There’s nothing quite like a beefed-up bruiser buck with a swollen neck, massive rack, a tank full of testosterone and a bad attitude. Mental images of top-heavy monsters rubbing cedar trees as thick as telephone poles, raking out enormous fresh scrapes, chasing hot estrous does, and fighting like long-tined Titan Warriors is what all of us poor deer hunters dream about. The whitetail rut is basically our Super Bowl, Christmas and Birthday rolled into one big party that every diehard whitetail addict loves to celebrate.
For good reason, anything can happen at any given moment, and it’s actually possible to feel the tension and anticipation building in the cool autumn air. However, an increase in rutting behavior and daytime activity does not translate to an easy hunt. Mature bucks can be somewhat erratic and unpredictable when things really get cranking and start to shake loose. If you want to hang your tag on a rut-crazed giant, then you’ll need to hit the woods with a proven game plan that enables you to capitalize on each transitional phase of the breeding period.
The following time-tested tactics, strategies and setups will allow you to exploit mature bucks throughout the cruising, chasing, and breeding stages of the rut season after season.
1st Stage: Cruising Period
Big Buck Behavior: Anticipation coupled with a sudden urge to breed will cause mature bucks to break out of their protected sanctuaries, and start moving more during the daylight hours. This is when you’ll notice a sudden increase in rubbing and scraping activity, especially near major travel corridors and along the edges of primary feeding areas. At this point, it’s also not uncommon to observe young basket-racks prematurely chasing and harassing does.
Killer Setups: Keying-in on active rub and scrape lines along heavily worn trails that connect major doe bedding and feeding areas can be all it takes to put some red on the ground. The trick is to correctly position and adjust these stands to match current food sources and active-scrape lines that are consistently being checked and worked.
Tactics and Strategies: Constructing your own mock scrapes or simply adding intruder buck scent to existing scrapes can really hit a nerve among dominant brawlers during this stage. These scent-related tactics combined with calling techniques that consist of aggressive grunting and rattling have the potential to bring tall-tined shooters straight in on a string.
2nd Stage: Monitoring, Chasing and Pushing Period
Big Buck Behavior: A very small percentage of older does will begin hitting their estrous cycle before the rest of the herd. During this stage, mature bucks will be actively pursuing the first estrous does and running the smaller basket-racks out of the picture. You can expect to see dominant bucks monitoring, pushing and chasing hot does and even fighting other thick-necked bruisers for the right to breed.
Killer Setups: Positioning stands or ground-blinds along pinch-points, saddles, bottle-necks, and narrow timber-lines that lead to current food sources can generate some close encounters and intense action during this stage of the rut.
Tactics and Strategies: Placing an intruder buck and receptive doe decoy combo inside of areas that offer high-visibility can really add a new degree of realism to your setup. These decoying tactics coupled with a variety of calling techniques ranging from tending grunts, estrous doe bleats, rattling, and snort-wheezing can coax a shooter right into your lap.
3rd Stage: Breeding Period
Big Buck Activity: As more estrous become available, you will start seeing far less rubbing and scraping activity. The dominant bucks you’re after will be temporarily locked down and busy breeding throughout this peak rut period. These lovesick bruisers will often be seen slowly following and steadily pushing single does away from the herd. Receptive does that are ready to breed can also be observed bleating and frequently urinating as they walk to attract a buck.
Killer Setups: Focusing on popular doe hang-outs such as protected bedding areas that are located close to a current and preferred food source can create some action-packed trips. Stands or blinds near core areas where does spend the majority of their time are definitely hotspots during the actual breeding stage of the rut.
Tactics & Strategies: Pulling drag-lines soaked with estrous doe scent around your treestand and directly through cleared shooting lanes can significantly increase shot opportunities. In addition, setting-up a single receptive doe decoy along the edge of a bedding area and hitting bucks with a series of yearning estrous bleats will be more than any nearby shooter can resist.