During the peak deer breeding period of the rut, hunters picture the woods and fields alive with big bucks letting their guards down and running helter-skelter, wildly chasing does. If ever there was a sure time to fill a tag, that would be the time.
|Bucks may not move as much early and late during the rut. Try hunting midday. Wear plenty of blaze orange hunting clothing. photo by G. Almy
But the reality rarely lives up to this fantasy. Unanticipated problems can occur that can dramatically reduce your chances of scoring if you don’t learn to adapt and meet the hunting challenges thrown at you.
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Here’s how to deal with seven rut snags you might encounter in the woods and fields this fall.
1. Unpredictable Buck Movement
The joy of early season deer hunting is that once you lock onto a bed-to-feed pattern, it’s usually consistent. In the rut, all that changes. Deer seem to be running everywhere in all directions. But the movement isn’t as totally chaotic at this time as it may seem.
Instead of bedding cover-to-feed routes, focus on doe family groups. Then pinpoint buck travel routes between those groups.
Extra Tip: Don’t necessarily look for the shortest trail possible between doe groups. Mature bucks will take longer, more circuitous routes if necessary to stay in low spots, ditches, hollows and thicker cover. They want to breed. But they also want to survive. Focus on those routes for a wall-hanger.
|Different family doe groups may come into heat at slightly different times. If no bucks are with the does you see, focus on another family group. photo by G. Almy
2. You’re Seeing Does, But No Bucks are With Them
Different doe groups cycle at slightly different times. Often those in higher elevations breed a bit earlier than does in flatlands. Bucks can tell by scent and body language which females are ready and ignore those that aren’t.
The solution to this snag: Move to a different part of your hunting territory or different property and try to locate a doe group that is cycling or just about ready to.
Extra Tip: Find does up during midday, pacing nervously and looking back with their tail crooked straight out or to the side. These are often signs of a female deer ready to breed.
3. Deer Scrapes Aren’t Producing
|Buck scrapes are better during pre-rut and post-rut, not during peak breeding. photo by G. Almy
The peak of the rut is not the best time to watch scrapes. These scent-infused “business cards” bucks leave are best hunted 7-14 days before peak rut. Once breeding begins, they aren’t used very often since bucks are with does. They won’t be hit hard again until 7-10 days after mating ends.
The best way to deal with this challenge is to change your timing. Hunt scrapes in early November, then again in late November and December, or about one month later than that if you hunt in south Texas or the Deep South.
Instead of hunting scrapes, find prime doe bedding cover nearby or active feeding areas.
Extra Tip: Try to locate a lone doe on the edge of this feeding area off to herself. She probably has a buck tending her or ready to, but hanging out in the nearest patch of thick brush until she’s ready. He could step out at any moment.
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4. Mornings and Evenings are Dead
Deer are charged with hormonal energy now that makes them move more than normal during midday and night. They’re often tired and resting at dawn and dusk. If the moon is full, that further pivots their activity to midday hours.
The solution is clear: bring food, drink and plan to hunt throughout the midday hours when most hunters are back at camp.
Extra Tip: Since deer aren’t moving as much early and late in the day, try conducting drives during this unconventional time for this tactic. Then do your stand hunting in a different area during midday hours.
5. Heat Wave Sets In
Hunters like to use this one as an excuse for not seeing deer. The fact is, though, breeding won’t stop when it’s hot. Some of the activity shifts to night time. But a lot of deer activity during hot spells simply moves to cooler areas.
Solution: Concentrate on high ridges, benches, areas near springs and creeks, as well as shaded evergreen thickets. All of these habitats stay a bit cooler--often by several degrees.
Extra Tip: A deer’s need for water increases during heat spells. Set up downwind near a secluded pond with cover or an isolated spring that other hunters don’t know about.
6. Blustery Winds
Heavy swirling winds make it hard for deer to use their senses. The cold can also chill them. They’ll often move to areas such as hollows, valleys and lee sides of hills and continue rut activity there.
Solution: focus on those areas on sides of hills that are protected from winds as well as coulees, valleys, and draws.
Extra Tip: Wind can be a help if you like still hunting. The moving branches and bushes make it harder for deer to see you sneaking stealthily along. Time your movements for when there’s a gust of wind that will blow branches around you.
7. Traditional Rut Rubs are Being Ignored
The most common type of rubs on 3-6 inch trees are made before the rut and are mostly ignored once chasing kicks in. Forget watching these typical rubs now.
Instead, key in on fresh “rut rubs.” These are different from normal rubs on larger trees. Here bucks thrash small saplings and bushes to a pulp as testosterone levels peak to impress the doe, release energy, and intimidate any other nearby potential suitors. During the rut, fresh individual rubs are more important since they pinpoint a buck’s current location with a hot doe.
Extra Tip: Find these near areas where a buck and doe have located an isolated pocket of cover and are hanging out to mate. If the rubs weren’t present a few days ago, this likely indicates there’s a breeding pair of deer nearby. Watch this spot from downwind and chances are good you’ll get a shot.