We look forward to the rut with endless optimism, hoping that this is the year that it brings us the buck of a lifetime. The beauty of the rut is that this kind of luck is never out of the question. Even in the grimmest hunting environments, bucks are chasing does somewhere. However, if this sort of luck never seems to roll your way, here are a few ways to improve your rut strategy.
It’s human nature to do things the way we’ve always done them. We often hunt the same stands every year, regardless of the outcome. So make this the year that you mix things up and try something new. If you’re struggling to see bucks on their feet, it’s time to pull the stakes and try throwing a hunt at a spot you’ve never hunted but always wondered about. You’re not seeing deer in your normal spots; what’s the worst thing that could happen?
For those of us hunting heavily pressured ground, you may have put in the work and found the best rut funnels in the county, only to have a group of other hunters show up and stake their claim first. The deer will quickly adapt and find sanctuary elsewhere, and so should you. If you’re not seeing consistent movement, or at the very least, signs of recent rutting activity, you’re probably not in the right spot. This is when it’s important to have a nice mobile hunting setup.
We all enjoy a good vista from our stand and the more ground we can cover with our eyeballs, the more deer we will theoretically see. However, the truth is that the majority of the rut happens in the thick stuff. Does take refuge within the timber and bucks take note.
Midday buck action happens in the timber as they seek out doe hidey-holes. By ditching the field edge setups and getting within the timber, you’ll likely be surprised how much action you’ve been missing during the midday hours.
I’m starting to believe that bucks are killed in the offseason. For those reading this and raising their eyebrows, I’ll explain. Hunters who have put in the time, study the landscape, collect intel from the past rut, and find the spot on the spot are the ones who tend to fill their tags every November.
Scouting for rut setups isn’t always synonymous with scouting for good early-season setups. When trying to find hotspots for next November, funnels in the timber are usually king. Even if you don’t know where the local does bed, chances are by hunting edge habitats and funnels leading to and from the thickest cover available, you’ve likely found a good rut corridor.
This one is twofold. To be consistently successful, avoid both burning out your ambition and avoid burning out your best rut spots. It’s true that in the rut, sometimes all it takes is putting in the time. The more time you spend in the woods, the higher your odds of intercepting a cruising buck. But if you go too hard the first few days of your rutcation, your future efforts may begin to dwindle. If you’re prone to burning out and getting sloppy in executing your rut-hunting strategy, a bit of self-preservation can go a long way. Don’t be afraid to sleep in or take yourself out of the woods when the conditions aren’t right.
Similarly, it can be far too tempting to sit in our best rut stands during the early season. If you’ve been training the deer all season long, and the does know where to find you, the rut action will likely happen elsewhere. Unless you have limitless quality rut hunt locations, do yourself a favor and keep some of these spots fresh until the rut.
Time is invaluable. This is especially true when we have only a few cherished days to hunt, coupled with the ticking clock that is the whitetail rut. The better prepared you are, the less effort you will expend doing extracurricular tasks, the more energy you can put into your hunt, and the sharper you will stay. In terms of gear prep, have your gear organized and available at a moment’s notice. When it comes to all-day sits in cold weather, having the right gear is equally important. When you’re cold, bored, distracted, and downright uncomfortable, any little excuse can be all it takes to pull you out of the field early.
Moreover, most successful hunters have a preconceived contingency plan for anything that doesn’t go according to plan. Don’t let a week of less-than-ideal weather catch you off guard. If you’re serious about being prepared, have an inventory of spots for every wind direction. After you’ve put in the work and have a milk run of different spots, it can then be hard to decide which one to hunt. To combat this, try making a list or flow chart indicating what stands are ideal for which winds. It then becomes pretty easy to choose which stand to hunt after you’ve spent all day on stand and are running low on mental acuity.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.