The rut can be the great equalizer. Sometimes it’s as simple as spending more time in the field to get more deer on the ground. Sometimes it’s not.
But it doesn’t have to be “hunt smarter, not harder.” You can do both. For me, that means sitting all day, but not in the same spots that I’d typically hunt in the morning or evening. If you’re in the wrong place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., you’ll be in for a long, exhausting day. If you’re in the right stand, it can mean a midday cruising buck walks right into your lap. Here are some of my favorite areas to focus on for midday sets.
In order to kill a buck in the middle of the day, you first need to understand what bucks are doing during the rut. While does are comfy in their preferred bedding areas, bucks are filled with testosterone and cruising around looking for a receptive female. Mature bucks know where their local does like to bed and will check every nook and cranny until they find their next partner.
With this information in mind, hunting known bedding locations is a no-brainer. Bedding areas come in many shapes and sizes, but as a general rule of thumb, bedding areas are small, isolated spots with the best available ground cover. Deer will naturally choose a bedding location where they feel safe, which is often a remote place with their back to the wind. Deer also prefer bedding areas with a good vantage point from which they can see any approaching danger.
When hunting these bedding areas, a good starting point is to focus on the downwind side or trails to and from the bedding area. When a buck inspects a bedding area for does, he is more likely to skirt the to the downwind side. This effectively allows him to scent check without the need to grid the area to locate does visually. If you cannot pinpoint the deer’s likely entry route, simply set up on the downwind side with the wind in your face.
During the seeking and chasing phase of the rut, bucks will be on their feet and covering ground nearly all day. As mentioned above, bucks will seek out any areas where bedded does are likely. This makes travel corridors around bedding areas very productive.
Even if you aren’t sure where deer might be bedding, locating travel corridors can be as simple as finding pinch points and terrain features that will dictate buck movement. Bucks will cover lots of ground, so finding funnels that concentrate a deer’s path of travel will dramatically increase your odds of interception.
Like beds, funnels come in many shapes and sizes, such as drainage ditches, ridge lines, cliffs, downed timber, bodies of water, swamps, dense brush, meadows, or even human structures such as roads or developments. After identifying these places that deer are likely to skirt, you’ve successfully eliminated pieces from the puzzle. Find the easiest route from Point A to Point B, and you’ve likely found an efficient travel corridor for rutting bucks.
Fresh sign in the area is a bonus feature. Although rubs and scrapes aren’t super active during peak rut, they will indicate places bucks were previously traveling at night. It’s not uncommon for nocturnal patterns to become daylight patterns in November.
Water can serve multiple purposes during the rut. During this period of high exertion, water will have increased drawing power (especially during a warm November like 2020 is shaping up to be). Aside from being essential to life, water can also create funnels, sanctuaries, and provide heavy bedding cover in close proximity.
When considering this midday tactic, beware that not all water sources are created equal. There are a few criteria that the ideal mid-day watering hole will meet. Of high importance is that the water source is located in an area with low visibility where bucks will feel safe moving during daylight hours. If this water source is near a travel corridor, good bedding, or good food, the productivity will go way up. During the rut, a mature buck is not likely to go completely out of his way to drink, but if the water is convenient and on the route, it can be nearly irresistible at midday.
Make the most of the whitetail rut by grinding it out and capitalizing on lunchtime movement. Hunt harder and hunt smarter by focusing on these three areas at midday. The punched tags are worth it.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.