We’ve all been there: The rut is in full swing, yet mature buck encounters are slim to none. You’ve sat your best bedding areas, transition zones, and destination food sources, but the woods have been quiet. If this sounds all too familiar, it might be time to think outside the box and leave no stone unturned.
In-Season Scouting When your tried-and-true setups aren’t producing, gathering fresh, real-time, intel can help you put the pieces together. Sure, you might spook a deer or two, but it can be a risk worth taking when the going gets rough. Check out that new area you scouted in the spring but have never hunted. Look in a corner of your favorite property where you often don’t venture. Drive around one evening and see if you can find a hot food source that isn’t getting pressured. You might be greeted with deer sign so fresh that you’d be a fool not to throw a hunt at it.
This can be invaluable when hunting heavily pressured ground. Sometimes all it takes is studying public hunting pressure and focusing on areas where other hunters are not. By now, public land deer have been hunted for a month or two. They’ve certainly noticed an influx of human disturbance and are taking refuge where humans are not—and that’s where the rut will be rocking.
Sleeping In Everybody knows that more time in the stand means more opportunity to catch a cruising buck. Missing a prime morning hunt seems taboo, but if you continually find yourself back at the truck at midday, you’re missing out. Sitting in a stand all day is difficult, no doubt about it. You’re running low on sleep, your toes are cold, you’re bored, you haven’t seen a deer in hours, and your football team plays at noon. This combination has most hunters packing up and heading for the truck, giving deer a free pass to move around in broad daylight.
If you simply can’t pull off an all day sit, sleep in. Instead of a morning and evening hunt, try a mid-day hunt. Deer movement from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. might surprise you. By dodging the coldest hours of the day, your odds of lasting longer and staying focused increase dramatically.
This tactic has paid off for me twice in the last five years, with a couple mature bucks to show for it. One particular hunt, the temps were in the single digits and my commute to the stand added another hour of exposure to the cold. Trail camera pictures and past hunts told me that this stand location saw increased deer movement around 10:00 a.m. anyways, so I elected to get extra sleep and be on the top of my game for a mid-day hunt. The decision paid off when a stud 9-point pushed does right past my stand, at 12:45 p.m. I probably wouldn’t have been there if my hunt started at 6 a.m. instead of 9 a.m.
Another example was a hunt where a front was moving through and changing the wind direction. I could’ve sat 90 minutes with the wrong wind direction, hunted a different stand at first light and moved when the wind switched, or waited for the front to pass before entering the woods. I chose option three.
Once again, I found myself in the stand well after sunrise, but with intentions of sitting until dark. At 3 p.m. a parade of bucks passed through my shooting lane, the best of which was a 160-inch whitetail that’s now on my wall.
Hunting Water Hunting water sources is a popular tactic in early and late season, but is overlooked by most hunters during the rut. Think of it this way: Deer are exerting an insane amount of energy throughout the rut and need water now more than ever. Does are getting pushed around all day and bucks are on their feet nearly 24/7 in search of a receptive female. I get thirsty just thinking about all of the country they cover in a given day.
Not all water sources are conducive for a rut hunt, though. You’ll want to select a water source that checks multiple boxes in order for this tactic to work. The water source should be isolated, meaning that there aren’t abundant water sources in the area; the closer it is to thick cover the better.
Mature bucks aren’t often going to expose themselves in the middle of an open pasture to get a drink. If the pond, slough, or creek crossing is also located close to a bedding area or pinch point, the drawing power is amplified even greater. Bucks won’t go out of their way to grab a drink, but if it’s conveniently in route, the odds of stopping by for a sip increase greatly.
K.I.S.S. Mark Kenyon often preaches K.I.S.S. during the whitetail rut: Keep it simple, stupid. It’s true, your focus should be on all of the textbook spots that narrow travel and hold does. But when that’s not working, toss out the book and try these unconventional tactics instead.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.