How to Up Your Late Game After the Rut

How to Up Your Late Game After the Rut

When a mature buck comes around after the rut, you don’t want to miss. Ensure proficiency with practice and know your limitations. (Shutterstock image)

Experienced deer hunters know that the post-rut period can be as dull as the rut is exciting. It is a bit of a shock to go from seeing dozens of actively pursuing bucks every day at the peak of the rut to few or none just a few weeks later, but that is the nature of the beast. The rut never really ends till early December in most whitetail states because there is always an estrous doe somewhere, and the randiest of bucks will never stop looking for them.

While there is a noticeable lull in buck activity following the first rutting period, there are two facts hunters must keep in mind as they work to unravel the post-rut mystery: Those bucks are still in the woods, and they are still searching for does. The trick is in knowing where and when these exceptional trophy bucks will be on the move. Put yourself in the right place at the right time, and you will have your chance to score.

With all this in mind, here are four proven tips for successfully hunting trophy whitetails during the post-rut period.

PUT IN YOUR TIME

Successful trophy buck hunting is not a Saturday morning proposition. Some lucky hunters are certainly exceptions when it comes to this rule, but by and large, the most consistently successful hunters are out there every day regardless of the weather conditions, home, school or work responsibilities or even how they feel. Being sick, tired, bored or discouraged are excuses, not solutions. Gear up every day, hunt for every legal minute of the day, and do not allow yourself the luxury of giving up. If you truly want a big buck, hunt hard and hunt often. Nothing else will do.


For example, last year I spent 10 straight days in the woods before I saw the buck I wanted. Over the last 50 years, I’ve hunted twice that long before getting the shot I wanted. It’s how you do it.


TARGET LOW-LIGHT PERIODS

I have purposely spent entire nights in blinds and stands just to see what the deer are doing after all the other hunters have left the woods. It’s amazing how much activity occurs between sunset and sunrise. The woods are literally alive with deer — feeding, traveling, grunting, chasing — it’s quite an education to see what goes on during the hours of darkness.

Of course, it’s not legal to hunt the nighttime hours, but there is a small window at dawn and dusk where hunting is legal, and the deer are as active as they are going to be that day. For this reason, it is imperative that hunters be on stand 45 minutes before legal shooting time and then remain on stand till the clock runs out. Last year I shot a huge 10-point buck that came past my stand with only two minutes of legal shooting time left. I let him get into the first open shooting lane and dropped him in his tracks with only a minute to spare.

BE AN ALL-WEATHER HUNTER

Local diners are full of hunters on rainy Saturday mornings. Many a trophy buck owes its life to a plate of bacon, eggs, sausage and coffee that kept hunters in their seats instead of in the woods. If you want to kill a trophy-sized buck, you will have to go where he is under whatever conditions exist. Rain or shine, cold and windy, it does not matter. Gear up for the forecast, and tough it out no matter how miserable it gets.

Experienced hunters know that some of the best hunting occurs during the worst weather conditions. Bad weather invariably affects a whitetail’s ability to see, hear and smell, which puts him at a disadvantage as he roams the woods in search of does. Deer do not fear what they can’t see or hear, and the least little mistake they make can be all the difference to a hunter who braved the elements and stuck it out while all their buddies were back at camp huddled by the wood stove.


This I learned during my younger years when I left camp before dawn in a raging blizzard, rain storm or in howling winds but came back a short time later with a fresh liver for the cook to fry and a deer for my partners to drag out of the woods for me. Whitetails can endure the harshest weather imaginable. If you want to succeed, you will have to do the same.

LEARN TO SHOOT

One of the least-discussed aspects of successful deer hunting is the hunter’s ability to put his bullet or arrow where it needs to go to end the hunt on a successful note. In every deer camp I’ve ever been in, stories starting with, “I can’t believe I missed!” dominate the roundtable discussions at the end of the day. As a guide, I have watched my hunters miss a standing, broadside buck at 20 yards, often repeatedly, essentially ruining the day for both of us.

It requires a great deal of effort, determination and perseverance to get that shot at a trophy-class buck. Why waste all that effort with a disappointing miss?


A successful deer hunt starts at the range long before the season opens. With a bow, practice so that you can kill any deer you see inside 40 yards. Shoot from treestands, blinds, while sitting and while standing. Be prepared for any shot opportunity that comes your way.

With a firearm, tighten all sight screws and then sight in to be dead on at 25 yards. Most 6mm and .30-caliber loads will put you three inches high at 100 yards and dead on again at 250. Of course, your selection of caliber and firearm makes a difference, so spend as much time at the range as possible until you know your capabilities at 25, 50, 100 and 125 yards. If you can’t make the shot, admit it and wait for a better opportunity. Slinging lead at distant whitetails is rarely productive.

When traveling, shoot again when you get to camp to be sure that your gun or bow is still on target. Keep your weapon in a padded case and handle it with care — no bouncing around in the back of a pickup truck, no handing it off to others to admire, no leaving it unattended in a community rack or up against a tree. If the gun or bow is not in your hands, it should be in a case. Otherwise, you risk dropping or bumping it, or someone may decide to give the sight adjustments a spin.

Next, always have a clear idea of where you want to shoot your deer when you see it. I have had excellent success for decades with the standard behind-the-shoulder shot, so I just wait till my deer is standing broadside, center the crosshairs halfway up behind the shoulder and squeeze the trigger. The deer may run, the deer may fall, or he may stagger, but by the time I get to him, he will be dead. Head, neck, spine and other “trick” shots are great when you can make them, but those are precisely the shots that the majority of hunters miss each fall.

Instead, go for the big target (heart, lungs, liver), and put your bullet or arrow where it belongs. No muss, no fuss, no having to explain what went wrong. The only problem you’ll have is deciding how to get your deer out of the woods.

Try these tips this season and see if they don’t make a difference in your success rate. I have been hunting whitetails since the 1960s and continue to take big bucks each fall the old-fashioned way. Now it’s your turn!

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

New Spinning Reel for Finesse Fishermen

New Spinning Reel for Finesse Fishermen

As Pure Fishing's Andrew Upshaw explains, reel making giant Abu Garcia has done it again at ICAST 2019 with a new spinning reel geared towards finesse fishermen.

Berkley

Berkley's New Terminal Tackle

OSG's Lynn Burkhead and Chad LaChance, host of World Fishing Network's Fishful Thinker television show, talk about Berkley's new innovative terminal tackle being introduced at ICAST 2019.

13 Fishing Pathfinder Weedless Walking Bait

13 Fishing Pathfinder Weedless Walking Bait

Fresh off catching the biggest bass in ICAST Cup history, 13 Fishing pro Jessie Mizell shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead the new Big Squirm soft plastic worm and the company's unique Pathfinder topwater walking bait that is totally weedless in design.

Costa and Captains for Clean Water

Costa and Captains for Clean Water

With the company's heavy involvement in initiatives like Kick the Plastic and Captains for Clean Water campaigns, Costa's Amanda Sabin tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead all about the sunglass maker's unwavering commitment to help the freshwater and saltwater environment.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

While wildly popular amongst anglers around the world, the IGFA World Record book shows the biggest pike come from Europe. Records

Top 10 Biggest Pike World Records of All Time

Jack Vitek - August 19, 2015

While wildly popular amongst anglers around the world, the IGFA World Record book shows the...

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near anything that fits in their mouths. Catfish

5 Ways To Catch Catfish on Lures

Keith Sutton - September 16, 2015

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near...

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes. Wild Game

10 Recipes for Your Backyard Get Together

Game & Fish Online Staff

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes.

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? There's more to successful long-range Ammo

10 Best Long-Range Cartridges Ever Made

David Hart - January 14, 2015

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? There's more to successful long-range

See More Trending Articles

More Whitetail

Boss Buck introduces attractants that are powerful and long-lasting. Whitetail

Apple & Acorn Liquid Attractants for Deer Hunting

Game & Fish Staff - June 10, 2020

Boss Buck introduces attractants that are powerful and long-lasting.

It's not over after the deer rut, and your best whitetail hunting may still be ahead. Whitetail

Make Late Season the Great Season

Mark Chesnut

It's not over after the deer rut, and your best whitetail hunting may still be ahead.

For deer hunters, what you do just after the shot is as important as any part of the hunt. Whitetail

Field Skills: Closing the Deer Deal

Mark Chesnut

For deer hunters, what you do just after the shot is as important as any part of the hunt.

Learn the lingo to improve your odds in the whitetail woods. Whitetail

8 Deer Vocalizations You Must Master

Mike Marsh

Learn the lingo to improve your odds in the whitetail woods.

See More Whitetail

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now