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Hunting the Whitetail Rut

A Deer Hunting Article

Written by T.R. Michels


During the summer bucks don’t associate much with the does, and they usually stay near their summer core areas. When they do travel they rarely use the same trails the does do. But, as summer turns to fall, and preferred food sources become available, the bucks will begin to use the same food sources as the does, and they may be seen in the late evening and early morning hours. After the bucks shed their velvet and begin rubbing and scraping they become more security conscious and they may move less during daylight hours. They travel more at night, use secluded areas and keep more to the security of woods and brush where they can’t be easily discovered by predators and hunters.

Once the breeding urge hits the bucks will begin to travel in search of does, leaving rubs and scrapes as evidence of their passing so that any receptive doe knows where to find them. They may begin to travel more during daylight hours and use the same trails as the does, so that they come in contact with the does more often. The bucks also begin frequenting the same feeding areas as the does for the same reason. The time when the does are in estrous is when bucks are the most unpredictable in their movements, but when they are often most susceptible to hunting.

Find the Does
One of the easiest ways to find a whitetail buck during the rut is to find the does. If the deer population is healthy and close to balanced the bucks will find the does during the rut. If you know where the prime food sources are, then you will know where to find the does. Once you find the does you should be able to find their home ranges. Once you find the doe home range you should be able to find a buck’s rub route, rubs and scrapes. And once you find the rub route it is a matter of time and effort before you find the buck.

There are two times during the year when locating does is easy. One is obviously during the fall when the deer are in meadows and agricultural crops taking advantage of the abundant forage. They can also be found in woods where they search for mast crops, but they are often harder to see in this environment. The other time of year to locate does is in the spring when the leaves are still off the trees and the deer begin to look for new green growth and leftover mast from the year before. I prefer spring scouting for does because I like to devote the fall to locating the rubs, rub routes and scrapes that bucks make. Then I locate the bucks themselves.

Glassing & Scouting
As the temperatures get cooler in the fall I always get hunting fever, so I begin glassing (using binoculars to look for deer) in late August. I drive around the country, checking farm fields at dusk looking for does. Once I find where they are feeding I watch to see where they come from so I can locate their bedding area. After I find the does I start scouting, looking for evidence of bucks passing through. Rubs and scrapes are very evident in the spring and it’s easy to locate the bucks rub route. Once I find the rub route I backtrack it to find the buck’s bedroom. More often than not I go into the bedroom and spook the buck out but I don’t worry about it. By the time hunting season rolls around the buck will have forgotten about my intrusion and I know right where to find him in the fall.

By this time I know where the mast crops are and which crops the does will be using. I check the food sources, find the does and then I begin to watch them to see which foods they use and what time they use them. If I can, I sit in a treestand, or get on a high point where I can see a lot of territory. I sit and watch the deer for the next week during both the morning and evening to see when they are most active. Then I choose my hunting sites based on the knowledge of where the does travel, where they will be feeding and the added knowledge of where I found the bucks rub route. I also make a point of looking for the bucks near their bedding areas, to see what their racks look like and which ones made it through the winter. Once I know where the does are, what food sources they use, where the buck rub routes are, and which bucks are still around, I know where to find the bucks when the rut begins. By watching the bucks from an observation point for a few days I know what time to expect them at certain points along their rub route. Then I choose which stand site to use at what time of the day.

Primary Breeding Phase
During this Phase you should setup along the buck's rub route or near areas the does regularly use. Because the does are in estrous the buck is either with a doe or looking for one. If you know the buck is not with a doe, and is staying in his traditional bedding site, setup as close to the bedding area as you can. Try to get between the buck and the first doe area he visits. If he finds an estrous doe before he gets to your stand the chances are he will follow the doe and not his rub route. By setting up between the buck's bedroom and the first doe use area you have a good chance of seeing him on a regular basis and attracting him to your stand.

Because the buck is looking for does and wanting to protect his breeding rights both Territorial/Dominance scents and Sex scents work. Make a mock rub, near one of the buck's rubs or scrapes, and a mock scrape. Drip a line of tarsal scent across the trail the buck uses and lead it to the mock rub. Remove the bark from the tree with a wood rasp; then drip forehead scent on the rub. Wear rubber gloves and boots while you are doing this so you don't contaminate the area. The mock rub should be placed in a shooting lane, near the stand, where the buck will stop to investigate, often sniffing and licking the mock rub.
Remember that the buck may be traveling anywhere and anytime in search of does during the breeding period or "peak rut." Because the buck is unpredictable during this phase you should spend as much time as possible on stand. Choose a site near a rub or scrape in doe use areas, staging sites, feeding or watering areas, or get close to the buck's bedroom. Hunt three or more days in each area, changing stand sites frequently. If the buck is with an estrous doe he will travel with her for up to three days and not return to normal activities until she is out of estrous. If you quit hunting the area after two or three days you may miss the buck when he returns to his normal pattern.