We are in the most exciting time of the year for hunting whitetails. This is the time whitetail fanatics look forward to the most because it offers a chance to see more buck activity than any other time of the year.
Previously unseen or hard-to-pattern bucks change their routines and often give hunters more access to shot opportunities. However, these opportunities are generally far more unpredictable than pre- and post-rut situations, where bucks are less affected by the urge to breed. In this post, we’ll give you 6 points to remember to try to turn those unpredictable opportunities into a high probability of success.
If you’ve been watching a buck since the summer, chances are you probably have a good idea of his routine. Perhaps you haven’t gotten any shot opportunities because the buck seems to be most active at night or hangs out in an area that is not easily accessible, but you might generally know where he likes to bed, move and feed.
Well, when the rut is on you can probably sideline your buck patterning ideas for a few weeks. Instead, here are a few tips that affect buck movement and could help you bring home Ol’ Mossy Horns this year.
Follow The Does
During this time of the year, a buck’s mind is focused on two priorities: breeding does and defending his breeding rights. The drive to find every available doe in estrus is significant, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that bucks don’t eat during the rut.
A buck does tend to lose weight during the rut but mostly due to the increase in calories burned chasing does and battling other bucks, not lack of eating. Regardless, does definitely still actively feed throughout the rut, so focusing on the does can pay big dividends.
This is a great opportunity to use the Quiver Hunting App to its full advantage. Check back earlier in the season to where and when you’ve seen does moving in your hunting area. Use this data and current information to predict their feeding, moving and bedding patterns, and monitor the does for signs of estrus. Look for nervous, unsettled behavior and tail placement that is lifted or canted to one side as indicators that the doe might be ready to breed.
Bottom line, when you locate does in estrus‒eager bucks are probably nearby. If you can find a group of does that are ready to breed, you’ll have a higher probability of seeing the buck you’ve been chasing.
An Expanded Home Range
A buck’s normal home range changes significantly during the rut. The Deer-Forest Study, a GPS-tracking study conducted by Penn State University captured this insight into a buck’s movement throughout the Fall.
It clearly indicates that a buck’s travelling behavior becomes more erratic and his home range is extended, but it also shows that the core area his home range is centered around does not change drastically.
So if you’ve been watching a buck in your area but haven’t seen him in a few days, don’t dismay and think he has moved away for good. The chances are that the buck will be travelling back through your hunting area within the next few days as he covers as much ground as possible in search of does in heat.
Keep reading for a more few tips on how to determine if a buck has returned to your hunting area and how to better the odds that he’ll walk within shooting range.
Some of the best indicators of buck activity are scrapes and rubs. If you aren’t able to put a trail camera up over an active scrape site, it will be difficult to tell which specific deer are producing the sign, but it’s still a great start at finding a buck.
When you find a scrape in your hunting area, first try to determine it’s age. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Is the ground freshly dug, or does it look like it has settled from wind or rain?
- Are there leaves partially or completely covering the scrape site?
- Are there any nearby twigs or licking branches that are freshly broken?
If you’ve identified that the dig marks look fresh, there aren’t any leaves covering the site and there’s a broken twig above the site that is still green and un-oxidized, then there’s a good chance that the buck that made the scrape is in the nearby area and might visit the scrape again soon. While this isn’t guaranteed to always be true, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to hang a stand immediately and sit tight!
On the other hand, if none of these factors are true, there’s a possibility that the buck has moved on to another area in search of actively breeding does and may not return for a few days or weeks.
Pro tip: Try making a mock scrape along a major deer trail and hang a trail camera to monitor the site. Staying as scent-free as possible, pick a spot with a licking branch 4 to 5 feet in the air and disturb the ground underneath with a stick. Then use buck urine to mark the spot and check back in the next few days to see if there’s been any activity on your trail camera.
Appeal To Their Senses
Contrary to popular belief, a buck doesn’t “get stupid” during the rut. Their brains are simply tuned in to a different channel, and they are more concerned with passing on their genes than being alert for danger. Bucks still heavily rely on their senses during the rut and taking advantage of this can be very rewarding. Scents
Deer trust their sense of smell as first line of defense in the field. If they catch something that doesn’t smell right, they are usually put on alert while they use their other senses to narrow in on the peculiarity.
Bucks use that same superpower during the rut to key in on does in heat and challengers to their breeding privileges. Use this to your advantage and play the wind when you hunt the rut. Bucks will also use the wind to try and scope out an area, so keep an eye downwind if you’re using scents.
Using doe-in-heat or buck scent near your stand allows bucks to identify with what they are hearing as you rattle, grunt or bleat. A drop or two on a trail is also a great way to stop a cruising buck in a shooting lane so you can line up a perfect shot.
Calling in Mr. Big
While using scent is a great way to encourage bucks to step within range, speaking their language can be an immediate attention-grabber for a nearby buck. When it comes to calling patterns and timing, different hunters have different techniques and there isn’t any conclusive data to support exactly how long you should rattle or how many times to grunt.
Here are a few quick rules of thumb to guide you:
First, start with low volume calling so you don’t startle nearby bucks and gradually increase your calling volume to reach deer farther away.
Next, try to sound natural. Search for videos of bucks grunting or fighting in the wild, and practice replicating those sounds.
Also, try mimicking the entire scene instead of just the vocalizations and antler contact. When two mature whitetail bucks battle it out, the sound is intense. Stomping and crashing through brush is not uncommon and adding some environmental noise can add authenticity to your calls. Studies have shown that aggressive situational calling like this has a higher likelihood of bringing the bucks closer to your stand.
Prepare for post-rut changes
Remember how I said to forget about a buck’s pattern as he enters the rut? Now it’s time to break out his old playbook again. It’s common for deer to enter back into old routines after the rut, so keep tracking your Quiver hunting data and look for opportunities to exploit their patterns.
Even if you aren’t successful during the rut, don’t lose morale and enthusiasm. With the amount of variability in deer behavior during the rut, it isn’t the easiest time to harvest a buck. Take every hunt as a learning experience, track your data and prepare for the post-rut pattern shift. Quiver is the easiest to use, free hunting app for becoming a more success hunter, so rut or not, don’t hit the woods without it!
How is the rut looking in your area? Leave us a comment below or tag your posts on social media with #HuntSmarter. Good luck this season!
Want more tips to become a better hunter? Try out the Quiver Hunting App today to help you step up your whitetail game. We all know hunting mature whitetails isn’t easy, so let Quiver help you be in the right spot at the right time.
Have a question that you’d like answered? Leave a comment below!