November 30, 2015
According to crooner Andy Williams and the holiday tune that he popularized many years ago, the upcoming Christmas season is the most wonderful time of the year.
And while I'm certainly not disagreeing that the season of good cheer isn't one of the year's best times, don't tell that to a serious deer hunter.
Because for just about any whitetail hunter, the most wonderful time of the year is the rut, the annual chasing madness that comes when the yearly white-tailed deer breeding frenzy arrives on the scene.
Just ask a variety of Outdoor Channel hunting personalities and television show hosts, all of which talk about their favorite rut hunting encounters with a far away gleam in their eyes.
Take David Holder, a co-host for the Golden Moose Award winning Raised Hunting program, for instance.
Holder doesn't have to think back very far to find one of his favorite memory because it happened recently. And thanks to the rut, he was able to tag a good-size Midwestern whitetail even though he had to wait to do it.
"All-time favorite rut encounters?," said Holder. "The truth is that there are too many to count.
"So let's go with my experience a couple of days ago in Kansas when I hit the horns (and rattled) as a big buck headed straight away (from me) down a waterway at 150 yards," he added.
"Why did he head away and I did not get a shot? Because my cameraman said we didn't have enough light (yet in the camera lens) to shoot!"
End of story, right?
Not exactly, said Holder, thanks to the magic of the rut and the available light that was improving a bit in the camera lens.
"When the buck sauntered out to about 200 yards, my cameraman said 'I think we could shoot now, (there's enough light).' So I grabbed the antlers again and whacked them together (pretty) good."
What happened next?
"Less than five minutes later, the buck was standing less than three steps from the base of the ladder (stand I was in). With a well-placed Gold Tip arrow, I had my first Pope & Young whitetail from Kansas, a buck that scores 141 inches and change."
For Heartland Bowhunter co-host Michael Hunsucker, a similar story of frustration and eventual redemption makes up his own favored rut hunting encounter from several years ago.
"One of my all time favorite rut encounters was when I was hunting in Iowa several years ago," recalled Hunsucker. "It was the last day of a long seven-day hunt. There had been lots of time spent in the stand and yet there had hardly been any mature buck sightings."
That's where fate – and an out-of-luck song dog – intervened and turned a bad hunt into a good one in zero-to-60 fashion.
"Out of frustration, I decided to shoot a coyote that was cruising through those hardwood bottoms in the late morning (timeframe)," said Hunsucker. "Not 30 minutes later, I look over my shoulder and coming down the same trail is a big mature 10-point buck."
What happened next?
"I watched him walk the trail cautiously, smelling every step of the way, trying to pick up a hot doe," said Hunsucker. "He followed the trail all the way to (the place) where I had shot the coyote and then he stopped to smell the bloody arrow, offering me a perfect broadside shot (opportunity).
Hunsucker was able to make a good double lung hit with the buck only going about 80 yards before piling up in the timber.
Major League Fishing and Bassmaster Elite Series pro Brent Chapman is no stranger to the glories of the rut in his home state of Kansas, having arrowed several really good bucks in past Novembers on the farm that he partially owns.
But he admits that none of those bucks, as good as they are in the 150s and 160s, hold a candle to the giant buck a friend of his has chased the past couple of Novembers.
"I've got a really good buddy that has a farm in a part of Kansas well known for really big deer," said Chapman. "He had a couple of chances last year at a buck that would score well in excess of 200 inches, but it didn't work out in either instance.
"One time, he clipped his release on his string instead of his D-Loop and the other time, his peep sight didn't rotate properly," Chapman added.
"Some guys might have chanced a shot at a buck like that, but he didn't because he's a good ethical hunter who isn't going to take a shot he isn't certain of, no matter how big the deer is."
Fast forward to this fall when Chapman's friend invited a friend of his to come hunt the farm.
"What happened?," said Chapman. "That huge buck – which is even bigger this year – came after a doe and walked within 15 yards of the stand that my friend's friend was sitting in.
"And he couldn't get a shot at this giant buck either!"
Leaving Chapman to hope that there's a rut-hunting invitation waiting in his mailbox someday very soon!
Of course, not every rut encounter with a big whitetail buck leads to frustration – sometimes, such an encounter leads to a smile as big and wide as the Lone Star State of Texas.
That was the case last year when former college football and NFL wide receiver Jordan Shipley filmed a rut hunt for The Bucks of Tecomate television program he co-hosts on Outdoor Channel.
"My all-time favorite rut encounter is when my wife, Sunny, rattled in a buck for my 82-year old grandmother, Addie Felts, and I got to film her shooting it," said Shipley. "It was amazing!"
Jordan Shipley’s favorite rut encounter happen when he wasn’t hunting. Jordan’s wife, Sunny, rattled in this Texas buck for Jordan’s grandmother, Addie Felts. (Jordan Shipley photo)
Another rut hunt encounter that ended with a big-time smile took place a few season ago for Nicole Reeve, who is the co-host along with her husband Pat, of the program Driven with Pat & Nicole.
"Back in 2011, we were hunting in Wisconsin over a waterhole," said Nicole. "There was one hot doe in the area and the woods just lit up all around us."
Kind of like Christmas time for a deer hunter, huh?
"It was like someone flipped on the light switch," said Nicole. "There were bucks running (around), grunting and fighting everywhere.
"A big buck made a mistake and came right under the tree (I was in) and I arrowed him perfectly with my Mathews bow."
All on film, of course, as Outdoor Channel cameras were recording all of the action.
But despite these rut hunting encounters, as exciting as they eventually proved to be, they often pale in comparison to a rut hunting tale that Realtree Outdoors executive producer and co-host David Blanton experienced a number of years ago while hunting the November rut up in Canada.
During that hunt, Blanton was able to take the famous "Blue Jeans Buck," a big whitetail that was tagged from an area where few deer were seen by the outfitter or local hunters.
"It was November 14 and the rut was really cranking up there," Blanton told me while recalling his well-known Canadian hunt. "At midday, a guy came back into camp and said he had seen a buck chasing a hot doe into several hundred acres of brush."
An impromptu deer drive was quickly organized and Blanton was soon in position – wearing blue jeans and a Realtree sweatshirt – when the buck suddenly popped out of the brush while chasing the doe.
After a successful shot was triggered, Blanton began to put two and two together.
"What really struck me was that this was an area that (the outfitter) hardly ever saw deer in," said Blanton.
"That buck had taken that doe to an area where there wasn't a high number of deer so he wouldn’t have to fight to keep her."
The lesson learned is that when the rut is in full gear anywhere across whitetail country, a big buck isn't always going to behave the way that hunters might expect him to.
Especially when he has a hot doe in his sights and the smell of love and estrous scent is on the breeze.
Regardless, by employing the right doe-finding techniques during the crazy days of the November rut, a hunter can be in the right place at the right time during deer hunting's most wonderful time of the year.
Even if that hunter is wearing blue jeans and a sweatshirt.