Deer Hunting the Rut
No matter how much I preach in the whitetail articles I present on our website, about how effective whitetail hunters can be at any time of the year if they understand how whitetail deer behave, secretly all of us await whitetail deer hunting during the rut as if we were kids on Christmas Eve. We can help it. Let’s face it, as all of us as whitetail enthusiasts learn to improve our skills as whitetail hunters so that we can hunt whitetail deer infectively throughout the entire season, we know what the rut brings with it. Deer hunting the rut of whitetail deer is action packed and full of promise for even those of us that are novice whitetail deer hunters. When hunters pursue whitetail deer during the rut the truth is like Forrest Gump said, “Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” Oh yes its true just being in the woods during mating season of the whitetail deer can make a zero into a hero in a matter of seconds. The simple fact that big whitetail bucks roam carelessly and relentlessly all times of the day in search of hot doe’s makes them ever so vulnerable. As a whitetail deer outfitter for 13 years I have watched deer hunting the rut in my camps bring nothing short pure magic, success, and smiles to the grimmest of faces. It’s just that time of year when huge monster whitetail bucks almost seemingly go into a trance and forsake all of their defensive instincts against both predators and whitetail deer hunters. It is during this time of the year that anything can happen to anybody.
Many years ago a hunter attended one of our camps in pike county Illinois. It was the peak of the rut. While deer hunting the rut I was guiding a young man who knew little or nothing about whitetail deer hunting. In high school this would have been the young man the bullies picked on during gym class. He was over educated, wore thick glasses, was meek in appearance, and literally found himself in a whitetail camp and wherein we would have voted him least likely to succeed. The first morning I walked him to the tree stand I almost felt sorry for him. He was a mouse among giants. When I picked him up at 11:00 AM he met me with eight cold stare and stated, “I saw a pretty good buck but I did know if I should shoot it.” After quizzing him for several minutes it was evident he had allowed a Boone and Crockett whitetail buck to walk right past his treestand. He just couldn’t figure out if it was big enough. We return to the lodge for lunch, and once again as I had done during the orientation when he arrived I began to teach and how to field judge whitetail deer. He requested to return to the same tree stand that evening which I was more than happy to escort him to. At dark I return to pick them up, and found him standing by the road with a smile on his face. This smile was not one of pure happiness. This smile also held the look of anxiety. He told me he had killed a buck, but he just didn’t know if it was big enough. Quickly he spoke about three big bucks that came within bow range of his tree stand. All three bucks were chasing a hot doe in estrus than the fist and for over 15 minutes relentlessly. He even confess while trying to get a shot he literally got wrapped up in his safety harness as he tried to negotiate moving around the stand trying to get a shot. Of course we all know that if he was not deer hunting during the rut the bucks would have detected him and rendering him without a shot. As I walk down to his hunting location and peered into the timber I could see a huge buck that scored 168 inches lying dead. I became excited. I explained to him he had killed a great deer. We shook hands. We hugged. We celebrated his success.
We loaded the huge buck into my truck and returned to the hunt lodge. The mouse quickly became the hero among giants when we returned. All the hunters came out to view the magnificent animal, and he returned home a proud man with the buck of a lifetime in the 20 hour time span. The results of deer hunting the rut. While I enjoy hunting all year long for whitetail deer many whitetail deer hunters are simply hooked on rut dates for hunting whitetail deer. Why? Because they know anything can happen in a New York second. During the rut, all bucks, big and small, will become much more active at the hours of day and night, which undoubtedly increases your chances of encountering that dream buck when he makes a mistake. In fact, most successful hunters end up harvesting a trophy because they somehow found themselves in a position to take advantage of a big bucks mishap. That is why an intelligent approach to hunting the rut would involve learning and knowing what the signs are when the rut begins and how to benefit from the careless behaviors of the quarry.
Over the course of this narrative we will not only share stories of success that are simply fun to read, but we must also learn to this narrative how to hunt the rut of whitetail deer. When must also examine trends of behavior that occur during this time. We will discuss to different stages of the rut of the whitetail deer. We will peer into the significance of rubs and scrapes and when they are defective to hunt over and when they are not. We’ll visit issues surrounding topagraphical advantages to increase your odds of success during the rut. In essence will try to cover everything involved in deer hunting during the rut of whitetail deer, colored by a few fun stories from IMB camps of past years. Let us dive into what most whitetail enthusiasts seem to be the most interest in due to its power packed action and success.
As with all the hunt stories I write I continued to stress that your success as a whitetail deer hunter is more dependent of your understanding of whitetail deer behavior then gimmicks, toys, or the latest hunting equipment to hit the market. You must understand whitetail deer behavior are you will be forced to rely on sheer luck. As a whitetail deer hunter I can tell you that the buck you harvest based upon knowledge and strategy that you have employed is more rewarding than the buck you kill based upon luck. You will feel more ownership an entitlement as a whitetail deer hunter when you truly begin to harvest trophy whitetail bucks because you understand them rather than just get lucky.
First you must understand there are different phases of the rut of whitetail deer. Let us visit these phases for it is important to be able to determine what phase you are hunting so that you can employ tactics that are successful.
While most hunters think that the rut is an event that only takes place a few days or weeks, a number of rut phases lead up and follow the actual rut, the peak rut. All of these phases involve sexual activity and are part of the rutting process. This process can take many months starting as early as October in some southern areas of North America and lasting well into February in some northern parts of North America.
The most important aspect to learn about the rut is the timing varies from area to area as well as from one year to another. In short there is not a set date when the rut starts and ends. If you heard or read, as I did, that the rut starts everywhere during the second week of November then you would be very wise to doubt that statement. Because it just doesn’t happen that way, at least not in my experience.
You should also be aware that much what is reported as fact is actually theory. We simply do not know all the answers about why whitetail deer do whatever it is they do or when they do it. I learned a long time ago to stop trying to figure out why whitetail deer behave like they do and just adjust my hunting techniques to meet their demands. For example, I was born and raised in a state of Missouri and have lived here for 25 years when my work force me to relocate within the state of Illinois. I was known am a small hometown a Missouri as s good deer hunter. The first couple years I lived within the state of Illinois I grew exhausted while in pursuit of trophy whitetail buck. The reason was because I have learned how to hunt deer in Missouri, and did understand that deer in Illinois move quite differently across a given piece of terrain. When I first moved to the state of Illinois I found myself hunting nightclub zones or places were big bucks would hang up just inside the fields edge of agricultural crops in the white oak timber. This was a huge mistake or strategy to employ when hunting in pike county Illinois. I quickly learned that because deer in Illinois had been hunted with shotguns only that the whitetail deer herd in pike county Illinois was not afraid of walking right into the middle of the field. I learned if I wanted be successful hunting whitetail deer in pike county Illinois that I could ambush for the biggest whitetail bucks on the sparsely covered waterways, ditches, fencelines, and low spots in the field. Remember were talking about adjusting to whitetail deer behavior instead of being stubborn and refusing to adjust to their movement when deer hunting the rut of whitetail deer. Don’t try to figure out why they have change behavior, rather change with them and you will see your success rates soar.
Generally speaking bucks are capable of reproduction the moment they shed their antler velvet. But the does are not ready at that time. We have identified many stages that lead up to the peak-rut, where most does are ready to be breed, or follow that period. Many whitetail deer biologists suggest anywhere from 2 to 6 stages of the whitetail deer rut, however the truth is that the species annual adaptations continue to revolve around the mating cycle throughout the year whether they be gearing up for the event out of instinct or consciously being sexually active in mid November under the tree stand you sit in. I do agree that definite stages are present however some stages of the rut seem to be overlooked due to all the generic writings being presented abroad, thus you will see more of a small book in this article rather than a short article.
PRE RUT - generally defined as the preparation for breeding phase, bucks actively travel their territory in search of doe groups and establish dominance or a pecking order within the herd. By late October, whitetails enter their pre-rut phase. This exercise serves to inventory and monitor resident females. Whitetail bucks systematically create perimeter rubs and scrapes, thereby leaving a physical indicator of their presence and stature. During the pre-rut, when bucks are beginning to rub to shed velvet, most of their activity will be in or near their core areas that contain bedding sites and late summer food sources of mast, berries, succulent grasses, clovers and agricultural crops. When deer hunting the rut scraping often begins at this time, especially if nighttime temperatures fall below 45 degrees. Most of the early scrapes are created by dominant bucks. Two to three weeks before the primary breeding phase bucks begin to travel their rub routes, making rubs and scrapes. Most of the scrapes at this time are still made by dominant bucks. While most scent marking activity occurs at night, bucks do travel their rub routes in cover during the day making rubs and scrapes. Rub routes generally lead from buck core areas in the evening, through doe use areas, to night time food sources, then back through doe use areas to buck core areas in the morning. Scrape activity usually peaks at the end of this phase. My studies show that bucks may travel to food sources in the early afternoon and stay there until late in the morning. During the full moon I often see bucks along their rub routes an hour or more before sunset. Some does may come into estrous and be bred during this phase. Because bucks are exerting dominance, they are extremely aggressive and will fight almost anything.
About two to four weeks after the Pre Rut the chasing phase begins. The mature bucks begin now to leave the buck groups and lead a life in solitude, beginning to follow the does around, chasing them. At about this time the does begins to produce pheromones as the estrus nears. It is believed that this pheromones advertising the estrus cycle causes bucks to produce more male hormones. At first bucks follow the does in some distance, shadowing the does. While there may be several bucks that follow a doe, it will be the dominant bucks that follow the doe at a close distance. As the doe nears her full estrus cycle the bucks chase becomes more intensified.
First of all, big bucks are still residing within their core areas during the pre-breeding period. Second, bucks relate very strongly to rub lines and scrapes at this time of year. And last, bucks become much more daylight active in the days leading up to the rut. The benefits that hunters can realize from the aforementioned buck behavior traits should be obvious when deer hunting the rut. To begin with, you can rest assured that a big buck you've targeted hasn't yet wandered away from his home turf in search of receptive does. What's more, the presence of rubs and scrapes can help you pinpoint exactly where big bucks prefer to walk when they travel about their home ranges. Most important, however, is the fact that a lot of this activity is going to occur during legal shooting hours.
This is a reason I like the Pre-rut phase the best. I enjoy putting the pieces of the puzzle together and patterning trophy whitetail bucks. Picking their sheds up in the winter months. Watching them throughout the summer months as they feed on agricultural crops. Figuring out where bed areas lie, and figuring out how the monster buck is making his way to and from bed areas and food sources. I would much rather kill 130 inch deer that I have patterned, then kill 170 inch deer I got lucky on. Perhaps the pride of life, or maybe the enjoyment of hunting. A trophy isn’t always measured by inches to me. Of course I have a standard (which is about 130 inches) but I like figuring out the puzzle of the pre rut hunt of whitetail bucks. Just about anybody that can sit in a tree stand can get lucky during the rut of whitetail deer, however it takes a real hunter to pattern trophy whitetail bucks. If you discovered the buck of a lifetime with trail cameras or any means of scouting during summer months you need to pursue them before the rut begins as it is a scientific fact that a whitetail buck may travel up to 9 miles a day during the rut of the whitetail deer. Thus the buck you saw late-summer and early October may end up miles away by the time the rut begins.
But these aren't the only reasons why I so love to hunt for big bucks during the pre-breeding phase. In truth, a big reason why I prefer to hunt at this time is that one of my favorite strategies becomes quite effective. That strategy is calling. At no other time during the season are mature bucks so likely to respond positively to calling. In my book, there's nothing that quite compares to the thrill of using rattling antlers and/or grunt calls to successfully dupe a big buck. It's a fact that mature bucks become more visible and much more aggressive during the final days of the pre-breeding phase. However, this doesn't mean that you can set up just anywhere in the woods and call in a trophy. The single biggest factor for achieving positive response rates to your calling efforts involves the location of your setups. Big bucks will respond positively to rattling and/or grunting only if the sounds are coming from a spot they feel 100 percent comfortable approaching, with that location being most often times a part of their territory. Oh yes there is a perimeter that if you breach appropriately you can make the buck curious or mad enough to respond.
Actually, it's not all that difficult to find big-buck "comfort zones." Rub lines and scrape areas are two perfect examples. For that matter, any spot that harbors a concentration of big buck sign could be considered a comfort zone. Remember that big bucks won't make repeated visits to a spot unless they feel absolutely safe doing so. Also note that when you breach the guts of these zones that if you aren’t careful you will run him out of the country. Too many shooting lanes, too many hunts, or too many visits to and from a trail camera can ruin one of these comfort zones very quickly. Believe me as I have done so when deer hunting the rut of whitetail deer.
Peak-rut – commonly understood as the most concentrated breeding phase, smart whitetail deer hunters capitalize on mid-day movement at this time, or really just maximize every minute they have to hunt. You can’t hunt enough during this time period. If afforded the luxury I certainly do not understand why any physically able bodied person would not hunt all day in topographical advantages. Deer hunting the rut for trophy bucks during this phase will mean they will be on the move all day long, in constant search for hot does. By the first week of November, bucks are getting worked up and will travel throughout their territory to inspect each doe for breeding readiness. In my experience, the majority of does go into estrus during a 48 to 72 hour period. In the Midwestern United States, where I do most of my whitetail deer hunting, this peak period occurs between November 5th and 20th. During this time, bucks will literally travel around the clock. This is a natural process you can count on year after year. In general, the latter three weeks of November are prime times to go in search of bucks moving during mid-day hours. They’ll often be less wary and extremely goal oriented. Once the does come into estrous the bucks will travel during all hours of the day in search of them. The bucks may stop traveling their rub routes, and follow doe trails instead. Hunting does during this time period will normally result in a trophy buck harvest. It literally seems like yesterday when I lacked whitetail skills and solely relied upon deer hunting the rut to kill a trophy whitetail buck. Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe I just like a good challenge, but I really do prefer pre rut hunting vs. peak of the rut whitetail deer hunting.
In those areas with a well-defined rut, the chase phase occurs at the tag end of the scraping period and just prior to the first wave of does entering estrus. The bucks have worked themselves into a frenzy by this time. They are primed and ready for action. To ensure that a doe has a buck already on the hook when she is ready to be bred, does begin to give off scent signals a day or two prior to actually entering estrus. These signals are picked up by the bucks, and the chase is on. Of course the doe is not ready to stand for the buck yet, so the doe has to stay on the move constantly. When you get multiple does in this condition in your hunting area, you are in for a real circus. When it comes to seeing numbers of deer, both bucks and does, no other time compares with the short, but intense chase phase of the rut.
Because the chase phase is short-lived, timing it is critical. Fortunately, predicting when the chase phase will occur is not difficult. The peak of the breeding period, which is a five-to-seven-day-long whitetail orgy during which about 70 percent of the does are bred, falls on about the same dates annually. Granted, the moon phase, the weather, herd condition and hunting pressure can all have an influence on the exact timing and the intensity of daytime movement during the breeding period, but the dates will not vary by more than a few days in either direction from year to year. Nearly all game and fish departments will be able to furnish you with the dates of the peak of the breeding period in the state you are hunting.
Once you know that the peak of the breeding period is from, let's say, November 5-20 in the state you are hunting, you can bet that the chase phase is going to occur sometime in the week prior to the beginning of the peak of breeding. In this case I would be looking for chase phase action between November 8-15. Don't expect the chase phase to last the entire eight days, however. A couple of days of nonstop chasing is more the norm, but the chase phase will occur sometime during this time period; the exact timing depending upon the dates of the peak of breeding for that year.
The chase phase is one of my favorite times to be in the woods. If you are in decent whitetail country, seeing deer is almost a sure thing. However, seeing deer is the easy part. Setting up so that one of those bucks saunters by within bow range is the frustrating part of hunting the chase phase. Whitetail deer are unpredictable critters most of the time anyway, but when you've got a bunch of sex-crazed bucks chasing unwilling, frightened does around, the unpredictability factor skyrockets. I don't have any sure cures, but here are some of the things that have worked for me.
One great strategy for hunting trophy deer during the rut is to always know where the does are. During the early stages of the season and pre-rut, don’t bother to consider where the bucks are. Just know where to find the does. It just stands to reason that that the bucks will now show up sooner than later. During the later stages of the rut and throughout the recovery period until the end of the season, once again concentrate only on the does. A late rutting buck will show up to harass the does still waiting to be bred or any fawns that have entered estrus.
Rubbing and scraping by dominants usually diminishes at this time because the bucks are searching for and breeding does. However, fresh rubs and scrapes may be created by subdominant bucks because the dominant bucks are more interested in does than making rubs and scrapes or exerting dominance over the subdominants. Although the full moon may not cause increased activity during peak breeding, daytime buck activity will be high as long as does remain in estrous. Generally there is above normal daytime activity during the two to three weeks when the does are in estrous, no matter what the moon phase is.
The estrus period, where a doe is most fertile, only lasts about 24 hours. The doe will now stand still for the buck rather than run away from him the moment he tries to come very close to her. She will now tolerate that the buck mounts her. After breeding the buck will stay with that doe throughout her estrus period before he goes off to find a new estrus doe, commonly referred to as “doe in heat”. Bucks breed several does in a very short time frame. Not all the does come in heat at exactly the same day.
The peak breeding period is by far the most popular among hunters when deer hunting the rut. It can also be the most frustrating. Big bucks have gone from being somewhat patternable homebodies to being totally unpredictable wanderers. Just about the time that we think we've got a mature buck figured out, he disappears - only to reappear several miles away the next day. In the state of Missouri during the 2009 archery season one of our hunters returned to the lodge after an evening hunt very excited. He had just missed a huge 8 point buck that was solely distinguishable by antler color, width, and more importantly a long kicker coming straight off his G1 that was about 6 inches long and stuck straight out. The very next day over 2 miles away, one of our other hunters reported missing the same exact animal. It was hard for me to believe until I got both hunter together to compare notes of their experience. (By the way that buck was never seen again all season long.) Therefore during the rut it is wise to hunt funnels or topographical advantages that lay routes for trophy bucks that may be coming to you from miles away chasing hot does. The stand that did not work yesterday can be the hottest stand in the timber on the very next day.
How the heck do you hunt an animal that behaves in such a way? To be quite honest, I pretty much give up on hunting for a particular big buck during the peak of the rut. Instead, I try to put myself in the best possible positions for ambushing any big whitetail buck. The best way I've found to accomplish this task is by focusing my hunting efforts around concentrations of antlerless deer. More specifically, I like set up close to doe/fawn bedding areas, near feeding areas and along the routes antlerless deer use when traveling back and forth between the two places. As a whitetail deer outfitter for 13 years in 5 States believe me that during the rut, most of the bucks our hunters kill, are bucks we haven’t ever seen before. I know it is crazy but it is true. The rut of the whitetail deer is just so unpredictable.
Over the past six years or so, I've dramatically increased the amount of time I spend hunting near open feeding areas during the peak breeding phase. I want to be quick to add, however, that I don't merely set up near just any feeding area and then hope for the best. I establish stand sites near the edges of those feeding areas that are playing host to the most antlerless deer feeding activity. During the rut you more likely to see monster bucks moving into a specific area for short period of time, and then they will exit to another farm many miles away. In 2001 I watched one of our hunters named Brent report the sightings of a Boone and Crockett buck he called whitey. This buck happen to be in Illinois. For three days in a row this buck would enter a small field and run hot doe’s up and down a shallow waterway. This ditch or waterway only had one tree big enough to hold a tree stand. It was here that we put a stand up for Brent on day two of his hunt. I will never forget the evening he hunted it as I watched him in a spotting scope from over 1000 yards away. Just as he claimed whitey paraded out to the waterway and literally defended a hot doe from other bucks all night long. The buck was never harvested during the 72 hours he was present on our property. Brett missed the huge whitetail buck while deer hunting the rut. The buck was never seen again.
There's another strategy I've personally found to be very effective during the peak breeding period. This strategy is sitting on stand sites located along parallel runways. Parallel runways can be found somewhere around the outside perimeter of feeding areas. Rutting bucks use parallel runways to scent-check crossing runways that antlerless deer use when traveling back and forth between feeding areas and bedding areas.
Here are a few tips on hunting the peak of the rut for whitetail deer. This isn't anything revolutionary. During the rut, bucks rarely cling to a regular travel pattern. They employ a highly effective system of covering ground, allowing them to check the greatest number of does efficiently. In doing so, they don't commonly cover the same ground two days in a row. Thus, the chances of the same buck busting a hunter and being there to do the same thing the next day are poor. Even if the buck is there, paired up with a doe, who knows how many "new" bucks will be in the area?
Waiting does keep the resident does ignorant. There is an advantage when hunting a doe trail or bedding area. On the flip side, with stands geared towards roaming bucks, such as funnels between doe groups, the benefit is minimal. In situations in which the hunter has a bunch of great stands, it may not be a bad idea to rotate during the rut. However, when one funnel stand is better than the rest, I believe the hunter is hampering himself by not hunting that stand hard.
The next scenario is when you can get in and out undetected. Though it may not appear so, that was the case with the food plot stand I described at the beginning of this piece. My stand was at the end of the plot, so all I had to do was walk a vehicle trail to the edge of the plot where my stand was hung. The trick was waiting until the area cleared of deer. Once that happened, making a hasty retreat got me out undetected. To further make certain the deer remained ignorant, I wore Elimitrax. Doing so ensured that I left no foreign odors on the ground or vegetation.
In this case, it is very important not to get busted in the stand. One must be extremely conscious of wind direction and excessive movement. Next, the hunter must get in and out undetected. As importantly, he must not leave odors behind that educate deer to his presence. I firmly believe deer become aware of hunters from the odors we leave behind more than any other single factor. In most cases, repeatedly hunting a stand requires a hunter to take extreme odor-reduction steps and/or not cross trails. The only ways I have been able to consistently pull that off is to either wear Elimitrax or to spray down rubber boots with scent neutralizer and apply straight doe urine to boot pads.
As much as we've been taught that overhunting a stand is a sin, I am not the only one to come to the belief that repeatedly hunting stands can be beneficial.
There is one other scenario in which pounding a stand site can work, but it certainly won't work everywhere. Deer have the ability to adapt to humans. This can plainly be seen with urban deer, in many heavily farmed areas, and in other settings where human presence is a constant. With repeated exposure to humans, deer (assuming they are not harmed) become tolerant of, even seemingly oblivious to, humans. In these settings, a stand can be hunted as often as one desires.
Harem Phase of the rut is where bucks are locked down with does in an effort to protect the doe they have found and ready to breed. This phase of the rut can be referred to as the lock down mode or lock down phase of the rut. Although this phase of the rut is rarely mentioned in any educational material available to the whitetail hunter it indeed exists in the real world of the whitetail buck. There is a minority period of time during the rut of the whitetail deer wherein some bucks will become satisfied with a particular doe or harem of does and guard them like a sentinel. This normally happens in states or areas where buck to doe ratios are very high. A simple fact is where there are too many doe’s available to a whitetail buck he simply doesn’t have to go look for them once he has found them. I have literally watched while deer hunting during the rut of whitetail deer and seen monster bucks herd doe’s into an island timber or brush pile and keep them there for hours. The buck will stand up and force the doe or group of doe’s to refrain from moving about the woods until he is good and ready. This lockdown mode can be avoided is successful efforts are made to harvest huge numbers of doe’s in a given area. This is achieved by successful conservation laws, or a quality deer management program agreed upon by a multitude of hunters in a given area.
Second rut – this is the time phase of deer hunting the rut of whitetail deer following the first estrus, in which bucks are still traveling in search of unbred does. Hunting pressure and buck to doe ratios play a big role in determining your strategy at this time of year. Although still vulnerable to the rut trap, the Second rut is the time wherein any doe that isn’t bred during the first rut comes back into heat 30-40 days after the peak rut time period of whitetail deer. Approximately a month after the primary breeding phase unbred older does come into a second estrous; and some older, and 1.5 year old does come into their first estrous. Dominant and subdominant bucks often travel their rub routes, making rubs and scrapes, and visit doe use and feeding areas in their search for receptive does. Daytime activity may occur from two to three hours before sunset to an hour after, and from an hour before sunrise to three to four hours after, especially when the weather is colder than normal and there is cloud cover. I often see dominant and subdominant bucks with the does as they travel to and from food sources when deer hunting the rut, especially during the week of the full moon.
Call me crazy, but I actually enjoy hunting for big bucks during the post-breeding phase. Why? Well, to begin with, I seldom have to worry about interference from other hunters. But even more importantly, I know that the big bucks I hunted earlier in the season will have returned to their home ranges. And they will be utilizing the same food sources and traveling along the same corridors that they used during the pre-breeding phase. A couple of things will have changed, however. Big bucks are not going to be anywhere near as daylight-active now as they were during the pre-breeding phase. Nor are they going to be laying down the amount of fresh sign they did a few weeks earlier. I guess it would be accurate to say that mature bucks become a bit reclusive once the rut is over.
Obviously, it takes a special approach to score on big bucks at this time of year. Yes, setting up along rub lines and near scrape areas is your best bet. However, it's imperative that your setups be located almost within sight of buck bedding areas and feeding areas. Post-rut bucks are notorious for waiting until the last light of afternoon before slipping out of their bedding areas. And they will be easing back to their bedding areas at first light in the morning. I've had fairly good success during the post-breeding phase by setting up along rub lines that were "hot" during the pre-breeding phase. What I like to do is place my stands as close as possible to bedding areas. I'll then sit on these stands a few times in hopes that I'll catch a big buck moving around on his own.
The second rut stage does not usually provide as much heavy activity as the first. However, there will be some, and the bucks will again be searching for and finding these estrus does. The hunter needs to be alert and aware of these changing conditions. The bucks have had some time to regain strength and energy. They have been resting and feeding heavily for several weeks. The bucks will again be on foot searching for the late season estrus does. The sightings will begin to increase for a second time. This secondary rut stage can be hunted, often as effectively, as the first stages of the rutting period. There will be fewer does in estrus, but any remaining bucks that were not previously harvested will be active. Good observation skills will keep the hunter aware of increased activity. When it comes to deer hunting, the hunter should locate current doe feeding, traveling, and bedding areas and set up accordingly. The bucks will be traveling and monitoring these areas in search of the remaining estrus does. Pay attention to deer movement and be willing to adjust if need be. The hunter needs to stay active as the second rut stage can be productive and offers another late season chance for success. Stay focused, hunt hard, and make the best of the remaining rutting period.
I can say that I had truly ever seen the fast paced chases of doe’s during the second rut which are normally witnessed during the first. However normally what will occur during the second rut is the increased buck activity in the form of following. Thus during the second rut we place our whitetail deer hunters on food sources and hunt doe’s over food plots and agricultural crops. What normally occurs is that vast numbers of whitetail doe’s will emerge from the bed area or wood lot into a food source, and then minutes later numerous bucks will follow. Feeding will go on for a few minutes and then small chases will occur about the food source. You can bet that during the second rut while bed areas are important that you must know where your for food sources are. The educated whitetail deer hunter will revert back to his early season deer hunting tactics when deer hunting the rut during its second phase.
Dr. David Samuel who hunts with IMB Outfitters every year may possibly be the most knowledgeable whitetail hunter to grace paper with a pen. Last year Dr. Dave took a monster buck with us here at IMB, and he continue to pursue the whitetail deer like a wild man even in his senior years. Samuel’s feelings on the second rut of the whitetail deer are as follows:
Ten years ago while attending the spring West Virginia Bowhunters banquet weekend, I had the opportunity to visit with a young Ohio bowhunter and view his super near Boone and Crockett buck. What was so unique about this buck, other than it was enviously huge? It was shot the last day in January, the last day of the Ohio bow season, AND it was shot over a scrape. Yep, this big buck was still scent checking scrapes in late January.
As we all know, the peak of the rut, the time when most does get bred, is in mid-November. Twenty-six days later, there should be that second rut, where all the does not already bred, come back into estrus. In addition, especially in farm country, as many as one-fourth of all female fawns will also come into estrus in the second rut. So, it is obvious that during the second rut there is major buck hysteria. Right? Well, not really. True, all does not bred in one cycle will come into estrus in December as will some female fawns. But, from my experience there aren't too many of those unbred does nor young female fawns in estrus out there and that second rut is a bit of a bust, compared to the November rut. True, I remember Roger Rothhaar telling the story of seeing eight bucks near or on one scrape in one morning near Christmas one year in Ohio. (Must have been one hot doe in the area). Obviously there will be some buck rutting behavior in December, and in some local areas you might even get a fair amount of rubbing, scraping, and chasing. But in general, that so-called "second rut" is pretty quiet.
What do we know about deer, bucks in particular, during December? First, we know that the bucks are worn out from November chasing. They will need to replenish their bodies before heavy winter hits. Second, we know that there are a lot fewer does alive in the woods. Hunting season has taken a major toll on does. We also know though, that if a doe comes into estrus, bucks will find and chase them...no matter how tired they may be from the peak rut. This then leads to one major hunting strategy for the second rut...find the does.
There are two major strategies for finding does at this time of the year. First...does will be bedding in the thickest cover around, especially after the deer gun season. Denny Crabtree and I have a hunting lease on some Meade Paper Company land in Ohio. In the very heart of that lease is a 40-acre pine plantation, now so thick you can't walk in it. It is a major bedding area, even more so as winter approaches. The does are there and this means the bucks are there too. The second strategy for finding does, and thus bucks, is to find the food. Although deer metabolism slows in the winter, food is still key for bucks and does. In fact, food just might be the most important thing to bucks at this time in December.
The big advantage for you will be to find those bedding and feeding areas. Any does coming into estrus will be feeding there, as will the bucks. These feed sources could be alfalfa, standing corn, winter wheat, rape, unpicked soy beans (great, especially when you get snow cover), honeysuckle (especially further south), and even acorns. Do some scouting with your spotting scope, check out likely fields just at dusk. Set up on trails between the bedding and feeding areas, just as you did in the pre-rut period, and your chance for success will increase. I love to set up in woody, brushy draws, especially the narrow ones that come off the bedding areas. If you find a hot scrape in such an area, hunt it. If it gets cold, leave it. Remember, there just aren't that many does coming into estrus at this time, but there are some. Of course, there aren't as many big bucks left after the peak rut, but there are some...and you only need one!!!