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Hunt Strategies for Whitetail Deer During the Rut

Tree Stand Placement and Strategies for Whitetail Deer Hunting During the Rut

Every whitetail deer hunter dreams of taking that whitetail buck of a lifetime each fall. Few whitetail deer hunters are able to pull the feat off on an annual basis. Whitetail deer hunters that do consistently harvest a trophy buck each season are the ones that have learned to successfully employ whitetail deer hunting strategies that work and will continue to work. The following article will discuss strategies for harvesting trophy whitetail deer which include stand hopping, musical chairs, topographical advantages, the waiting game, decoys and calling whitetails,

To Move or Not to Move………That is the Question

On 11-8-2007 a hunter arrived on a semi guided hunt with IMB Outfitters in pursuit of a trophy whitetail buck. At our camps we have aerial photographs of each farm with tree stand locations marked and numbered so whitetail deer hunters can see where they are going to hunt on each outing. I have found by discussing why we want to hunt a particular tree stand and showing the hunter an aerial you can involve the hunter in his outing and plan a strategy as a team which they appreciate. This particular whitetail hunter, came into camp on what we call a semi guided hunt. During a semi guided whitetail deer hunt with us, the whitetail hunter gets his own farm with stands already erected which are taped with orange trail market tape from Hunter Specialties and cat eyes or limb lights so that the hunter can find the stands easily. Then the hunter starts hunting for five days. A fully guided whitetail deer hunt is where a guide walks a hunter to and from stand locations and scouts for the hunter while he is hunting moving him from farm to farm based upon whitetail sightings. Obviously the semi guided whitetail hunter has a much tougher time getting on trophy whitetail deer because he has booked a hunt which does not encompass the advantage of having a guide who is out working for you while your on stand. Anyway, this particular semi guided hunter was shown his farm that he would be hunting. The hunter wanted to hunt out of his climber because he simply likes climbers more than fixed positioned tree stands. This hunter positioned his climber in a funnel on the farm and made his mind up he would sit the same location all five days and be patient in the great funnel.

At first glance one might think to immediately select a location and just hunt it relentlessly without moving would be a crazy idea, however that is far from the truth. During the rut whitetail bucks can travel miles during a day which means from one day to the next your farm may be holding bucks that were not previously there before the rut. With this concept in mind the hunter’s strategy was to hunt the funnel until a mature whitetail buck came cruising through the funnel. Day one the hunter only saw does and small bucks. Day two the hunter only saw does and small bucks. Day tree the hunter only saw does and small bucks. Day four the hunter arrowed a monster whitetail deer scoring over 150 inches. Patience and faith in a good funnel or topographical advantage will pay big dividends.

Now let’s look at the other side of the coin. On the same day in the same camp I positioned a hunter in a triple funnel which always produces big whitetail bucks. The hunter went into the tree stand setup and in one morning the hunter saw 40 deer, 14 of which were small bucks, however the hunter did not see any trophy whitetail bucks. When the hunter came out of the woods he did not want to go back in and hunt the stand again because he hadn’t seen a trophy whitetail deer. I explained to him that although he hadn’t seen any trophy deer on that morning hunt that the stand needed to be hunted again and that with that many deer in that particular tree stand area if he would hunt it that he would shoot at a trophy buck eventually. He still refused to sit it again. Instead he wanted a different stand. This is called “stand hopping”. Successful whitetail hunters do not give up on a certain stand or area simply because after one hunt they don’t see any trophy bucks. Especially in the aforementioned scenario it is obvious the area is full of whitetail deer. With the location being a triple funnel it is simply a matter of time before a big whitetail buck travels within weapon range during the rut if the hunter saw 40 deer in one sitting. Hunters fall into the trap of thinking that its exciting moving to a new area each day rather than simply being patient and waiting on a buck to travel through a great area.

I moved the hunter to a different stand as requested but he saw much less activity and then retreated back to the stand where he had saw 40 whitetail deer. He wasn’t happy I insinuated he shouldn’t move but he knows I was only trying to help him. His patience paid off as within twenty four hours he was seeing 40 whitetail deer per outing again and one of the animals being a huge 180 plus typical whitetail buck. Now the hunter is dedicated to the location and is on the right route again. One can’t really blame the concept of stand hopping as everyone likes to see a new area however sometimes its best to just sit it out in a key topographical advantage knowing its only a matter of time before a big deer chases a doe by your ambush location.

I recall over 10 years ago I was going into hunt a 40 acre woodlot in Northern Missouri in hopes of taking a trophy buck. It was cold and sleeting but I knew by looking at the aerial photograph that I was in one of the greatest funnels that I had ever seen. I knew it would be a matter of time before a buck chased a doe past me but didn’t know how long the wait would be. I packed a lunch and positioned myself appropriately. I sat in miserably cold conditions for 11 hours straight before I heard a doe running through the funnel with her tongue hanging out of her mouth. Right behind her was a monster whitetail buck. I “slung” an arrow 12 yards into the Pope and Young Whitetail Buck. Prior to the two whitetail deer entering I had seen nothing. I could have easily gave up after the first few hours of light and moved somewhere that I thought would be more exciting. Patience paid off. If you can read aerials and will just wait it out in a funnel in State that holds big deer you will get your chance. Too many hunters “punt” an area too early thereby reducing their odds of success. For each minute that passes by in a tree stand you are one minute closer to your opportunity. I look at it like this. After doing a study over the course of 1726 hunts determined it takes me around 9 hunts to position myself within weapon range of trophy whitetail buck. For every outing you fail you are one outing closer to success.

Calling, rattling, and decoys

This year in particular rates have soared for Outdoor Television programs, which in turn has forced hunt celebs with television shows to be more creative and aggressive in seeking sponsors or advertisers for their programs. You see if you had a show on the television you would be responsible for paying a bill of around $150,000 per year just to be on television. Therefore any hunt show must have sponsors that are willing to pay big money to be featured. These sponsors mandate the show use their products to promote sales to whitetail deer hunters. As a result there are some products that I simply believe don’t work and are being pushed, or aren’t really being used during the hunt but portrayed as if they are. I personally witnessed one television show which placed doe urine on the ground where they had shot a buck on television after the buck was already dead. Then they placed the footage of pouring the doe urine on the ground before the kill scene so viewers would buy the doe urine. This occurs a lot on television due to high billing of Outdoor Television Networks.

For example. Fictionally speaking lets say you watch a show wherein a hunt celebrity kills a big whitetail deer and it appears he grunts the deer in with a grunt call. It is very possible the grunting filming occurred after the buck was dead and that the grunt call was never used during the actual hunt. This pleases the sponsor but fools the viewer into a purchase.

Don’t get me wrong, as I believe grunt calls, decoys, and rattling does work in certain situations, however the frequency of usage of any of these tactics needed to be limited and the hunter needs to know when and how to employ these tools.

In 2008 a hunter was speaking with me in regard to his outing. Over the course of our casual conversation he told me that while he was waiting for it to get light he was preparing in his whitetail deer tree stand awaiting for the sun to break the horizon. Then he said, “It was too early to start calling yet.” At that very moment I realized he was almost referring to his whitetail deer hunt as if it was a turkey hunt. Good turkey hunters know not to call to turkey’s in the dark. This hunter was literally calling with his grunt call from first light to time to get off the stand every 20 minutes or so no matter whether their was a deer in sight or not. This is not good practice. Whitetail hunters are simply giving away their position by overcalling with grunt calls and rattling. As an “old school” whitetail hunter with over a dozen Pope and Young Bucks on the wall I only grunt or rattle when I see a big buck that is without doubt not going to come my direction. While it is true you can rattle and grunt bucks in that you cannot see too many hunters are hunting deer like turkeys with grunt calls and rattle bags, and doing so much too frequently. As a general rule call to bucks that you want to shoot that you can see that are not coming your direction or simply do one or two rattling sequences with grunts once or twice a hunt.

A rattling sequence should be performed properly as follows. Smash the antlers together and grind them loudly back and forth for around 60 seconds followed by 3 grunts from your grunt call. I would recommend the True Talker from Hunter Specialties. Wait 3 minutes and repeat the sequence. Wait 3 more minutes and repeat the sequence one last time. Then stop. Each time the whitetail deer hunter completes the 3 minute sequence hang up the horns and get your bow ready as a whitetail buck could come charging in any moment.

I have personally witnessed 140 inch deer kick the crap out of 160 inch deer. Commonly not always is the biggest deer the most dominant deer. Thus if you grunt and rattle you don’t always call in the biggest deer. More commonly you will call in the inferior bucks that are not mature enough to be tending or guarding a group of does. Inferior bucks are much more apt to come into calls than larger deer. In Iowa 3 years ago we had a hunter that was rattling every 15 minutes for 8 hours straight. I simply ask him to put his antlers away and sit still and quiet. He then arrowed a monster deer and was happy and had learned a lesson about overcalling.

While deer decoys can be a tool to use on a particular aggressive animal decoys often decrease your odds of success. Early in 2008 in Missouri we had a small food plot planted where a monster deer was coming out every night. The monster whitetail buck would stand in the middle of the food plot every night for 2 hours of last light and run any buck off the field that would appear. In this situation a deer decoy would be priceless. In most other situations whitetail deer will walk into a whitetail deer decoy and look at it intensely, stomp their feet at it trying to get it to move, and look it over very hard. Then the deer will run away because the decoy is not moving and spook all the deer of the area. Overcalling and the implementation of whitetail deer decoys stems from a hunter wanting instant results. Remember whitetail deer hunting is not turkey hunting. Calling to deer too frequently and constant implementation of deer decoys most generally decreases your odds of success. Every whitetail hunter should own a grunt call, rattling horns or rattling bag, as well as a decoy but you have to know when and how to implement them as effective tools. They are not tools to be used each and every time you enter the timber. Again remember that many hunt celebrities film footage of grunting or decoy usage only after the deer is already dead and splice the footage so that it appears the decoys and calls are bringing the deer in. I’m in no way saying all hunt celebs do this however many do so.

Musical Chairs

The strategy of whitetail hunting called “Musical Chairs” is not to be confused with the aforementioned mistake strategy of “Stand Hopping”. In 2007 I implemented a strategy I call musical chairs. I had a 160 acre lease wherein a number of good deer were working the area. I hung 5 portable stands and 4 climbing tree stands throughout the farm. I began by hunting a portable tree stand in an “inside L” topographical advantage. It was here I saw many deer but after I hunted it a few times I watched the number of deer I was seeing drop and also watched whitetail deer “skirt” the stand despite the fact they didn’t act like they knew I was there. I was forced to move to another stand just about 300 yards away where I used a climbing deer stand.. It was also an “inside L”. An inside L is a topographical advantage located at a point in the timber where fields make a significant directional change often resembling the letter “L”. Lets say you have a square field surrounded by woods. The “inside L” would be located about 35 yards inside the woods from any of the fields corners. I began hunting the new “inside L” and came within minutes of a Boone and Crockett shot opportunity.

I didn’t want to blow the area up so after a hunt or two I moved into the swamp area of the farm to hunt a different area where I saw many good bucks but none I wanted to shoot after seeing the monster Boone and Crockett buck. (I was being gready.)

I began to reposition stands and move within the woodlot and swamp area of the 160 acres as if I were playing musical chairs making sure I was not over hunting one given area, unlike stand hopping where a hunter will give up on a whole area in a short time period. When you play musical chairs with whitetail deer hunting you commit to an area no larger than 200 acres and hunt several different stand sites until you run into the buck you seek without giving up on the farm due to a few bad hunts.

On November 21, 2007 I traveled to a climbing tree stand deep within the confines of an area on the farm that was near a bunch of fallen treetops where deer had been bedded up on the farm. I arrived at the location, hung my weapon, and began the waiting game. In less than an hour I harvested a 160 inch monster whitetail deer as the result of playing musical chairs.

The Waiting Game in Topographical Advantages

We have discussed that during the rut successful whitetail hunters identify and wait on trophy whitetail deer in topographical advantages as trophy whitetail bucks will chase does through these locations. These topographical advantages I have discovered as an outfitter over the past 13 years are some that have never been revealed before in the hunt industry. These can be seen with photos and descriptions in further detail in the new hunt product Advanced Deer Diary located for purchase at

Terrain Funnels: A terrain funnel occurs when some physical obstacle prevents deer from traveling through a certain area. For example. If you have a 80 acre tract of timber with a 20 acre pond on one end of it a hunter must realize that deer will move between the pond and the fencerow and field rather than swim the pond thereby creating a terrain funnel. Another example is if you look at an aerial photograph and at first glace it looks as if the farm is all timber you might find a 90 degree ridge that forces animals to move at the ridges top or bottom due to the angle of the ridge. One example of this was a tract of ground I hunted in Pike County, Illinois where a field laid at the bottom of the ridge. Between the ridge foot and the field edge was 30 yards of level ground. Whitetails were forced to travel between the bottom of the ridge and the open field. In this location any hunter could shoot at a trophy whitetail during the rut on any given day. High tight fences, lakes, ponds, steep ridges, or other obstacles create terrain funnels which will go unnoticed by the naked eye when looking solely at an aerial photograph.
Funnels: Funnels are natural or man made pieces of timber that are shaped like a funnel or bottleneck coming from or stemming from a larger tract of timber into another piece of timber. In these areas of small width one can place a stand and also ambush trophy whitetail deer during the rut.
Spiderwebs: A spiderweb occurs where two or more dense ditches or fence rows intersect. The more ditches that intersect, the more likely you are to intercept deer travel. Think of this. You would see more cars travel an area where 5 streets meet at one spot than just one street. By sitting where several dense ditches meet at one location you can cover many different whitetail travel corridors at the same time. This is my personal favorite topographical advantage for the harvest of trophy whitetails. They may appear on an aerial as almost looking like a triple or quadruple funnel. A good spiderweb will need to contain sufficient cover so whitetails will travel it frequently.
Logging Roads: A logging road is the location where farmers have cut a path through the timber to reach a field with tractors or a logger has made a road in the timber to remove logs. Deer are lazy when unpressured regarding travel routes. Therefore log roads often times serve as the main stream runway in which whitetail deer travel, leave scrapes for checking during the rut, and make rubs. Most often times a good log road is the key to your success on whietail deer hunting.
Draws: Small draws often times go overlooked especially in States like Illinois, and Iowa. A small 2 acre draw will often be the place the biggest deer in the county in bedded up as nobody wants to hunt them. These draws are locations where trophy whitetails can bed down and watch for a distance to detect oncoming predators and elude death. Draws should normally be hunted in the morning as during the evening the buck will see you coming into the draw for the hunt. Look for draws that on an aerial map that are isolated and placed you would never hunt. The big boys lay up here…………guaranteed.
Inside L’s: The inside L occurs at a point in the timber where fields make a significant directional change often resembling the letter L. They are found inside the square corner of a field’s edge us just inside the timber. Big whitetail bucks will skirt the field using these inside L’s.
Field Corners: Corners of fields are the locations where 90% of the time deer will enter. Think about it this way. If you were to enter a field and enter from the corner you could look at the whole field before stepping out into it. If you were to enter along the side of the field you would have to look both ways before crossing the street as to speak.
Low Spots: Low spots are hot and often times go undetected. When a field dips or decreases in elevation deer will feed here because they can’t be seen from level ground. Find the low spots in the field and you will see the most deer damage to crops as this is the place deer feed in the field and remain unseen. I have harvested many large whitetail bucks on low spots in agricultural fields.
Fencerows: To the East Coast hunter or big timber State hunter a fencerow may not make any sense however in the Midwestern States like Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri fencerows often serves as a travel corridor as most fencerows hold brush and foliage giving whitetails a travel route to cross an open field and remain undetected at least on one side of the fencerow. Fencerows in Illinois and Iowa especially make much sense.

While many other types of topographical advantages exist these are the primary ones I would focus on. Learning to read aerials is the key to discovering whitetail travel routes, as well as the key to your success during the rut. Learn them, study them, employ tactic surrounding them, and you will put trophy whitetail deer on the wall without doubt.

Darrin Bradley

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