Crank things up during the rut with scents, rattling and calling strategies that work!
The rut kicking into overdrive marks the perfect time to throw everything you've got at massive-racked bucks. You need to breakout your hottest scents, best calls and killer strategies when the big boys are fired-up and on the move.
Author Travis Faulkner with a Knight & Hale grunt tube. If you know you're close to a buck's bedding area, a grunt tube used during the rut can bring a dominant buck to you. Photo by Travis Faulkner.
This transitional phase of the season can actually be one of the toughest periods to pinpoint and pattern a mature buck, and for good reason: although bucks travel more during the rut, the burning urge to breed will cause most of them to leave off their established patterns revolving around shelter and foodIn order to be successful, you need to utilize the following high-impact strategies that are specifically designed to exploit rut-crazed giants.
EXPLOITING A BUCK'S NOSE
Without question, the quickest way to a monster whitetail buck's heart is straight through his nose. In fact, all big bruisers with super thick racks and extra-long tines depend on their keen sense of smell for just about every aspect of daily life. My late grandfather always used to say, "Boy you better always hunt with the wind in your face, because those old bucks can smell a hunter from at least a mile away!"
As a diehard whitetail fanatic, I think there is a great deal of truth in what my papaw used to tell me. A deer's sense of smell is absolutely phenomenal to say the least. All whitetails rely heavily on their noses to pinpoint food, avoid potential danger and to hook up with a possible mate during the breeding period. However, the last of these scent-checking capabilities is the one that a hunter can exploit. On that note, let's look at some dos and don'ts with scent-application strategies.
AVOID SCENT-APPLICATION MISTAKES
Over the years, I've talked with a lot of hunters across the nation about their lack of success with deer scents. Don't get me wrong: there are a number of scent-application products on the market that can be highly effective during the right transitional phase of the rut. However, I've never found any magic potion or formula that automatically makes top-heavy bucks run right down your gun barrel every single time you use it. Attractant scents are good tools, but they aren't magic; as with any tool, the better you use it, the more effective it will be.
Undoubtedly, a big part of your overall success will depend on your ability to match high-impact scent application strategies with current deer behavior and activity. This means relying on intruder buck scents during the start of the rut when the big boys are busy defending their turf and very few does are ready to breed.
As the rut progresses and more females begin hitting their first estrous cycle, try switching over to hot doe scents to coax a lovesick bruiser into your lap. Secondly, always avoid using too much scent when working bucks during any transitional period of the rut. Applying conservative amounts of attractant scents will help create a more realistic and natural setup. Remember, using too much scent can be overkill for most hunting situations that you will encounter.
MASTERING MOCK SCRAPES
Establishing a series of active mock scrapes near your favorite treestand location can pay huge dividends, especially during the early segments of the rut. The key is to be super stealthy and strategically construct your mock scrapes without contaminating the entire area with a lot of unwanted scent and noise.
Always wear knee-high rubber boots, latex gloves and thoroughly spray down with a powerful scent-eliminating spray. Next, use a stick to rake away leaves to reach the soft soil beneath an overhanging branch that a buck can easily reach with its rack. Spray a light layer of buck and doe urine along the edges of the scrape. Finish things off by hanging one of the new scent-release devices from a sturdy branch directly above the center of your mock scrape.
In order to consistently keep the scrape fresh, I recommend using the Drop Time scent dispenser from Code Blue. This handy unit will periodically release adequate amounts of your favorite attractant scent or hunting lure. The Drop Time can also be programmed to freshen the scrape at preselected times, which can help condition or train a buck to check the scrape when you want.
Another innovative mock scrape product is the Grave Digger from Code Blue. It contains TRS, or Time Released Scent. Simply dig a small hole and place the specially formulated rut scent material that has been vacuum sealed in the center of the scrape. The Grave Digger will strategically release enticing rut-related aromas that can stimulate a buck's urge to breed and trigger a strong territorial response at the same time. Both products can help transform your mock scrape into a big buck hotspot.
MAKE RAGING HOT TRAILS
During the rut, it's not uncommon to see a thick-necked buck with his nose to the ground desperately searching for a doe like a bloodhound. During the seeking and chasing phase of the breeding period, mature bucks will cover a lot of dirt hoping to pick up the trail of an estrous doe. Tying on a drag-rag and pulling some hot doe scent across the woods can definitely crank up the action.
In the past, I've had shooter bucks with their ears laid back in hot pursuit following my scent trail right past my treestand. This sneaky technique will add to your success, but it's very important to take extra steps to eliminate your human scent in the process. Try to avoid grabbing or touching sapling trees, overhanging limbs or weeds when walking to your treestand. Again, be sure to always wear gloves and knee-high rubber boots to prevent a big buck from busting you and completely ruining your setup.
With this strategy, I like using the compact Retract-a-Drag system from Hunter's Specialties. This handy sealed tube allows you to safely store your attractant scents and lures without any messy leaks or smelly odors escaping in the process. A small cranking handle makes it super easy to retract or reel up the line that attaches directly to your scent absorbent drag head.
The drag head itself has been specifically designed to put out a lot of scent while resisting hang-ups and tangles. Another great feature about the Retract-A-Drag is that it can be effectively used multiple times before changing the disposable drag head. This season clip one of these lightweight units directly to your belt or belt loop and start pulling rut-crazed bruisers right into the back of your truck bed.
Throughout my hunting career, using a drag-rag has enabled me to connect with some of
my better bucks. In fact, I will never forget one particular hunt that unfolded smack dab in the middle of the whitetail rutting period. During the second morning of my hunt, I spotted an absolute monster harassing does across the river about 250 yards away in a CRP field. The massive buck looked almost out of reach, but with a little work, I was able to call him all the way across the field to a heavily worn river crossing just below my stand. As luck would have it, the buck jumped an estrous doe along the way that led him safely around all of my cleared shooting lanes.
At that point, it felt like someone had drop-kicked me in the stomach and knocked every ounce of life right out of my body. On a positive note, at least he was now on my side of the river, which meant that I still had a chance. After sitting in the stand all day, I finally caught a glimpse of the buck sneaking back across to the other side.
Unfortunately, he was still way out of bow range, but the combination of a few sweet tending grunts coupled with the estrous doe urine from my drag rag changed everything. The big buck took an extra few steps and hit the scent trail. Without hesitation, he bristled up and tracked the doe scent right beneath my treestand. One gentle squeeze on the release trigger sent an arrow directly into the buck's sweet spot. In my opinion, the outcome of this hunt could have been a lot different without the help of these two calling and scent-application strategies.
HIGH-IMPACT CALLING TACTICS
When I was a young boy, I can remember watching a hunting video on some private ranch down in the brush country of Texas. This place had been intensely managed for years, which created an unbelievable buck-to-doe ratio. Needless to say, every hunter on the film was going crazy with a set of rattling horns! I just couldn't understand why my calling didn't produce the same results as the hunters on the video. Looking back, I was too young and green to realize that effective calling depends on several different factors. For example, buck-to-doe ratios, hunting setup, calling strategies, outside hunting pressure and the current transitional period of the rut can all have a dramatic impact on your success.
Without question, the transitional period of the rut that you're currently hunting should dictate all of your strategies and tactics, period. Knowing exactly when and how to use a specific calling technique is extremely important throughout every phase of the rut.
Basically, you have to match your calling with what the deer are doing in your particular hunting area. For instance, a lot of aggressive rattling may not be your best option when the majority of does are in heat and bucks are locked into breeding mode. You may even be hunting an area that simply lacks solid numbers of mature or dominant bucks. In any case, you will definitely tag more bucks when your individual calling strategies match the present hunting situation.
MASTERING GRUNT TUBES & RATTLING
A grunt tube can be one of the most versatile calls that you pack into the woods. I like using a grunt call that can realistically produce a wide range of deer vocalizations. For example, the Rack Blaster from Knight & Hale allows me to hit bucks with everything from emotional tending grunts to yearning doe bleats without changing calls. During the early to mid-periods of the rut, I may use my grunt tube to generate aggressive and challenging grunts in an area that is holding several mature bucks. Intense vocalizations like these are great when the rut is just getting started and there are a limited amount of estrous does available.
In addition, rattling can be another lethal calling strategy under the right conditions and circumstances. Anytime there are solid numbers of mature bucks you really need to be ready to shake, rattle and roll. In this situation, I depend on a compact rattling call like the new Pack Rack from Knight & Hale to step up my game. This call is small enough to throw in your jacket pocket, but is loud enough to be heard from great distances. Before rattling, I like to begin with some challenging grunts and snort wheezes. Next, I will use some light rattling and grunting combinations together before gradually getting louder and more aggressive. Being able to accurately mix and blend these different calls together will add a new level of realism to your setup.
As the rut progresses, more does will begin hitting their estrous cycles and it's imperative that you modify your calling techniques. During this transition, combining hot doe bleats with fast paced tending grunts can convince a long-tined buck that it's time to rock! This deadly combination has enabled me to pull shooters into range when nothing else would work. It's also important to note, however, that deer can be just like turkeys: They become call-shy after a period of time. A buck that has been spooked or shot at after responding to aggressive grunting and rattling can be really tough to work with a call. This is another reason why finesse calls like tending grunts and doe bleats will do the trick during later stages of the rut.
There is no doubt that adding all of these highly productive scent-application and calling strategies to your hunting arsenal will increase your chances of punching a tag when things get crazy. Breaking out your best calls and hottest scent-application strategies will definitely help give you a competitive edge over the other hunters and any buck that you will encounter this season.