Since the inception of hunting magazines there have been writers trying to give advice to the readers on how to kill “big bucks” during the rut. 10 tips for this, 5 tips for that, blah blah blah blah blah. Let’s face it, when you boil it down to the most common denominators, hunting the rut can be a pretty basic thought process.
Remove Head From butt
Over the years, I have made several mistakes while chasing my target bucks. It took me longer than it probably should have to learn from those mistakes, but in the end that failure has helped me become a better bowhunter. In my opinion, the hunt does not start the minute you step in to the woods, it starts before the hunting season even begins. Your brain needs to act like a super computer analyzing all the data you have about the properties you hunt, both current and previous years. If you continue to make mistakes year after year without correcting them, you are one of two things, lazy or stubborn. Those two traits alone save the life of “big bucks” across Iowa every year. The good news is that those flaws can also be cured if you just slow down, observe your surroundings, and apply a little willingness to learn. If you are getting busted walking in and out to your stand or blind, change you access routes. If you are getting flanked, move your treestand. If no deer are showing up, what are you doing wrong? This is not rocket science, this is deer hunting. Yes, there is thought that needs to go into every hunt, but it should be a binary thought. Will I get busted with this wind direction at this stand location? Yes or no, it’s pretty simple. Yes, equals hunt. No, equals don’t hunt. As you are asking yourself questions about the area’s you plan to hunt, if there are more answers with a YES, then it might be a decent place to hunt. On the other hand, if there are more answers with NO, you have a really good chance of not only ruining your hunt, but educating the deer in that area and potentially ruining that property for the rest of the season.
Find the Does
Think of the rut as a college party, if there are no chicks at the party, I’m not going to the party. That is the exact same way the bucks you are hunting in November are thinking. Everyone wants to focus on buck sign, without realizing that 100% of the decisions that a buck makes during the rut revolve around breeding. Does are not changing their pattern to follow rub lines or scrape lines, they are continuing a bed to feed pattern until a buck bumps them from that pattern. If you see a buck by himself during the rut it’s because another buck kicked his butt, he is looking for another doe to breed, or there are no does in estrus in the area he is coming from. This is not the time of the year to be hunting historical buck beds. This is the time to be hunting doe bedding areas, pinch points between bedding areas, or internal food sources like oak flats for example. And as much as I hate to say it, evening hunts along agriculture field edges that might meet up with a thick draw that leads to a chunk of timber could be a decent location for an ambush. Unless you have historical data about where does are living throughout the year, it might be in your best interest to make a move to a different location and find a group of does that have not yet come in to heat.
Don’t Give Up
As we all know the timber can go from cold to hot in a matter of moments. As different does come into estrus throughout the rut the bucks will no doubt find them. With that said, if you do find locations where you are seeing consistent does but no mature bucks, don’t give up on that location. It‘s just a matter of time before those does come into heat and become of interest to the bucks who are looking for their first doe of the year or for the buck who had already bred his first doe and looking for his next conquest. It might be two days, it might be three or more. But if you give up or call it quits too early, take it from me, you might just miss out on an opportunity of a lifetime. This is the time of year you need to be in the stand as much as humanly possible. It’s pure and simple statistics, the more time you spend in the tree stand or blind the higher percentage you will have of running into this year’s shooter. One thing I absolutely hate is sitting all day long. It can be boring, uncomfortable, and cold as heck if the conditions are favorable, but I know several guys who have killed absolute giants between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Honestly, it’s something that I need to start doing more and I would recommend it for you to do as well.
Keep It Simple
There are magazine articles, “professional” hunters, and television shows that talk about moon phases and barometric pressure changes and when to properly hunt them. If I had to guess, I would say that 85% of us, if not more, get limited time off during the rut. One, maybe two weeks at the max, so even if the temperature is high, the moon phase unfavorable, and the barometric pressure is low, you’re going to be in the stand. If you’re like me, you already going to be in the timber anyway, so why add further complications to where you will be hunting based on something that shouldn’t be a deciding factor on where you hunt anyway. I feel at times we as bowhunters like to overcomplicate the decision making process. If you’re like me, you overanalyze each and every hunt you go on when it might be in your best interest to just go with your initial gut feeling. When it’s all said and done the deer need to drink, eat, have cover, and breed. So at the end of the day, just find a good spot and get your butt in the tree.
For me, the rut means that I am going hard and fast for anywhere up to 16 days and my equipment needs to be able to keep up with me. Having gear malfunction can mean time lost in the tree. Double and triple check your bow. The biggest mistake hunters make during the rut as far as archery is concerned is that they stop shooting their bow. In fact, you should be shooting your bow every day during a big push. Walking in and out of the woods, strapping your bow to your pack, pulling it up a tree, taking it in and out of your truck, and possible extreme temperature changes can play havoc on your bow and throw it out of tune. Even if you have to shoot in your truck headlights after an evening hunt, it’s worth it. The other piece of equipment that you need to really pay attention to is your treestands. Honestly, it’s something that we need to be doing before the season even starts. If you leave your stands in the tree all year long, you run the risk of straps and cables breaking because of tree growth. The last piece of equipment, but most important, is your safety harness. Let’s make this very simple… WEAR YOUR SAFETY HARNESS! If you forget it at the truck, go back to your truck. If you forget in at the house, go back to the house. Just when you think falling out of a treestand will never happen to you, think about how much hunting you will be doing from a wheelchair, or worse yet, a coffin. Think of all the pain you will cause to your loved ones.
The crazy part about the rut is that no matter how much planning and preparation you do, how much time you spend in the field, or how perfect the weather conditions are, the deer don’t always do what you want them to. The rut can be a crazy time of year, but if you use your head, find the does, check your gear, and stay focused on your goal, you may just get an opportunity at the buck of a lifetime.