Whitetail Rut Q&A
By Ricky Kinder
1. Is using a decoy worth the risk or hassle? It seems like a lot of work and risk to maybe have a buck come in closer. If so how do you maximize your results?
Personally, I don’t hunt with a decoy setup. I’ve tried it in the past and have not had much luck with it at all. It didn’t matter if it was a doe decoy or a buck, the deer that saw it seemed to be on “high alert” the moment their eyes saw the decoy. Their senses were heightened, they seemed alarmed, and wanted nothing to do with the “newcomer” that they were seeing.
I think using a decoy is always a gamble. You are creating a situation that might work to your advantage. But it also could work to your disadvantage. You’re odds aren’t as high as they would be if you just took the time to pattern a buck, know where he’ll be, and catch him during his normal routine. I’d go with the latter suggestion anytime!
2. Do bucks frequent certain geographical areas more so than others during the rut?
Yes! Yes! Yes! I have had repeated success taking advantage of this very question during the rut. It took me a few years to catch onto it, but once I did and created a setup to cater to it, the proof of my success are the pictures I have on my wall!
Where I hunt, we have some very deep timbered ravines. As the morning hours pass, does tend to return from their overnight feeding to their bedding areas. Most of these areas are on the shallow-sloping sides of south facing ravines. During these times, I’ve noticed a number of bucks cruising the bottom edge of these ravines, scenting the does that are bedding up the slope from them. Sitting in a stand near the bottom where these bucks do their cruising has allowed me to harvest a number of respectable trophies.
We call it the “killing stand” and the very reason for its success, I’m certain of, is its geographical location.
3. Can you explain the moon theory versus the biology theory in relation to predicting the rut?
This is a tough question. There are so many theories out there and it seems that each one carries some weight. Some hunters follow one and some follow another. I’m not one to say which one is right and which is false. So, I will speak from my experience and what I know.
The moon phase theory centers around the 2nd full moon of the fall equinox. That happens, traditionally, somewhere in the first 2 weeks of November. There is no doubt that breeding seems to be hot at that time but there is still no definitive answer on whether a deer’s biological urge to breed is connected to the moon.
It also happens to be around the time we get our first “cold snap” that keeps deer on the move as they are keeping warm and increasing their calories to deal with the cold. Also, a time that seems to bring on more breeding behavior.
For me, I can see a little of both. What I know for sure though, when does take on the posture that they are in estrous, that’s when the rut is on! They will walk with their tail relaxed and twitchy, they seem like they are on high alert and ready to run, they bed with a great view of their surroundings, and you’ll hear them bleat a different way. When all that is happening, the rut is on. Truth be told, bucks won’t rut unless there are does to chase! Bank on that! The best thing you can do is make sure you are hunting every chance you can during this time period. More time in stand will allow for more time to heat the peak of the seeking and chasing phases.
4. If you had one location to hunt during the rut could you describe that area?
I’d get into the timber. If you are wanting to spend the day in a stand and the rut is in full swing, spend your day deeper in the timber.
A lot of guys key into field edges, food plots, watering holes, harvested fields, and more for the rut. Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t bad places to spend your time. But if you are looking for a good spot to see a lot of action during the rut, find a sturdy tall tree, hang a stand, play the wind, and watch.
Does are in search of cover and hiding when they are being chased. There’s not always a lot of cover offered in those areas I mentioned above. However, in the timber, it’s a different story. You can bet that there will be quite a bit of traffic in a stand of timber when the bucks are chasing does. It’s just a matter of getting them close to the tree you choose!
5. Are you for or against shooting does during the rut, why or why not?
I’m not against shooting a doe during the rut. Meat is meat and a hunt is a hunt. She’s probably not going to gain a spot on your wall for years to come, but she will be good table fare for you and your family.
Personally, it’s a great time to harvest either a buck or doe. Bucks lose all sense of logic during the rut and does are forced (most times) to be on the move. Thus, the situation leaves you with a better opportunity to harvest both. If I could ever get my hands on a doe tag for archery season, you’d better believe that I’d add that tag to my pocket too.
6. Is there anything specific I could do to my property to make it a good “rut” property?
Let’s remember, if you don’t have does, a rut will not take place on your property. With that said, I think there are two important things you could do to “hold” does to your property. Create some cover and provide some food.
When a doe is ready to bed or feels like she needs to hide from predators or rutting bucks, she will be looking for thick brush, downed trees, logs, and more. Somewhere she can sneak into, be hidden, and feel safe. Cutting down a few older trees to let them lay is an option to create some cover. Also, leave a bedding area alone. Don’t go upsetting the peace of that area.
If they have a food source close by, they won’t have to leave the area and travel in search of food. Easy to plant greens, and top of the ground seeds can make a fine food plot for the local population that just might cause them to spend more time on your property instead of the neighbor’s.
7. Should I change locations throughout the day or pick my best option for that day and don’t move?
I think it depends on the traffic of your herd. If you know that they are in one part of your property in the morning and you see them often at another part in the evening, for goodness sakes, switch!
But, if you think you’ll see more movement while sitting in a stand in the middle of standing timber, then stay. I’m a supporter of both options. Just know how much time you have to hunt and what your herd seems to be doing. Be a student and study up. If you do, you should have some success.
8. If bucks are on the scent of a doe in estrus will they forgo pestering other does that are in plain sight, or do they like to scent check them too?
From what I’ve seen, when a buck is on a doe, there is nothing you can do to distract him. Especially if she is really ready to breed. He might even face some competition from a few other bucks that are so love crazed they are willing to join in the chase. I’ve seen up to three bucks chasing the same doe through the timber. It’s crazy but true!
That also makes it challenging for a bow hunter to get a shot. A rutting buck will ignore all normal sounds that a hunter might make to get him stopped for a shot. He will be so focused on chasing that doe that even pure exhaustion will not keep him from following.
9. If you could give me one good piece of advice to use during the rut, what would that be
My piece of advice would be, “Go with your gut!” I know it sounds cliché, but I’ve had many times over the years that I wish I had obeyed my own instinct.
It’s right to pay attention to the “right” things during the rut. Things like stand placement, wind direction, surrounding pressure, deer movement, and more. However, occasionally you’ll have a sixth sense that is just telling you, “You need to go do this!” You have to decide to follow that thought or ignore it.
I’ve had those moments work for me in the form of killing a Pope & Young when the deer was downwind of me, hunting in October (which I rarely do) and harvesting a nice buck, killing 3 nice bucks out of a stand that is hung in an area that should NOT work, and more. Sometimes, when that feeling is great, you need to ignore your logic and just give it a go. It is never a “sure thing” but it is sometimes worth a try.
10. Do you hang and hunt new stands during the rut?
Yes. It’s usually during the rut that I move stands the most and here’s why.
I always start with a spot that, for many reasons, should produce a chance for a shot. But as I sit there, I might see more activity in another area throughout a morning or over a period of a few days. If that spot is seeing movement and mine is not, I’m going to move that stand.
Two years ago, I did that very thing. I noticed bucks consistently using a trail about 100 yards up a ridge from where I was sitting. They had always been where I was sitting, but for some reason, this year, it was different. I moved the stand to a new tree within shooting distance of that trail. I did it quickly and quietly too. By 7:30 a.m. the next morning, I had my tag filled.
11. What do you do when the temperature is un-seasonably warm during the rut?
Hunt! I know that sometimes folks think that temperatures affect the activity of the rut, and maybe it does to some degree. But I’ll tell you what affects the activity of the rut even more, does in estrous!
If you have a temperature rise during the rut, I promise you, that’s not going to change the activity between an estrous doe and a rutting buck. But, you may consider keying into water a bit more than normal. Trails leading to streams, ponds, watering holes, whatever. Deer will still be active and with warmer temperatures, they will need to drink more water.
Use it to your advantage.