Traditional rut hunting advice can typically be broken down into two game plans: Either you use the terrain to ambush a cruising buck, or you set up downwind of the does and wait. There’s nothing wrong with either of these strategies, but you must understand why deer are where they are right now—or at least where they should be—to capitalize on the breeding season.
This is where e-scouting for the rut comes into play. Sure, you can scour satellite imagery for pinch points and funnels or make educated guesses about locations most likely to host some bedded doe groups. But a big mistake a lot of us make while going this route is that we narrow our focus to only the land we can hunt. If you’re the title holder to 1,000 acres of primo deer ground this isn’t much of an issue, but it is if you hunt smaller parcels. Even if you hunt huge tracts of public land, this style of connect-the-dots scouting is valuable.
Point A to Point B The easiest way to start the process of e-scouting for a perfect rut spot is to think of deer travel as a point-to-point process. The “points” could be anything from patches of cover on your own ground to large blocks of timber on the neighboring properties. Scroll across the land and ask yourself how these spots are connected and what connects them.
You’re not looking for the exact stand spot that will put you within 20 yards of cruising bucks (yet). You’re looking for strips of cover, brushy fencelines, and tree rows that will allow bucks to go from one block of timber or patch of bedding cover to another—all while staying relatively hidden.
We all know bucks will light out across open pastures and cut cornfields when they are in the grips of the breeding season, but pressured bucks mostly won’t. They usually know every route they can take to stay hidden while efficiently covering ground in search of does in estrus.
While filming our One Week In November series this fall, this is the strategy I employed to kill a monster Minnesota eight-pointer. The buck, which you can watch meet his demise on the first episode of the series, was on a mission to cover ground along a wooded waterway. That natural travel corridor intersected with two more in the exact spot where my buddy and I hung the stand last August.
Those veins of cover connect bigger chunks of timber where we can hunt—and where we can’t. But bucks don’t pay much attention to "No Trespassing" signs, so we effectively set up in a hub that allows traveling bucks to go from parcel to parcel in a way that brought them through the property we could hunt. This was largely made possible by e-scouting.
The Finer Details It’s not enough to just scroll over your deer ground to identify these connecting patches of cover. That’s a start, but you also have to fine-tune them. I usually have my onXmaps set to hybrid mode for this reason. I want to see the land as it looks in satellite imagery, but also have the topo overlay so I can start pinning down the potential stand sites that so often depend on slight elevation changes.
As you zoom over these spots, think not only about why the deer would go from Point A to Point B, but when they’d do it and in what conditions they’d be most likely to take those routes. The buck I referenced earlier was trotting along the upwind side of a wooded strip that bisects a cornfield, but what he was really homed in on was the prospect of a doe bedding in that cover. He could cruise that strip with the wind working for him while trotting to another vein of cover that would offer the same advantage along a different route. This is an effective way for a deer to find opportunities to pass on his genes, and it's something every rut hunter can use to identify high-odds ambush sites.
The point here is to ditch the notion that rut travel is random, because usually it isn't. You can call some of your shots by just e-scouting for these spots, but it’s better to factor in expected conditions and exactly how you anticipate bucks might use them to travel. It’s also worth trying to find locations like these that might feed bucks to you. Instead of a single strip of cover, one that breaks out into a peace-sign or turkey-foot pattern is even better.
You want to read the terrain via satellite imagery to pick out the spots that should host cruising bucks no matter where their travel originates from or takes them to. This big-picture e-scouting style will show you those likely areas, but then you have to distill them down to specific stand sites and the most huntable conditions.
Check enough of those boxes and you’re pretty likely to witness some all-day rut action.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.