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In It to Win It: Dawn-to-Dusk Tips for Rutting Bucks

Staying on stand all day isn't easy, but it's the best way to ensure success during the rut.

In It to Win It: Dawn-to-Dusk Tips for Rutting Bucks

Sitting all day requires confidence in the spot you are occupying. If you have doubts, your ability to stay put and hunt hard is diminished. (Photo by Bob Robb)

In the "old days," the dogma was that whitetail hunting during the middle of the day was a waste of time, even during the rut. Both from field experience and scientific research, we now know that’s not true. Over the years I’ve taken some of my best bucks during the middle of the day.

But I have also spent many a day watching nothing but squirrels, songbirds and bunny rabbits; reading paperbacks; and generally killing nothing but time while waiting for the magic to happen. Patience and persistence are both part of the deal.

Staying on stand all day makes sense, though. In doing so, you’re not walking to and from a stand, continually depositing scent on the ground, making noise and unintentionally spooking does and bucks alike. This is especially true if you’re set up close to known doe bedding thickets. Here are some tricks to help you hunt all day, every day, for a week or more during the rut.

CHANGE IT UP

It’s not unusual for me to have different morning and afternoon stand locations, as well as stands that are better than others for specific wind directions. For example, I’ll hunt my morning stand, which may be near a doe bedding area, until around 10 o’clock, then move to what I call a “travel stand.” This is a stand set in a pinch point or funnel, or near a water source where bucks that are tired and thirsty from chasing does for hours will make a pit stop before continuing on. It should go without saying that if and when the wind gets wrong, I move immediately.

Additionally, I never climb into a stand without something to help me pass the time, usually a paperback book. I’ll read a paragraph or two, then scan the area. When I see a deer, I’ll slip the book into my pack, which will be hanging next to me, and get ready.

Some folks play games on their phones or use the time to text friends, answer emails or troll the internet. I always have a notebook and pen to jot down business ideas, too. Whatever it takes to stay on stand and remain alert, do it. Just make sure you can go from your passive activity to an active hunting mindset instantly, as cruising bucks can come and go in a heartbeat.

When I get drowsy in the midday sun, instead of leaving for camp I douse myself with scent-control spray, climb down and take a quick catnap at the base of my tree. I find this refreshes me for the rest of the day.

WHAT THE SCIENCE SAYS

There are multiple studies on buck movement during the rut that show that bucks are up and moving during midday hours and that your best chances of success often occur between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. They also show that many mature bucks take what are called “excursions” from their core home ranges into new territories as they seek estrous does.

In one oft-cited research project, Dr. Aaron Foley of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute spent 5 years tagging and tracking bucks in South Texas. His team captured 101 mature bucks and outfitted them with GPS telemetry collars that registered the deers’ location once every 15 to 30 minutes.The results showed that these bucks followed one of three general behavioral patterns when seeking estrous does.

Approximately 60 percent of the radio-collared bucks conducted what is called a “periodic search pattern,” in which a buck has two or three focal areas, and will intensively search for does in one area for 4 to 6 hours before moving to the next.

Around 30 percent of the bucks carried out what Foley refers to as a “resident search pattern,” where a buck stayed in one fairly small area to conduct its search.

About 10 percent displayed a “nomadic pattern,” in which movements were unique and sporadic to the individual.

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In another well-known study, graduate student Gabriel Karns placed GPS tracking collars on adult bucks living on Maryland’s Chesapeake Farms, which gave him GPS readings of each buck every 10 minutes. Karns found that 63 percent of all bucks monitored made an “excursion,” defined as movement of at least half a mile from their home range and lasting a minimum of 6 hours. On average, bucks that took excursions during the rut were only gone for 10.5 hours, and only 59 percent of the 63 percent that made excursions during the rut traveled during daylight hours.

There are many more studies like these. What they tell us is that bucks do indeed travel during the rut, at times at odd hours. This just reinforces what I’ve seen for decades: The more time on stand during the rut, the better the odds of encountering a trophy buck.

white-tailed deer in woods
GPS telemetry research reveals that most bucks focus on two or three areas intensely—rotating between them—when searching for estrous does. (Shutterstock image)

CONFIDENCE BREEDS SUCCESS

There’s no way I am hunting hard all week if I am in a spot in which I have little faith. That means during midday I need to be in a stand where, at some point, a cruising buck is likely to come by. My four favorite general locations for this are a funnel, the edge of a doe bedding area, a funnel within a bedding thicket and, of course, water.

A funnel between two doe bedding thickets, between two blocks of thick cover (two large stands of timber, for example) or between two preferred food sources, are hard to beat when bucks are in cruise mode. They constantly scent-check doe groups, and even rutty old bucks remember to do so within the security of some cover. I’ve shot a lot of bucks in this type of funnel over the years.

Setting up on the downwind side of a doe bedding thicket, especially during the lockdown phase of the rut when bucks will stay with an estrous doe for 2 to 3 days, is a good call. The key, of course, is not spooking the does while hunting.

Also, you should do everything in your power to leave your doe herd undisturbed from early to midseason so you can hunt these bedding areas during the rut. It’s not unusual to locate a faint trail on the predominant downwind side of these bedding areas that will be marked with buck sign from prior years. This can be gold.

If hunting public land or any place the hunting pressure is heavy, try setting up in a funnel within a bedding thicket. This might be a swampy, marshy area with little, exposed islands with obvious pinch points. Or it could be a river or creek bottom with thick cover on both sides where the watercourse forms one side of the funnel. Whatever it is, get there well before first light and stay until after dark.

One often overlooked hot spot during the rut is water. In fact, I would much rather spend time hunting small water spots like seeps, trickle creeks and small ponds than food sources during the rut. The reason is simple. While rutting bucks only eat now and then when they’re focused on breeding, they must drink regularly. Sometimes they will water more than once a day if the weather’s warm and they’re chasing hard.

I remember one magical day in Arkansas when I set up on a small pond inside the corner of a big wood block. I had three good bucks cut the corner of the woods on their cruising circuit to intentionally get a drink in this pond. I arrowed a gnarly 5 1/2-year-old at 11:30 a.m. after he chased a doe all over the woods near me and came to get a drink after he’d lost her.

Admittedly, all-day sits can be a drag. Sometimes you sit all week, dawn to dark, hoping for that magical 90 seconds when a buck comes rushing into range. If it’s midday and you’re back in camp, you’ll never know he was there. Put in your time and the odds increase. That’s all we can hope for.

CALLING BLIND

  • Do general, non-specific vocalizations work during the rut?

I’m not a big fan of deer calls—except during the rut. If I am not seeing anything, every half hour or so I’ll use a doe bleat call and a grunt tube to attract the attention of a cruising buck I can’t see.

If I see a buck cruising by out of range, you can be sure I’ll hit him with a snort-wheeze, loud doe bleat or rattling sequence to try to get his attention and stop him.

When he stops, I’ll bleat at him or, if his hackles are up, challenge him with the snort-wheeze. When that cruiser might be a buck on an excursion outside his home range that you might never see again, you have little to lose.

GET COZY

  • Don’t neglect comfort.

Comfort is everything when it comes to sitting all day, and there’s no way you can pull a dawn-to-dark shift if the stand is not level, the seat is lumpy, limbs are poking you in the back or you don’t have enough clothes on to stay warm. If possible, use big hang-on tree stands or even ladder stands that feature oversized platforms and large padded seats that make all-day comfort possible. A ground blind and a comfy chair works, too. Bring plenty of chemical handwarmers and enough food and liquid to get you through the day.

  • This article is featured in the South edition of November’s 2023 Game & Fish Magazine. Learn how to subscribe.



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