Whitetail hunters live for the November rut. It’s what we dream of all year. But sometimes the reality of the rut falls short of expectations. When that happens, it’s easy for panic to set in. The remedy? Go back to the basics.

In my mind, there are four key principles that will always keep you in the action this time of year. These are my rules for the whitetail rut.

Find the Does
The reason the whitetail rut is so exciting is because, for a few short weeks each year, bucks lose their minds while searching for females to breed. If bucks are looking for does, you should be too. When the going gets tough, you can’t go wrong hunting close to known doe hot spots.

In the mornings and midday this means doe bedding areas (ie. brushy cover, edges of swamps, ridges). In the afternoon it means popular food sources. Getting set up downwind of any of these locations will put you in the best position to intercept bucks scent-checking the area.

Hunt the Funnels
With bucks on their feet all day searching for does, another tried-and-true rut tactic is to hunt areas where terrain or cover pinches buck travel down into predictable locations. Bucks prefer to travel within some kind of cover, but will also take the path of least resistance.

This means narrow strips of woods in between fields, low spots in ridge lines, high ground corridors cutting across swamps, or brushy draws in the middle of open country can all funnel buck movement in November. Find a travel corridor like this, set up downwind of the predicted travel route, and wait.

Be There
As cliché as it’s become, few things are more true than the importance of simply being in the woods this time of year. Anything is possible now, so you’ve got to be out there. But this is easier said than done. Everyone knows you need serious tree time in November, but few actually stick it out. Day after day of long, cold treestand vigils can quickly wear on a hunter. Good things come to those who grind it out. Pack snacks, wear warm clothes, read an e-book if you have to. Just be out there.

Be Positive
Being in the tree is only half the battle, though. Handling those long days and the inevitable tough times is another story. As soon as you let fatigue or discouragement ruin your attitude, focus is the first thing to go. And when you lose focus, you lose opportunities. When hope wavers, so does your ability to hunt at your highest ability.

Keep the faith, stay positive, and be ready. The rut only comes once a year.

Feature image via Matt Hansen.