By now you’ve spent countless hours scouting local hunting areas or parcels of land that you have permission to hunt. Add hours spent on the range honing your bow shooting skills along with fine tuning your routine of drawing the bow through the release. It’s time to get out and put all that time and effort to work.
One of the biggest questions we all go through each year is how can I draw a buck in close. Scent is a good option, especially as October wears on and we begin to see pre-rut activity in the deer herd. Does are coming in to estrus and they are leaving their mark and a scent trail that those big boys will stop at nothing to follow. Ah, but these fellows are in a fierce competition for those doe, they want to be king of the hill. Big bucks will keep their ears and eyes open for rivalry and will head off any that come close.
How do they know that another buck or two or three are competing for some space in the area? They spar…lock them antlers and push each other around. And the dominant buck in the area is all ears…looking and searching to find the challenger. In many cases it may not be the dominant buck but rather one that wants to dominate. He’s ready to take on the competition and the sparing draws him in.
Rattling antlers will draw attention and in some cases very big attention. And perfecting the technique and watching those big boys come in looking for a fight does nothing but gets the blood pumping. Let’s break it down a bit and see where, when, why and how we might put this to good use.
This is the when, right? Well quite honestly it is one of a few that we might consider using rattling as a technique to draw bucks in. The “rut” really has three phases, pre-rut, peak-rut and post-rut. Here in Iowa the rut typically peaks around November 8 – 16, but this is not the only time to focus all your efforts.
Pre-rut, late October to early November you’ll see good activity. Bucks are looking for does that are starting to come into heat. Watch for funnel areas where deer are most active. These typically are routes in and out of bedding areas and close to a food source. Chances are you will see more buck activity during the pre-rut.
When the rut peaks, activity tends to slow down. There are more does in heat so bucks don’t have to move around a lot to find a doe, so you might not see a lot of movement. In Iowa the doe to buck ratio is pretty even so you will see some competition.
Post-rut is similar to the early rut in October. As the rut wears on does that are in heat are harder to find so bucks will be actively looking for those that are. The post-rut, late November to early December can also yield some very large bucks. These mature animals have the stamina and will continue chasing does late into the season.
“I can see where there are different phases/stages of the rut, but the timing can vary annually with a lot of different factors”, noted Barry Wensel, a long time Iowa resident, bow hunter and author. “My hunting tactics and locations will vary depending on a number of factors.”
Weather, such as winds… both directiona and velocity; temperatures (the morning of the year’s first hard frost is always great); moisture, rain/snow; foliage dropping, opening of canopies, frosts killing understory; harvesting of crops (cutting of standing corn previously available as cover), changes in natural food sources, and human pressure, are just some factors that Wensel notes in making tactical decisions for hunting the rut.
“I used to prefer the peak of the rut but in recent years I’ve been having more quality close encounters right at the end of October and the first week of November”, he added. “It’s important for a hunter to adjust his / her hunting strategies according to environmental factors and do not disturb and area until everything is right”.
Prior to the rut, most mature bucks will be alone or in smaller bachelor groups. They will either be remote or tend to move only in low light or darkness or…hardly at all. “This is where it is vitally important to study your area after the last season or early spring to locate scrapes and rubs”, said Wensel. “They will remain active year after year for decades unless there were reasons for the deer to shift”.
“Find the does…find the buck”. Pretty simple statement wouldn’t you say? Truth is, sometime as hunters we get “buck fever”, or what I like to call buck tunnel vision. We focus solely on finding that big buck that we forget the reasons bucks are out any way. As you prepare for the rutting season, take a good look at areas you’ve scouted and noticed large numbers of does. As the rutting season approaches, especially the peak you’ll see more and more bucks in an area that you thought might have been left alone. It’s old advice but it rings true; hunt the does during the peak of the rut to find the bucks.
If there were any obvious sign to a hunter that a buck or bucks are present its scrapes and rubs. These are clear indicators that an active buck is in the area. Primary scrapes are visited by bucks of all ages. These scrapes tend to be larger than average and have a pungent musky odor to them. You should consider this an area worth looking at as a hot spot for active bucks.
“Rattling and grunting are fine when used properly”, said Wensel. “Too many hunters get over anxious with both, do it too often and usually don’t give it enough time to work”.
For Wensel, rattling works best in the late stages of the pre-rut to early November. Cold crisp mornings work well since sound tends to travel better. Each buck will display a unique personality. Some will rush right in; some will rush in and stop short looking for some visual confirmation. Some bucks will use the wind, circling downwind before they commit.
Position yourself in shooting lanes. By now you’ve figured out where most of the deer movement is going to occur and there are natural funnel areas. “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”, noted Wensel.
Start out quietly especially if you know there are deer bedded down near you. If you grab your rattling horns and start banging away, starting a wild fight, you might startle deer into running off instead of making an inquisitive visit. Especially during the pre-rut! A light rattle early for about 30 seconds should do, then wait a couple minutes.
As the rut wears on the fights will get bigger and bucks will become more aggressive. My very first experience rattling in a buck took me quite by surprise. It was toward the end of October and I was in my tree stand on a cool early morning sit. From where I was at I spotted a couple bucks, off in the distance. I grabbed my rattling horns and went for broke! There was a big fight ensuing by my stand and I wanted those big bucks to know.
Rather than drawing those two in, I startled the does and they ran off. What self-respecting buck is going to watch a doe run off in front of him then pay attention to a fight on the other side of a clearing? Not those two!
I put the horns down disappointed that my efforts failed to yield a buck willing to challenge the fighters. Completely taken by surprise I turned and a third buck, that I had not seen, was standing 20 yards from me…ears up and looking for the action. Unfortunately for me, I had moved a bit too much and he’d seen me in the stand. The lesson here is that we may not always see what we’re looking for. Put your rattling horns down and grab your bow and be prepared.
I don’t know that we need to specifically address this question since we all know why we do it. Call it buck fever…a condition hunters get. Its symptoms include jumpiness, seeing a buck deer when there is a doe or no deer at all. Simply put we do it in hopes that it will give us the added advantage we need in when hunting mature deer.
Good Hunting All!