Reader’s Questions about the Whitetail Rut Answered!

By Jason Smith

The editor of the magazine contacted me this year and asked if I would be interested in the task of answering readers’ questions about the whitetail rut. I jumped at the chance as I love to see what is on the minds of other hunters and help out if I can by offering some of my advice from personal experiences.

Below are some of the most common, and a few not so common, questions we received. Hopefully my insight and thoughts to these questions can help out the person that sent in the question, along with other readers that might be experiencing the same issues.

Question: Even when the rut comes around I still don’t get the chance to hunt as much as people say you should. I know my success ratio goes down with my limited time, but I can only play the hand I am dealt. Typically I get to choose a morning or evening hunt; occasionally I get out during the middle of the day. My question to you is of the three timeframes which would you suggest gives me the best chance of seeing more deer activity during the rut? More specifically buck sightings? Chance – Cedar Falls

Response: Not pre-rut or post-rut, but right smack dab in the middle of full blown rut, there really isn’t a bad time to be in the woods. With that said, if I had to pick, due to cooler weather and overall heavier general activity, I would concentrate more on mornings and evenings than I would mid-day. When I was younger, I would have picked evenings over mornings, hands down, but now that it’s not as difficult for me to roll out of bed at 4ish in the AM, mornings vs. evenings is a complete toss-up.

I let weather predictions determine which I hunt on any given day. If it’s cooler and calmer in the morning, I’ll hunt the morning, and likewise for the evening. I also hunt different locations and stands in the mornings vs. evenings. I tend to hunt higher elevation stands in the mornings to catch bucks using the thermals to scent does, and the lower elevation stands, such as in a creek bottom or low lying field edges, in the evenings. I’ve hunted these same areas in reverse order and they just don’t seem to produce the same overall numbers or buck sightings.

Question: What are your beliefs in the moon phase theory triggering the rut? Evan – Shenandoah

Response: During my first years of dabbling in bow hunting, I read and followed moon phase predictive models, with little to no success. I personally don’t put much stake in them today. What I’ve personally experienced is that deer will rut roughly the exact same time every year within a specific region/area, no matter what the weather is like or what phase the moon cycle is in. Rut is all based on the length of sunlight in the day, not the phase of the moon.

What I do find absolutely fascinating though is that two different properties, less than 60 miles apart, can differ a few days in their rutting activity. The only way I know this is through personal experience, and it may take you a few seasons of hunting an area to figure it out. Once you do, mark heavy activity for that specific area on your calendar, and I can almost guarantee it will be the same year after year, unless something catastrophic throws the rhythm out of whack.

Question: How would you go about hunting a buck that is locked down on a doe? Shawn – Urbana

Response: Personally, I tend to go after them, literally. I know there are guys out there that wait years to get a shot opportunity at a specific buck. Sometimes they’re blessed with an opportunity, and sometimes, they never see the buck again. I’m not one of those guys. I don’t have the patience for it.

If I have eyes on a buck that’s locked down on a doe and they aren’t making their way to me, I’ll get feet on the ground and attempt a spot and stalk. Locked down bucks tend to focus 99.9% of their attention on one thing. The doe(s) they’re with. So, as long as I don’t spook her, I can usually get within shooting distance of him. Spot and stalk hunting is accompanied by great risk, but when it pays off, great risk can produce great reward. Harvesting a buck from a spot and stalk style ground hunt is the most exhilarating hunting experiences I’ve ever had.
Question: Is there any truth behind the weather or a full moon on a clear night having an effect on how intense the rut is? Marshall – West Bend

Response: Weather, yes. Full Moon, maybe. With a full moon on a clear night the theory goes that deer will use the brightness of the moon to be up all night looking for does, instead of during the day. I put little trust into that theory. Bucks will be up and on the move at all times of the day, full moon or not.

As for weather, if does are in estrus, it won’t matter if a tornado is barreling down, bucks will be out looking for them. With that said, it’s tough to hunt in 40 mph winds and driving rain / snow storms, and I can’t imagine deer caring for it all that much either, but they’re still more apt to be out in it doing their thing than hunters are. Now, as soon as there’s a break in the storm, I’d be calling in sick to work because the activity is going to get white hot. Cold snaps can bring on decent pre-rut activity as well.

Question: Could you describe your hunting style and tactics during the rut? Todd – Adel

Response: Personally, I like the pre-rut ‘Seeking’ phase more than the full blown rut. During this phase, I like to do a majority of my hunting from treestands. I will only rattle antlers and use calls if I hear them first, or have eyes on deer that I want to bring into me.

Mid-rut, I will still sit stands in the mornings and evenings, and will rattle and call more aggressively. Mid days, I love to put boots on the ground and cover some terrain. I play the wind as much as possible, when possible. It’s amazing how much you can get away with when bucks only have one thing on their minds and there are so many other big bodies in the woods making noise.

Post-rut, well, personally I’m pretty burned out by the time post rut rolls around and I’m ready for shotgun season to begin. I will still sit a stand in the morning or evening every once in a while, but try to sneak up on locked down bucks every chance I get.

Question: Is it worth hauling and setting up a decoy every day during the rut? Seems like a lot of work if they don’t really do all that much. Jacob – Dewitt

Response: There’s no way around it. It is a lot of work. Is it worth it? I don’t think it is, but that’s me. Would it be cool to watch deer respond to a decoy, like I’ve seen them do on video? Sure it would. Would it help me shoot more bucks? Maybe. Would it be a “PITA” lugging a big extra piece of gear around with me and keeping it scent free, every time I wanted to hunt? I think so, but that’s really up for you to decide. I think rattling and calling can bring bucks in really well, but decoys can bring them in closer if you’ve got stubborn bucks that are staying just out of shooting range. If you’re experiencing bucks hanging outside of your shooting range, I’d recommend using a decoy a time or two and see what you think.

Question: Do young bucks do any of the breeding during the rut (1 and 2 year olds)? Will – Johnston

Response: They’ll sure try if they’re given the chance. I’m not certain 1 year old bucks are capable of successfully breeding does, but I know 2 year olds are. If you have young bucks breeding does in the areas that you hunt, there is a good possibility that your doe to buck ratio is extremely high, and the mature bucks in the area are already tending to more does than they can handle.

Question: What determines if bucks stay or leave the area during the rut? Jackson – Davenport

Response: Does in estrus can keep them in an area or pull them out of an area. More dominant bucks can chase them out of an area. Stress or hunting pressure can push them out of an area. Food, water and bedding, not so much, but they are factors, and if there’s no food, water or bedding, there’s probably not going to be many does.

Question: Where do you specifically like to have stands during the rut? Tanner – Lamoni

Response: It depends. If I’m going in blind, to a new area, I’ll set my stand within shooting range of a well-used trail, along the edge of a timber. That way I’m not disturbing deer deep in the timber when I get into and out of my stand, and a well-used trail tells me they like to travel there. I just need to figure out when and be there when they do.

If I know the area well, I’ve probably got a good idea on where to hang my stands and what time of the day to hunt them, based on previous observations within the area.

Question: Is there anything I can do to attract bucks to my property during the rut? Kit – Jefferson

Response: Make your property attractive to does and the bucks will follow. Food, water, thick cover, low pressure, etc. Once you attract and get does to stay, they’re eventually going to go into estrus and lure in the bucks.

Question: Since bucks are hard to pattern during the rut is it worth using a trail camera during the season? Kent – Perry

Response: It depends on what you’re using it for. If you’re using it to pattern a specific spastic rutting buck, probably not. But, if you’re wanting to see when a majority of the action is occurring on a piece of property, or what other bucks are traveling through, running cameras during the rut can be rewarding. I wouldn’t make any unnecessary trips into the woods to pull your cards though, if at all avoidable.

Question: To this date I have never had any success with a grunt tube luring in a deer. Humbling myself I do realize it could be operator error, do you have any tips on using a grunt tube? Noah – Harlan

Response: YouTube. Personally, I don’t have much luck blind rattling or calling. If I see a buck and he’s making his way to me, I don’t make a sound. If I’ve got a buck traveling, and it’s pretty obvious he’s not going to make his way by me, I’ll throw out a grunt and watch his reaction. If he doesn’t react, I’ll throw out a louder one. Once I get some sort of response out of him, such as stopping and looking in my direction, I’ll be absolutely silent. If he starts making his way toward me, I’ll stay silent. If he continues on his way, I’ll grunt again. Sometimes it works awesome. Sometimes, they know something is up and continue on their way. And sometimes they REALLY know somethings not right and take off for the hills.

Question: Since bucks are a bit more susceptible during the rut would it be wise to implement a more aggressive hunting style? If so what can I do to be more aggressive? Brayton – Marshalltown

Response: Yes, absolutely. A majority of archery hunters out there think the only way to hunt is from a stationary position. I’m not knocking it, it works. But, there are deer that I’ve harvested that I wouldn’t have if I wouldn’t have ditched the stand and put on some miles. I’ve touched on spot and stalk hunting in one or two of my responses so far, so I won’t reiterate, but I totally recommend giving it a try.

Question: Is there any rhyme or reason to how a buck travels throughout the course of a day during the rut? Do they have a plan with their movement or do they find a trail and follow it? Bryce – Fort Dodge

Response: They don’t lay out plans and follow them like people do. They do follow trails, but more out of convenience and because they’re following does that follow the trails. During the rut, bucks really follow their noses. If there’s a hot doe in the area, bucks can smell her and are frantic to find her. Bucks also tend to be more curious about rustling sounds, etc. during the rut. Sounds that may alert and make them turn tail and run any other time of the year, may actually peak their curiosity and draw them in for a look, because it could be that hot doe that they’re looking for.

Question: A lot is discussed about bucks seeking does, do does ever seek out bucks when they come into estrous? Drew – Manson

Response: I guess it’s possible, maybe in an area where there’s a BIG doe to buck ratio gap. It wouldn’t be anything nearly as aggressive as bucks seeking does though. Bucks are hardwired to pursue does in estrus. Does may feel ‘funny’ if they’re in estrus and no bucks are around, but they aren’t hardwired to find a buck when they are. My ex sister in-law had a cat that did some funky stuff when she went into heat and she REALLY wanted to get outside. I guess it would be something like that…

Question: Whenever I rattle I seem to only call in smaller bucks. Is this normal, are larger bucks not as responsive to rattling or am I just doing something wrong? Tyler – Afton

Response: It is possible that you’re doing something that mature bucks recognize as not being the real-deal, and younger bucks don’t. YouTube. It’s also possible that you may not have many big bucks on the property, or within earshot of your rattling. Personally, I haven’t had the best of luck with rattling. I seem to spook more bucks off than I lure in. I do believe success with rattling is mainly determined by how many aggressive bucks are in your area. If you’re spending a ton of time in the woods and you aren’t hearing any antlers crashing together, there’s a good chance the bucks in your area don’t feel it’s necessary to fight over the does. There’s plenty to go around, and everybody’s happy. In those areas, I’d personally hold off on rattling as much as possible. Now, if you’re in an area where the woods blowing up with antlers smashing together, I believe you’re going to have better luck rattling, and if there are big bucks in the area, they’ll come check you out, with a little practice.

Thanks again for the questions folks! If you have any more questions about the rut or hunting whitetails in general please don’t hesitate to send them over to us. You can send questions to [email protected]