November 01, 2021
This article appears in the South edition of the November Game & Fish Magazine, now on sale. Learn how to subscribe
The rut—that magical time all serious whitetail hunters eagerly wait for—is really three seasons built into one.
Buck behavior during the pre-rut, peak-rut and post-rut periods is not exactly the same, necessitating tactical adjustments to maximize your chances. During the peak rut, bucks are roaming, often leaving their core areas in search of estrous does on adjacent or distant properties.
Picking the optimal stand location during the peak rut can be challenging in many areas of the South, where—unlike more northern climes—the rut can extend over months instead of weeks. Thus, there are several factors that go into picking that perfect stand location.
THE SCIENCE SAYS
A quick look at some scientific data tells us how mature bucks alter their daily routine during the rut. Most studies have shown that buck excursions—defined as bucks moving out of their core area as they start traveling to seek estrous does—begin like clockwork every year. Whitetail researcher Bryan Kinkel
studied the bucks on his favorite Tennessee hunting property for four consecutive years. The peak breeding date there is Nov. 18, and the first new bucks showed up on his trail cameras each year on Oct. 31.
At the Caesar Kleberg Research Institute in Kingsville, Texas, 33 bucks were fitted with GPS collars and their movements were monitored for four months. The data showed that bucks moved less than three miles per day in early fall, five miles per day during the pre-rut and six miles or more each day during peak rut. Individual bucks did different things during this study. Some took doe-hunting excursions of more than eight miles per day, while some stayed much closer to their core home range. However, each made at least one excursion outside its home range during the peak of the rut.
This is all interesting data, and there’s plenty more of it available that mimic these findings. For those Southern rut hunters with questions about when their local rut starts, call your area’s state biologist and ask them. By having this information in your back pocket, you can plan the "when" of executing your rut-hunting strategy. The next step is the all-important "where."
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME
To kill a mature buck, the key is remembering that most, if not all, will cover a lot more real estate than they do prior to the rut kicking in. As bucks come and go, they most likely will not be on your hunting property every day, but they will pass through every few days, give or take.
For that simple reason, my choice for the absolute best stand site during the peak of the rut is a prime pinch point that will funnel cruising bucks past me. A pinch point located between doe bedding thickets and preferred food sources is one classic example. If there is water nearby—traveling bucks need a lot of water—so much the better.
However, keep in mind that all pinch points are not created equal. I’ve hunted some that were short and narrow, leaving me with limited trees to hang a stand when you add in important factors like wind direction and ingress/egress routes. I’ve hunted others that were long and wide, in which case I might hang multiple stands that allow me to choose a specific stand depending on prevailing environmental conditions.
The best pinch point I’ve ever found was in a half-mile-wide swath of trees separating an agricultural field and a CRP field. Inside the tree line I found two well-worn deer trails that intersected at a right angle at an ancient barn, the trees narrowing to a point about 50 yards wide before leading into the CRP. Both trails had rub lines extending for a hundred yards or more back into the trees, the rubs both old and new. There were fresh scrapes pockmarking the area, too. During the peak rut I sat in a stand there for 6 straight days from dawn to dark and saw 26 different bucks, including one giant that I never got a shot at. Sadly, the farm was sold that winter, and I never had a chance to go back. Naturally, I still dream of that spot to this day.
Rut Crash Course: ID Funnels and Pinch Points
LOCATING PINCH POINTS
The best pinch points are defined by natural terrain features like ridges, bluffs, creeks, rivers, lake or pond edges, roads and habitat edges. I also look for classic travel routes used by the local deer herd, knowing that cruising non-local bucks naturally gravitate to these defined corridors.
You can find potential pinch-point stand locations any time by using aerial photographs, topographic maps, and/or one of the many popular hunting apps like onX Hunt, ScoutLook, HuntStand and others. Look for spots where the terrain and flora naturally force, or funnel, traveling critters into a narrow corridor. Check for potential bedding thickets and where the best food might be, whether it be stands of oaks or nearby agriculture.
Also look at neighboring properties to see if you can deduce where traveling bucks might be coming from. Then, in spring and summer, get out and walk the property if you can, which will bring the picture into focus. A great time to do this is during spring turkey season. I’ve found more than one excellent pinch point this way, but I have also successfully done this when run-and-gun hunting during the season.
Rut Crash Course: Deer-Scent Strategies
HUNTING PINCH POINTS
I'm a big believer that the less time you spend polluting a stand and the surrounding area with your sound and scent, the better. As such, I hunt my favorite rut pinch-point stands rarely if at all during the rest of the bow season when I am more likely to focus on food and water sources.
But when the rut is on, the wind permits and I know I am not bumping the local doe herd, I’ll hunt a pinch-point stand several days in a row. When the bucks are moving, my motto has always been “meat in the seat”—the more hours you spend in the woods, the better your chances.
At this time of the year, I also love to lay estrous doe scent lines every time I head to a stand, and I hang several scent wicks where the breeze can send my “eau-de-doe” wafting about. I have killed more than one good buck that came fast-walking along my scent trail right to me. During midday hours—my favorite time to hunt these pinch point stands is about two hours after first light until about two hours before dark—I’ll also do some calling. I’ve found that a little light grunting, along with doe bleats and the occasional snort-wheeze, can sometimes bring a buck on the run that I’d otherwise never see.
Because you’re not necessarily hunting local bucks, don’t be afraid to be aggressive with your calls when you see a cruiser blowing through. Chances are he’s not a local, and you’ll probably never see him again, so why not?
As always, your hunt tactics should be governed in no small part by local conditions. For example, a place I’ve hunted a lot in south Alabama has a rut that extends for weeks, and the deer have been pressured so much they are scared of their own shadows. When I hunt there, I rarely if ever do anything except sit as quietly as I can, waiting for a buck to make a mistake. In states like Arkansas, Texas and Tennessee, a more aggressive approach has proven effective.
Regardless, the bucks will be moving during the peak of the rut. A lot. Setting up in a spot that naturally funnels their movements to you is a tactic you can count on to tip the odds in your favor.
Solid Sits: 3 Stands to Suit Your Rut-Hunt Needs
Big Game Treestands’ Hunter HD 1.5 stands 18 feet 6 inches high at the adjustable, padded, removable shooting rail. It has a very nice flip-up padded seat that contours to the back and legs, keeping you comfortable on all-day sits. A large 23 1/2-by-18-inch platform offers plenty of floor space. The Hunter HD 1.5 is rated to support 350 pounds. ($179; biggametreestands.com)
The Millennium M100U Ultralite weighs just 13 1/2 pounds and is plenty light enough for run-and-gun hunting, but comfortable enough for all-day sits with its patented fold-up seat. There’s also an optional shooting rail for gun or crossbow hunters. When it’s time to switch to a new stand site, the M100U folds flat and is easily carried with the included backpack straps. ($259.99; millennium-outdoors.com)
Climbing stands like the Summit Viper Pro SD shine during the rut as they allow you to change hunt locations easily. The Viper Pro SD features Summit’s Quickdraw Pro cable system, which allows a fast and simple attachment to the tree with quick-connect triggers that make cable adjustments a snap. Summit’s DeadMetal sound dampening technology fills critical parts of the stand with custom-engineered expanding foam to make it super quiet. ($479; summitstands.com)