It’s the Rut, Now What

By Noel Gandy

Every November there seems to be an epidemic of folks who call in sick to work. Their affliction: Buck Fever! Men and women across our state have their eyes set on a trophy whitetail and this is one of the occasions to capitalize. November marks the prominent rutting period for whitetail deer in our state and one stands a good chance of finding a “lovesick” brute who has thrown caution to the wind. There are definitely tips and tricks that can be utilized to wrap your tag around a mature buck. However, there are also some mistakes to avoid that can help you up your odds.

You Can’t Kill Him from the Couch
November is a magical time of the year where deer, including mature bucks, tend to be on their feet more during daylight hours. Does begin to come into estrous which indicates they are ready to breed. Bucks are more adamant about finding receptive does and competition for those that are ready to breed can be fierce. It’s during this time of the year that a hunter needs to find himself in the deer woods. Long gone are the days of the October lull where deer are most active in the first and last thirty minutes of the day.

During the first few weeks of November a deer can be active just about any time. Not only is rutting activity picking up but often times the temperatures are beginning to drop significantly. This forces a deer to eat more. Hone in on where does are feeding and just wait for the bucks to come and check them out. Normally, younger bucks will begin chasing a bit more aggressively early on. Mature deer tend to not waste so much energy until they know the does are right.

All that to say: you can’t kill him from the couch. Make plans to be in the deer woods longer than normal. Plan to hunt the midday hours if your schedule will allow. Mature bucks will often be on the prowl for receptive does at all hours of the day and night simply because they have such a small window to accomplish the breeding. You need to plan to be there when he is there.

Hunt the Fronts
Just say you only have a certain amount of time that you can hunt and cannot afford to be out all day every day for the first three weeks of November. No problem: hunt the fronts. Immediately before and after a rain, the first north wind after a handful of souths, the first south wind after a handful of norths, and high pressure bluebird days are all advantageous to being in the field. Deer will tend to move just a bit better on the previously described days because that’s how Mother Nature created them. While anytime during the rut is a good time to be in the field, these scenarios tend to provide more deer sightings.

Get Aggressive
For most of the deer season you will take certain precautions to not alert deer to your presence. You will attempt to be a ghost and leave behind little to no evidence that you were ever in their neighborhood. While you still need to be aware of things like scent, access, wind, and concealment, you should maybe take a more aggressive approach to getting closer to deer than you normally would during any other time of the year.

Now is the time, if ever, that you should begin to creep in just a little closer to that deer’s home area. If you are aware of a certain bedding area then by all means make an effort to get a little closer to the downwind side of such bedding and set up. While you might bump a deer here or there, the chances of catching a buck cruising around looking for a hot doe are pretty high. Infiltrating the core area of a big buck likely does not need to be an everyday occurrence, however, it could be a great opportunity to dig in a little closer to where he is living.
While on the topic of getting aggressive: don’t be afraid to make a little noise. What that means is make some deer sounds to either garner a buck’s curiosity, get his dander up, or calm him down. This looks like grunting with a grunt tube, rattling with shed antlers or a rattle bag, and even crunching some leaves every now and then. All of these sounds resemble a deer and will often pique the interest of a rutting buck.

As far as aggressive tactics go, a decoy could be a good option for you as well. Using a buck decoy in a big buck’s core area is often a way to get the territorial monarch to give you a broad sided shot within archery range. Deer are highly territorial and are often competing for the breeding rights to the same does. This could be just the ticket to getting them to come in a little tighter. Likewise, doe decoys could be a useful tool towards the end of the rut. Bucks that are frantically searching for the remaining estrous does are likely to come and check a doe decoy out and offer you that shot of a lifetime. A certain combination that has worked a great deal is a bedded doe with a tending buck decoy set. Like turkey hunting in the spring, deer will come in to run off what they deem is an inferior opponent. Take advantage of the sexual frustrations that come with the deer rut and put those odds in your favor by being a touch more aggressive than usual.

Don’t Stop Slinging Arrows
One of the worst feelings in the world is to make preparations, hunt a target buck all season long, and have the moment of truth come and then zip an arrow right over his back! This scenario has happened to me and I still dream about it until this day. Come to find out, the mistake wasn’t hunter error but was due to the sights on the bow being bumped during the rigors of hunting season.

All during the summer months I take time to fine tune my hunting rig, shoot countless arrows, and dream of having a big buck in range. Up until the last couple of years, when October 1 rolled around I basically shut down my target shooting. Sure, I would draw back my bow when I got in the stand occasionally, but I never shot an arrow until it was flying at a deer. This was a mistake. There is a long time between October 1 and November 30. A hunter would be wise to continually practice with and maintain his equipment. Even if you’re the best archer in the world you still cannot account for an errant limb snagging your sight. You cannot account for grass getting stuck in your cams and you not noticing. Take precautions and pop a couple of arrows into a target before you head to the field. You might have a lot to regret after a failed hunt but at least an equipment malfunction or lack of preparation on your part won’t be the reason.

Don’t Stop Believing
No I am not talking about the hit 80’s Journey song! The last word of advice comes from a very personal level. Inferiority syndrome can take place very quickly in the deer hunter’s life. It’s super easy to look in magazines, check message boards, and even stand around the water cooler and hear of the successes of all the hunters around. I’ve even made the comment to my wife, “it seems like everybody has gotten a buck except me.” The fact is that not everyone has gotten a buck and you are still in the ballgame as long as there is still a season to be had. Don’t go to the treestand defeated. Remember, we live in the greatest state in the entire country for trophy whitetail deer and you could be on your way to a banner season in the blink of an eye. Trust your preparation! Don’t let others define your success but succeed according to your standards. Long live deer hunting and Praise God for the Rut!