If you’re living vicariously through hunting industry folks to get your deer info, you’re in trouble. I know that probably sounds crazy coming from a guy who is in the hunting industry, but hear me out. The worst thing most hunters can do is adopt belief systems that shortcut their critical thinking skills.
This goes for most of life, actually, but is most applicable here with whitetail hunters. The set-in-stone beliefs, the always and never statements, and the truth as you know it has to be yours. And it has to be catered to your individual experience, style, and hunting spots. Otherwise you might be held back by something someone else holds true to their deer hunting heart, but that has no bearing on your world.
There are plenty of these whitetail truths floating around in the hunt-sphere that can damage any one of us, but three stand out to me. The first involves general big buck behavior.
Prime-age bucks outweigh the rest of the deer in the herd. They are stronger and have the best weapons on their heads (which they aren’t afraid to use). Physically, they dominate. This means they get the best bedding sites because who is going to kick them out? Nature lives in hierarchies, and the top of the whitetail food chain definitely has its survival perks.
If you get to hole up in the most advantageous bedding spots, you’re less likely to get killed. The smaller bucks and the doe groups will take the lesser locations, and they often let the big boys know that trouble is coming. Mature bucks don’t get those lesser spots because they’re smarter than the other deer. They get the prize locations through the threat of force, and if they weren’t there, someone else would fill that spot up in a second.
If you believe that big bucks are vastly different from other deer, you’re at a disadvantage. They have the same needs as a forky, they just have better life options than a scrapper buck. They aren’t wildly smarter or more cagey than your average mature doe, they are just largely loners who have the luxury of thinking only about themselves. They are special because they are rare, not because they are totally different from other deer. Remember that when you target them.
My sister-in-law is big into astrology. She believes crystals have healing power. Some of her beliefs would sound super silly to whitetail hunters, except we have our own problems. Take moon phase, for example. Some hunters buy into the moon’s effects on deer movement to the point where they plan hunts around certain phases.
Listen, that big chunk of rock sitting some 260,000 miles away from Earth is responsible for tides, possibly werewolves, and a host of other things on our planet. But it won’t make or break your season if you hunt when it’s full, or barely a fingernail. Just like with hot weather, wind, rain, warm or cold fronts, the deer have to deal with the moon every day.
They have to do daily deer stuff. Are you better off hunting with a new moon versus a full moon? Maybe. But what if that full moon also coincides with the first super cold front of late October? Which belief wins there? Don’t let moon phases, or most weather events, keep you from hunting. Get into the woods and figure out where the deer are now, and then shoot them.
Here’s the thing—the rut can be awesome. It’ll get bucks moving, and can provide some of the most action you’ll have all season. It’s the great equalizer out there, in the eyes of hunters. Even the most slack-jawed, low-mental-horsepower folks in our ranks have a chance in November. That’s a good thing.
The bad part is, the rut doesn’t make bucks as dumb as we’d like. They take far more risks with their lives in the rut than any other time of the season, but they don’t all suddenly abandon their core survival instincts. You still have to hunt them with some level of skill if you want consistent encounters.
Stand burnout can and does happen during the rut. Cruising, seemingly clueless bucks will bust you if you’re not careful. The promise of a hot doe can dull some of their abilities, but this is also highly dependent on how sensitive to pressure they were before the rut. Public land whitetails don’t suddenly forget they live in a predator-dense situation just because it’s the first week of November.
The rut is great, but if you believe it’s the answer to your deer hunting woes, I have bad news for you. You need to bring your A-game to the woods in November, too.
If you want to polish your skills as a whitetail hunter, check out these articles: How Spooked Is Too Spooked When It Comes To Mature Bucks, How To Troll For Whitetail Bucks, and How To Scout Terrain Features For Whitetails.