By Ben Leal and Patrick Mckinney
For much of the deer season, hunter efforts revolve around the rut. We quiz other hunters, watch our favorite hunting shows, and follow online threads all in an effort to pin point when the peak of the rut will occur. But once it’s here, what do we do to increase our chances of success?
Like me, hunters passionately wait for the rut. But hunting during the rut requires some strategy, much of which is thought out long before it occurs. It’s all about timing and finding the best location to place trees stands giving you your best shot at harvesting a buck.
Is hanging a stand long before you hunt it critical to your success? “I’ve set stands up and hunted them right away”, noted DNR Whitetail Biologist Tom Litchfield. “It certainly is beneficial to have them up for some time, but not crucial.”
“I’m a huge fan of pre-hanging stands”, noted Barry Wensel, a long time Iowa resident, bow hunter and author. “Letting the deer get used to changes in their area, backing out until everything is perfect.” The first time or two you hunt any stand for the season will likely be your best chances for success, noted the author.
Whether you hang early or hang late I think we could all agree that either strategy can be successful. I’ve watched countless TV show’s where tree stands are moved from one location to another simply to adjust to the wind, and once up are hunted that very afternoon. The key is to make wise and strategic decision regarding tree stand locations and hunting times.
Choosing the right location as well as the timing is important to your success at harvesting that trophy buck. Now many of you probably have stands set for the upcoming rut, and that is fine but for those of you that don’t have any “rut” stands or for those of you that might want to hang a new stand during the rut here are some spots to look out for.
Everyone talks about scrapes and rubs during the rut. They are obvious signs of deer in the area, but not exactly the best thing to look for when hanging a new “rut” stand. “Scrapes and rubs are just a couple pieces of the puzzle”, said Wensel. “The main thing I look for is structure. Especially areas that will restrict other options for movement in to a precise funnel area, if these areas have rubs and scrapes…all the better”.
As Wensel points out funnels or bottlenecks are ideal places to hang a stand during the rut. These natural land features are perfect for any deer to use to either get to a food source, bedding area, or a larger wider tract of timber. They are great for hunters because it confines a deer’s movement into a predicted route under way less cover, yielding hunters a better opportunity at ambushing an unsuspecting buck.
The best way to find a funnel during the season is to look at aerial photos of the land you hunt. Funnels will stick out like a sore thumb; they will be notably thinner pieces of cover between or coming out from wider sections of cover. Once you find a funnel look even closer on that photo and see if there is a funnel within a funnel. What does that mean? Look and see if there is an even narrower strip of timber within the funnel. By doing this you will increase your odds of getting a buck to pass you by at even closer distances.
Once you have your funnel located placing the stand in the correct spot is just as important. The obvious things to look for in the funnel are trails that are being used heavily, but if you can’t find a trail that looks to be a major highway don’t worry. As the rut progresses bucks will start using this funnel more and more as they travel to and from food and bedding areas in search of does.
Pay particular attention to the topography of the land, stay away from a spot that would put you in a low-lying area. Not only will the wind swirl in places like this, but also as deer approach your stand you will be either on eye level with them or worse below them leaving you vulnerable to being spotted.
It’s also important to note, as with any stand, you will need to have a really good entrance and exit strategy. Make sure that your stand location affords you with the opportunity to take a route in and out of the area with minimal intrusion, especially if you plan on hunting this stand during the mornings. Lastly on funnels, pay particular attention to the wind patterns on your property and set the stand according to the prevailing wind.
One of my personal favorite stand locations during the rut is on the side of a ridge. Bucks love to cruise the downwind side of a ridge about a quarter to halfway down from the top searching for does in the area. This actually works out well for hunters because as you enter, exit, and hunt your stand the prevailing wind will blow your scent away from your stand and any deer in the area.
When you are looking for ridge setups it is important to know where the doe bedding areas and food sources are. If you can find those two things setting up a stand in between them is a great idea!
When you place your stand make sure you place it downwind of any trail you find. Remember that you need to look for a trail that is a quarter to halfway down the ridge on the downwind side. This will also allow for the wind to blow any of your scent away from the direction you think most deer will be approaching from and over the heads of any deer that are on the bottom of the ridge that might surprise you coming from an unexpected direction…hey it’s the rut and anything can happen!
As far as stand height, look at going a bit higher if that doesn’t bother you. Around 22-25 feet is ideal. This will give you some added protection against any deer being eye level with you that approach from the top of the ridge.
Ditches/Ravine’s In Open Land
Many hunters think CRR fields, open pastures, or barren fields are a waste of time during the rut. In many cases that might be true, but if you find an open field that has a creek running through it that yields dense cover with gradual to slightly steep sloping banks this could be a great place to ambush a buck that is using the creek bottom to travel to and from adjoining timbers. This is especially true if this is the only cover around that connects two timbers. Bucks will use any cover around to get to and from doe congregation areas so if you have a dense creek bottom in the middle of open terrain this may just be that hot spot you have been looking for.
The single most difficult thing about hunting a feature like this is finding a large enough tree to hang a stand. If you can find a suitable tree with enough surrounding cover this is a dynamite stand location during the rut. Most hunters will over look it, but I recommend giving it a shot. If you can’t find a tree then try a ground blind out, just make sure to blend it in with its natural surroundings.
Hanging a new stand during the rut is not a ground breaking tactic in the whitetail hunters’ world. While some think of this tactic as too aggressive other hunters have no issues moving stands around during the rut in order to stay up with the deer movement they are witnessing. If you feel your stands are stagnant or just not providing you with much activity it may be time to switch things up and search for a new stand location. Take note of the stand site descriptions above and if need be put a new “rut” stand up!
Timing, location, and, scouting are all key strategies to putting together a successful hunt during the rut. Patience and time spent in tree stands will increase your chances of hitting pay dirt. “However, nothing beats woodsmanship skills and time spent in the field”, noted Wensel…”nothing!” Think on your feet and adapt!
For more information about Barry Wensel, visit their website at www.brothersofthebow.com
Barry and his brother Gene share a lifelong pursuit of outdoor challenges and personal satisfaction.