GON’s annual Rut Map could be the most popular article that comes out every fall. Hunters plan way in advance of when they need to take a week off work in order catch a bruiser buck on its feet. This map proves its accuracy time and time again by hunter testimonies each season. Keep in mind that the dates on the maps are peak breeding dates. The best time to catch a buck cruising around looking for hot does would be during the tail end of the pre-rut. Once they get locked up with a hot doe, they are not moving very much after that.
So, what’s your game plan? Tired of doing the same ol’ generic routine of just sitting out in the open and hoping a hot doe throws a MacDaddy in your lap? If you’re not having the results you like, read on.
I’ve been an avid deer hunter for longer than 35 years, the majority of that being done on WMAs scattered across the state. All those years watching deer getting conditioned by hunting pressure have led me to try a lot of off-the-wall tactics, but I am not your typical hunter. Some tricks were silly, but some worked. Here are a few tactics I use during the rut to up my odds of shooting a mature buck.
1. Hunt Parallel: If you’ve been around deer hunters long enough, you’ve heard them talk about their successes hunting right-of-ways (ROWs), such as powerlines and gas lines. Other similar long straightaways may include those same long views down two-path roads, access trails and along the edges of large, open clearcuts.
Those are all good spots and always will be, but not all bucks chasing the girls will become oblivious to the hunting pressure surrounding them.
I always love carrying the fight to the game instead of waiting hours on end viewing space for a hot doe to do my work.
If those views have not been producing for you lately, or have simply dried up, try something different. I recommend looking for the thickest cover you can find along the straight run. Step inside a short distance, maybe 25 to 75 yards, and keep the “daylight” of the opening bleeding through.
Instead of following some meandering trail up to a crossing on these openings, some mature bucks know that they can find more hot does by crossing multiple trails when paralleling openings. The more trails they can “T-bone” across increases the chances of their goal. They can also stay hidden inside the cover the entire time.
When entering or leaving your stand, find an outgoing trail, and never be seen by the hunter in the wide open.
I can shoot right- or left-handed, so I will face the ROW. Depending on the cover or a tree being where I need will determines whether I hunt from the air or a chair. You don’t always need a climber to kill a deer, as you will read about shortly.
On public lands this tactic is golden, especially on the ROWs. Let all the others race and fight for those limited traditional spots. Heck, I’ve heard their fuss echoing through the woods: “I was here first!” and “But I already got my stand down there!” Deer hear all that, too. Guess where they gonna be?
2. Hunt OTG: Nowadays, especially on public lands, I find myself hunting more on the ground (OTG). I feel those rut-traveling bucks feel safer moving in the daylight in areas where there are no trees that are conductive to climbing stands.
I had a friend I pre-scouted for on a WMA hunt. I found where a big buck was funneling through, scraping and rubbing aggressively on his way through. While I was pointing to all the tremendous sign before him, his head was angled up the whole time looking for a good tree. He said, “No good, no big pine, let’s go!” What? I returned and killed the buck myself, OTG.
Types of this terrain can be young pines weaved between older pines, scrub oak flats and regrowths from clearcuts that have grown large enough to shade out undergrowth, which will help your visibility in those areas.
Most people will not hunt where there are no climbable trees present. These are areas the old, gnarly, rutting buck will feel safe moving about in the daylight hours.
3. Rattle When? Before you rattle, you need to make sure you are hunting in the right area.
If you are seeing a lot of daylight does in a certain area, along with a lot of scrapes, rubs and large tracks but no dominant bucks, that means hunting pressure has conditioned those bucks to not even be in the same block of woods come daylight.
Circle that block of woods, and find which road, access trail, clearcut, field, stream or whatever transition zone surrounds that area. Then, look for those big tracks. Deer seem to calm down after they cross some sort of barrier a little distance away. I’ve watched spooked deer freak out on one side, blast to another area and within a few minutes be back to browsing.
Pick a spot where you believe they are crossing but still remain within a few hundred yards of where all that doe activity and nighttime buck sign is if possible. Come in downwind. The thought here is that the buck will be in that hot area before daylight and leaving out by first light or even before.
Be in the tree at least an hour before daylight, but two hours is better. Get a set of large rattling horns or a rattle bag that can emit some high volume. Yet cumbersome, my favorite was the older Primos Fightin’ Horns.
As soon as I can see to shoot, I’ll start off with a couple of different loud grunts. Make sure you tone them differently by cupping your hands, and face one of the grunts in a different direction. The grunts I do are with my own voice. If a feller can burp on demand, he needn’t waste money on a grunt call. After that, I’ll add a sweet, doe bleat.
Finally, I will beat and grind the snot out of the rattling antlers. Using my voice, I make heaving guttural growling noises during the sequence. No call can duplicate this.
After waking up the whole world, go quiet. You have now let those nearby mature bucks know that something is going on in their neighborhood. For whatever reason, all the deer that have responded to me arrived at first good light at or near the base of my tree. Also, all have been mature, nice-racked bucks. I believe this technique stalls the big boys out before they head off to their far-off daytime bedding areas.
4. Skip Lunch: Hunt midday during the rut, primarily from 10 to 2. Mature bucks have learned that once the distant echoes of tires crunching gravel on the WMA roads diminishes and the gate chains of the hunting clubs rattle, it’s time to roll! Bacon and egg time clears the woods, and solitude returns.
Some seasons I’ve had more success from 10 to 2 than mornings and evenings combined. If my rear gets numb or I just had enough of that spot, I’ll climb down and go get in another tree for a different view. Like the rutting bucks themselves, it can pay off by staying on the move. Regardless of tactic, terrain, OTG, stalking or climbing, stay out there.