pre-rut phase and chasing, actively mating, or in the final phases of the rut. The only way to know for sure is to go afield as often as and as long as you can day after day.
This would be a marvelous time to engage in some activities that could lure bucks to our stand sites. Rattling is a very viable tactic now and it probably has a greater chance of working than at any other time of the season. Conversely, say two weeks later when the bucks may very well be actively mating, our rattling will have little chance of paying off.
My favorite strategy to implement throughout most of the rut (all in fact, except for the actual mating period) is to set up along rub lines. This past season, for example, four times I witnessed an excellent 8-pointer moving along a rub line. Three of those times were when I was afield with a compound, and the period was very early in the pre-rut. Adapting to the movements of our local whitetails is a crucial part of developing a sound strategy.
Before leaf fall, I set up along an old fencerow that leads through the heart of the hollow on my property and have killed a number of deer there with both bow and gun. However, once the leaves fall or the acorns disappear, I rarely view whitetails in the hollow. Years passed before I realized that the deer were still moving through my land, but they were doing so while traveling through a dense thicket that lies some 50 yards from the edge of the hollow. During the latter stages of the pre-rut and throughout the rut, the trail through that thicket receives intense deer movement.
I strongly suspect that similar, predicable deer travel patterns exist on the land that you go afield on. In the pre-rut period, that hot trail might involve an overgrown fencerow between two wood lots or a line of oak trees that have yielded bountiful nut crops. During the rut, a prime tree line to hang a stand might be the one that runs along a creek bottom or extends to a bedding area. In the latter stages of the post-rut and recovery periods, the best site might be one that lies next to a late-season food source.
This past season, for instance, my friend’s “know where the does are” plan worked very well. During the early stages of the season, he opted to arrow a mature doe, thus helping to manage the herd on the landowner’s property and providing his family with venison. When the rut kicked in, the buddy still was concentrating on the whereabouts of does and was able to kill a fine 8-pointer that was trailing an estrous doe. In short, some of the most successful big-buck hunters are doe hunters first.
Yet, many of our sporting predecessors might still have the edge on us because they were better woodsmen than many of us are today. Having a strong background in the various kinds of foods that our local deer consume is an important aspect to woodsmanship.
For example, many if not most of us Southerners know that the white oak (Quercus alba) acorn is one of the most preferred deer foods—if not the most preferred—in our entire region.
How many of us can distinguish the white oak family members’ acorns from the nuts of Quercus alba itself? The answer, quite probably, is not many. The deer can certainly distinguish among the foods available to them, however. Hunters who know the palatability and availability of those deer foods have an obvious advantage.
The Southern states also produce a dazzling variety of soft-mast foods. This knowledge of hard- and soft-mast food items is crucial to our knowing what the deer, especially the does, will be eating during the various stages of the rut.
Image via Dcrjsr
Watch as our buddy Craig Boddington from “The Boddington Experience” on The Sportsman Channel goes out to hunt the rut and takes down a nice 10-pointer on his last day.
Want to know where the best places are to hunt whitetails in your state? Check out our exclusive Game & Fish 2013 Deer Forecast!