While filming our second season of One Week in November earlier this month, I faced a dilemma. Where I thought the Wisconsin bucks would be cruising was a dead zone. By November 6th, that much was clear.
It was also clear that I needed to take advantage of my last day of hunting, so I went looking. What I eventually found clued me into current buck movement. Even at the point in the season when that movement should have been random—it wasn’t.
It also resulted in a 26-yard shot at a cruising eight-pointer that not only saved my week, but showed me how a quick in-season scouting session can pay off in November.
Rubs and scrapes are great. I love them. But if you’re looking for a spot to arrow a buck tomorrow, the scrapes and rubs you find today might not mean much. This is something that K.C. Smith, co-host of The Element Podcast, pays close attention to.
“When I’m looking to make a move during the rut, sign freshness is key,” Smith said. “I want to be able to see if a scrape has been pawed up within the last six hours or so, or if a rub is really, really fresh. If I find either, I’ll take a look at the aerial photos to see how close I am to food and bedding.”
Smith, who primarily hunts public land, is always on a mission to find current action. This is because the unpredictability of hunting pressure and the chaos of the rut, often combine to create feast or famine hunting. It happens on private, too (as I found out this year).
My solution involved my favorite kind of rut sign—running tracks in the cover. As long as the ground is soft enough, eyeing up running tracks on trails is a great way to put yourself in a position to shoot a buck. Now, those running tracks could be from a deer escaping the nipping teeth of a coyote, but I always play the odds and assume they were created during a chase.
The area I killed my buck in this year had fresh, running tracks on two separate trails leading through a funnel that was created by a deep washout on a bluff-side. The eight-pointer I shot there was the third buck I saw in maybe 5 hours of hunting that spot.
Since Smith often works huge chunks of public land, he’s also a fan of truck scouting. This is an efficient way to clue yourself into what the deer are doing, right now.
“If I’m in a rut slump, I’ll often hit the road and drive around during prime time,” Smith said. “Anything I can learn when I’m down and out is a huge benefit. If I see does staging on private land or deer using a specific food source, it might help me make better decisions on the ground I can hunt.”
This might seem crazy, but I’ve experienced success from this style of scouting as well. If the deer pour into a private alfalfa field and ignore the nearby cut corn at last light, you have some good intel. If you catch a glimpse of a buck chasing does in a gnarly homestead, you might realize that your open-woods or field edge setups just aren’t going to cut it.
This is similar to the excited phone call from your hunting buddy who hunts 10 miles from you. If he grunted in three different bucks in one sit, or saw two fights break out, that information is valuable to you even if you’re hunting totally different ground.
A single all-day sit can tell you a lot about a spot. If the weather is decent and the wind is good, you’ll know whether your site is worth more sits. If it doesn’t produce, keep looking. Sometimes a move of a quarter-mile or less can take you from being in a deer desert to experiencing real rut action.
This happened to me this year, and it can happen to you as well. Get out there, find some fresh sign, and pay attention to the action. If the deer don’t validate your decisions, keep looking. It’s happening out there somewhere. You just need to find it—and a little scouting session might just be the ticket.