Avoiding Paralysis by Analysis During The Rut

By Kent Boucher

“Yeah, Staci and Hannah said they saw a big buck bed down with a doe over by the burn pile last night, when they were cruising around on the Ranger. I’m not sure if he’s still there or not…” Those were the words of my friend Brant who graciously allowed me to hunt his farm. It was the hours of the rut that many old deer hunters refer to as the lockdown phase- and I had just gotten the intel that would give me the edge on sneaking in close to this buck and wait for him to shift around in his honeymoon suite. My only problem was I didn’t know for certain where the burn pile was located. No matter, I found the pile shortly into my hike to hunt when I cluelessly spooked the doe out of the ditch where she was bedding with the buck. I hit the ground as fast as I could, wiggled my Lone Wolf hang-on stand off of my back, and carefully nocked an arrow. But it was too late. The 175” king of the farm slowly walked out his bed, maintained an un-shootable gap between us, and trotted over the property line leaving me dumbfounded as I wandered the woods aimlessly for the next 20 minutes with an acute case of paralysis by analysis as I desperately attempted to decipher where I should set up for another encounter.

Realistic Expectations
When I first started hunting, I quickly learned the importance of the rut to a deer hunter. Honestly it sounded too good to be true; bucks intoxicated with love, throwing caution to the wind and practically walking up to the treestand waiting for an arrow to remove them from the rut tournament bracket. I couldn’t wait for this kind of action! Then I hunted my first rut and had to keep waiting. You see, the rut can be a magical time where bucks steadily run past your stand all day long, but the woods also can be more vacant than the October lull. With such drastically opposing outcomes possible for this time of year, the first step toward fighting the paralyzing effects of overanalyzing which stand you should hunt during this whitetail prime time, is understanding that there are very few guarantees during the rut. When you accept this reality, you will feel relief from the “rut or bust” pressure of harvesting a buck, and in turn hunt more effectively as you practice smart rut hunting tactics. So, what are those tactics?

Understanding Deer Behavior
I’ve mentioned in previous articles the importance of understanding the patterns of deer behavior. This is the foundation to successful deer hunting. During the rut, bucks eat very little, bed infrequently, and generally can’t be expected to be regularly found in one particular area, other than large doe bedding areas. A derogatory term used to describe farms that don’t provide trail cam trophy shots is the term “doe factory.” These farms are loaded with doe and fawn family groups throughout much of the year. When I stumble upon such a location during shed hunting season, I find dozens of beds all within close proximity of each other, where some of the thickest security cover can be found. To a shed hunter, or even an October bowhunter, these areas offer almost no hope of an encounter with sizable antlers, but to a rut hunter just the opposite holds true. With this knowledge in mind, go to the most permanent locations where you know doe family groups can be found throughout much of the year. If you aren’t aware of these types of locations you can look for large areas that have the most uniform, and densest ground level vegetation. Thermal advantage, and proximity to a reliable food source are also factors that can help you identify such a location. If you put this part of the equation together, the outcome will take care of itself– bucks looking for receptive does will show up.

Be Tactically Sound
As I have poured incredible amounts of energy into becoming a hunter, I have focused my most significant energy into learning their behavior. This in turn, has paid off with many harvesting opportunities. The downside, however, is that with so much of my time and energy dedicated to learning the behavior of my quarry, I have not spent enough time on becoming a skilled tactician. This lack in my hunting ability has led to more than a handful of missed opportunities, that a more tactically sound hunter would have capitalized on. My usual mistake is a missed shot, but another common error that plagues hunters is being easily detected. Hunting with the wrong wind, pushing too deep into a doe bedding area, or hanging a stand on a bare tree are all common blunders that will spook all of the buck attractants out of your timber, and into the neighbors. Not clearing out a shooting lane from the tree where you plan to hang a stand can also destroy a hunt. The point of this article isn’t just to remind you of sound hunting practice, it is to help you hunt with the confidence that staves off the sidelining over analysis that attacks flimsy hunting plans. The best application in this case is to prepare multiple trees that provide proximity to doe bedding with clear shooting lanes, and each with a different wind advantage. With these options available, the choice will already be made.

When All Else Fails Generalize
Perhaps the toughest position to be in during the rut is only having access to properties that do not hold does on a regular basis. These properties can make for a serious buck drought during the rut, and when your situational analysis kicks into overdrive the most logical conclusion may seem to be watching football on your couch. Now I’m not going to tell you that there is some magical solution to this scenario, but there are a few ways you can improve your low chances of tagging a rutting buck on such a farm, and none of those include totally taking yourself out of the hunt. When non-ideal circumstances are your only option, the best thing to do is to employ general hunting tactics based on fundamental deer habits and needs that do not change regardless of what time of the year you are hunting. Although food is always important, water becomes a more reliable hangout for bucks during the rut. Bucks will spend much less time eating during the rut, even losing much of their body weight during that time. Water however can’t be so easily put off, so if your farm has a creek, swamp, or pond, this may provide a chance of action during the rut, especially if it lines up with a well-established travel corridor. Rivers, timber edges, and ridge lines will always be preferred travel routes for bucks to get from one doe bedding area to the next. If your farm has one of these features, identify a few areas that allow for good ambush cover, play the wind, find a clear shot, and kiss that overanalyzing habit goodbye.
As I’ve grown into an avid whitetail hunter I often look back at the preconceived notions I once had about deer hunting based on the stories passed on to me from other hunters, and now I can see the nuance of each hunting scenario. There are no guarantees, and that’s how I want it to always be. And as far as the rut goes, I think it will always throw me for a loop, but that is best handled in stride with some good hunting sense and a whole lot of preparation.