Whitetail Deer Hunting: Own the Rut With a Great Food Plot

Whitetail Deer Hunting: Own the Rut With a Great Food Plot
Photo By Gary R. Zahm

Every landowner wants to make their property the place whitetail deer want to be during the rut.

In order to make deer want to rut on your property, you have to supply the perfect landscape elements for early season deer tactics. Here's how to build your property into the perfect rut hangout in five easy steps.

1 Serve Fine Food

Carefully placed whitetail food plots and well-managed fruit-bearing trees, such as chestnuts, oaks, apples and pears, provide a perfect setting for bucks and does to meet.


2 Provide A Good Drink

And what is a good dinner without a fine drink? Strategically located ponds or artificial water sources will keep deer from moving off of your land to find water.


3 Make A Safe Haven

Setting aside a sanctuary adjacent to a food source will draw and hold more deer on your property as hunting pressure increases on surrounding properties.

4 Set The Stage

"Softening" an edge between your sanctuary or travel corridor by encouraging brushy (soft) edges (about 30 feet wide) will provide "staging areas," where bucks can intercept does coming to feed. It is the social center for the rut "dance."

5 Connect The Dots

Travel corridors need to connect social centers and sanctuaries. Develop existing strips of conifers along drainages, or plant them to provide protection for deer that naturally want to avoid crossing fields and large openings.

Did You Know?

Late season bucks use a mixture of frontal gland and tarsal gland scents to influence the behavior of both does and other bucks. And the smell is clearly intimidating to younger bucks. There may be as many as 100 species of bacteria living in the hairs of the tarsal gland that change ordinary urine into smelly rut chemicals.


ALLOW CURRENT CONDITIONS TO DICTATE HOW YOU HUNT

You want to allow current — and local — conditions to dictate how you hunt. The problem here is ascertaining what stage of the reproductive period is actually taking place concerning your local whitetails. It's not uncommon for sportsmen in the same county to be witnessing entirely different buck behavior.

All deer activity is local, just as is such highly relevant factors as buck-to-doe ratio, weather conditions and existing hunting pressure. Yes, I know that moon phases and photoperiods play a crucial role in the rut. However, knowing what is going on locally on your 40-, 400- or 4,000-acre tract is often more important than just about anything else.

In any given county in any given state — because of various local factors — the bucks may be in the pre-rut phase and chasing, actively mating, or in the final phases of the rut. The only way to know for sure is to go afield as often as and as long as you can day after day.

ADAPT TO THE DEER

The preceding strategy leads to this second one: understanding the importance of adapting to the deer and changing how we are hunting based on their behavior. For instance, let's assume that the does on your local tract have not quite entered estrus. The bucks, however, have become filled with vinegar and are busily jousting with each other, laying down scrapes, and marking rub lines.

This would be a marvelous time to engage in some activities that could lure bucks to our stand sites. Rattling is a very viable tactic now and it probably has a greater chance of working than at any other time of the season. Conversely, say two weeks later when the bucks may very well be actively mating, our rattling will have little chance of paying off.

My favorite strategy to implement throughout most of the rut (all in fact, except for the actual mating period) is to set up along rub lines. This past season, for example, four times I witnessed an excellent 8-pointer moving along a rub line. Three of those times were when I was afield with a compound, and the period was very early in the pre-rut. Adapting to the movements of our local whitetails is a crucial part of developing a sound strategy.

WHERE TO CHOOSE A STAND LOCATION

The strategy decision that causes many of us the most indecision is the mental anguish and somersaults involved with choosing a stand site. Once again, local factors will likely be the most important thing to consider.

Before leaf fall, I set up along an old fencerow that leads through the heart of the hollow on my property and have killed a number of deer there with both bow and gun. However, once the leaves fall or the acorns disappear, I rarely view whitetails in the hollow. Years passed before I realized that the deer were still moving through my land, but they were doing so while traveling through a dense thicket that lies some 50 yards from the edge of the hollow. During the latter stages of the pre-rut and throughout the rut, the trail through that thicket receives intense deer movement.

I strongly suspect that similar, predicable deer travel patterns exist on the land that you go afield on. In the pre-rut period, that hot trail might involve an overgrown fencerow between two wood lots or a line of oak trees that have yielded bountiful nut crops. During the rut, a prime tree line to hang a stand might be the one that runs along a creek bottom or extends to a bedding area. In the latter stages of the post-rut and recovery periods, the best site might be one that lies next to a late-season food source.

KNOW WHERE THE DOES ARE

I have a good friend whose predominant big-buck strategy is to always know where the does are. During the early stages of the season and pre-rut, he doesn't even bother to consider where the bucks are, instead focusing on does and managing the deer herd. By the latter stages of the pre-rut and throughout the rut, he refuses to kill does and targets big bucks exclusively. His reasoning is that he wants to be near does when big bucks show up.

This past season, for instance, my friend's 'know where the does are ' plan worked very well. During the early stages of the season, he opted to arrow a mature doe, thus helping to manage the herd on the landowner's property and providing his family with venison. When the rut kicked in, the buddy still was concentrating on the whereabouts of does and was able to kill a fine 8-pointer that was trailing an estrous doe. In short, some of the most successful big-buck hunters are doe hunters first.

KNOW YOUR LOCAL DEER FOODS

Today's Southern deer hunter has more knowledge to glean from than any sportsmen in this region's history. We know far more about the stages of the rut and the life cycles of whitetails, and we have access to plenty of quality hunting weapons.

Yet, many of our sporting predecessors might still have the edge on us because they were better woodsmen than many of us are today. Having a strong background in the various kinds of foods that our local deer consume is an important aspect to woodsmanship.

For example, many if not most of us Southerners know that the white oak (Quercus alba) acorn is one of the most preferred deer foods — if not the most preferred — in our entire region.

How many of us can distinguish the white oak family members' acorns from the nuts of Quercus alba itself? The answer, quite probably, is not many. The deer can certainly distinguish among the foods available to them, however. Hunters who know the palatability and availability of those deer foods have an obvious advantage.

The Southern states also produce a dazzling variety of soft-mast foods. This knowledge of hard- and soft-mast food items is crucial to our knowing what the deer, especially the does, will be eating during the various stages of the rut.

Image via Dcrjsr
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