The rut is a magical time that all whitetail hunters impatiently wait for all year long. As hunters we dedicate countless hours preparing for the upcoming season by spending time practicing shooting, planting food plots, checking trail cameras, setting blinds, and hanging tree stands. All of this preparation leads up to that critical moment when the target buck comes by your stand chasing a hot doe in the peak of the rut. In this article you will find a few helpful tips and tactics to use this year during the rut to fill your tag, the freezer, and hopefully that open spot on the wall.
There are several phases of the rut with the first being the “pre-rut.” In Iowa, the “pre-rut” usually takes place around the last two weeks in October. This is the time when most bucks’ testosterone levels begin to rise causing them to break from bachelor groups, start to establish dominance and claim territories. This is when the bucks will let all of the other deer know who’s the boss in their neck of the woods. The dominate bucks initiate rub and scrape lines though out their core area and throughout the property they call home, leaving behind visible markers and scent. I guess you could think of it as leaving his calling cards for everyone to see and smell. Also, during this time we see bucks beginning their search for a hot doe by scouring the property’s bedding areas, food sources, and major travel corridors. Pre-rut is a great time to have trail cameras over scrapes and rubs, because this is a fast way to find out what buck or bucks have made your hunting area their home. Since most bucks are on their feet, and beginning to claim their core area’s the pre-rut is a good time to use deer calls either by grunting or rattling. Bucks are sparing and establishing the pecking order at this time and are very curious to see who is fighting. When rattling be prepared to see a lot of curious young bucks, but remember that you are hunting in Iowa and you never know what caliber of buck could show up at any given time!
The next phase of the rut is the “chasing phase.” During this phase bucks are actively chasing and looking for hot does. In my opinion, this is the most exciting phase of rut, because once the first few does come into estrus the three ring circus begins! This is when you need to do whatever it takes to get into your tree stand! During the chasing phase every buck on the property is on his feet looking for the first chance at love even though it might not be time yet for a doe to be receptive. Bucks will do almost anything for this chance at love even if it means chasing a doe across the entire county or bringing the fight to any other buck trying to stop it from happening! This is a great time to hunt rub and scrape lines next to bedding areas, heavy covered funnels or pinch points and high deer traffic areas on your farm. These are common corridors for dominate bucks to travel and most likely the bucks are going to be traveling these corridors during all hours of the day searching for hot does. During the pre-rut and chase phases it is a great time to create a mock scrape directly in your shooting lane. Any buck passing through the area will be drawn to check and freshen the scrape; therefore, hopefully creating the perfect shot opportunity for you. This is one of the best times to tickle the rattling antlers!!! Any buck in ear shot, not with a doe knows the two bucks are fighting for a doe and will come looking to see if they have a chance to beat the winner and claim their prize.
The third phase is commonly referred to as the “seeking phase.” This is when a lot of does are coming into heat and the bucks can literally smell it. They will be on their feet the most during this phase with their nose down searching for that hot doe that just cruised by. The chase phase into the seeking phase are two phases of the rut where you want to spend as much time as you can hunting. Once a buck finds a hot doe and fends off all of the other bucks in hot pursuit he breeds the doe several times and then he anxiously starts searching again for the next hot doe. This is a great time of year to use doe estrus scents. Using a scent drag while walking to your stand can help intercept cruising bucks and lure them directly into your shooting lane. Be sure to circle your stand with the scent drag and leave the sent drag hanging right in your shooting lane so when the buck comes in checking the scent he presents a nice broadside shot. This can also be a hard time to call a buck into shooting range. If the buck is following or chasing a doe chances are the buck is only focused on that doe, making distracting him with calls extremely difficult. It can prove difficult to just stop a buck for a quick shot, when he is in hot pursuit of a hot doe walking or running past your stand.
The fourth stage of the rut is known as the “lock down” phase. This is when the majority of the breeding takes place and bucks will not leave the does side until they have mated. A lot of the time, mature bucks like to push their doe to a secluded area and force them to bed down until the time is right. This helps the buck fend off any competition and consequently, also makes this one of the hardest times to hunt the rut. The deer movement during the lock down phase almost comes to a screeching halt and calling can be very unproductive. However, if you are not afraid of getting dirty this is a great time to locate a buck tending to a doe and attempt to spot and stalk your deer. Bucks tend to let their guard down during this phase and very little will deter them from leaving their hot doe.
The final stage of the rut is the “post-rut/secondary rut.” During this phase the woods may seem pretty quiet as the does that have been bred begin to come out of estrus. The younger and less aggressive bucks are tired of getting pushed around, beaten, and chased away. They begin to slow down along with the does and they begin to target food sources at this time of year. Post-rut is a great time to begin actively calling again and more times than not the buck that answers the call at this phase is a mature battle ready buck. The mature bucks will be checking the bedding areas, field edges, food sources, and heavier cover areas looking for that last chance at love. They are looking for the does that were not bred during the peak of the rut and that are coming into what is known as the secondary estrus cycle. These are typically younger does. Although the secondary rut is not nearly as action packed as the peak rut it can still be an effective way to harvest a mature buck.
The rut can be a very confusing time for a lot of hunters. There are a lot of different variables that come into play including temperature, weather pattern changes, doe to buck ratio, hunting pressure, low or high pressure food sources and many more variables that are all game changers for the predictability of the rut. Still, no matter what is happening you cannot kill a mature buck if you are not hunting. In the end don’t over think things, know where the does are going to be and make sure you have a stand in the area…after that your best strategy is simply going to be making sure you are in the stand. Hopefully the tips in this article will give you the upper hand this fall. Good luck and hunt safe this season!