There are several different ideas about how to hunt bucks during the rut.
Everyone advises, “hunt the pinch points,” or, “you need to be in a rut funnel.” While these tactics work, If you don’t have these terrain features on your land, then what?
There are several different tactics people use to try to tag a buck during the rut. I have tried about every one of them. Most haven’t brought me success, whether that’s because of a terrain feature or the bucks just weren’t responsive to that tactic in my area.
There are a few tactics I have found that did increase my odds of tagging a buck during the rut though. Hunting over mock scrapes and finding preferred doe food sources and doe bedding areas have all been successful. These are all great tactics to use during the rut. Guess what they all have in common? They all centered around does. Let’s break down some ways to target does in order to tag your buck.
Let’s start with a general knowledge of the rut. There are four main phases of the rut: the pre-rut, the seeking phase, the chasing phase and the tending phase. All four activities revolve around how bucks are reacting to their building testosterone levels and the activity of breeding does.
The pre-rut is when bucks start laying down sign as their testosterone is building. You will find scrapes and rubs starting to show up more and more as this phase goes on.
The seeking phase is when bucks start to seek out the first estrus does in the area.
Once does are close to estrus, the chasing phase comes in. This is when bucks will be seen all hours of the day chasing does to breed them. Lastly is the tending phase. This is when the does are bred.
The next bit of advice to understand is that most does are bred the same time every year. This is Mother Nature’s way of giving fawns the best chance of survival. Around 200 days after does are bred, they will drop their fawns. By this time, summer is just starting. The weather is warm enough, does have the best bedding areas to hide fawns from predators, and food sources are plentiful. Why is all this important? Because now we know what the bucks are doing, and we know that most does breed the same time of year. Why does all this matter? That brings me to my first topic.
There are several different forms of scouting for does during the rut. Believe it or not, some of the best times to scout for the rut are toward the end of April and into May. Why do I say this? This is when the fawns are dropped. Once you know that, you can go back around 200 days and figure out when the peak breeding time in your location occurs.
Once that is determined, you then know the few weeks leading up to this date, and that provides a better idea about when each stage of the rut is occurring. These are the times when you need to be in your stand all day long.
The next thing to keep in mind about scouting is locating preferred food sources. In my area it changes from year to year with the rotation of farm crops. This is when historical data and past trail camera surveys can come into play. They allow you to know where does like to feed from year to year, depending on crops. If you find a doe’s preferred food source while scouting, then you know where the bucks will be on three of the four phases of the rut.
I also like to use phone apps like OnX or HuntStand to study topographic maps to find doe bedding locations. I will go over my hunting area every year with a fine-tooth comb during shed season. Not only am I shed hunting, but I also mark every bed, scrape, rub, and heavy trail I find on my app. The one thing I have found out is that if I don’t pressure these areas too much, many of these spots are the same from year to year.
When it comes to stand and blind placement, two of my main locations to set up are downwind of doe bedding and downwind of preferred doe food sources.
Let’s start with breaking down food sources. As bucks enter the seeking and chasing phases of the rut, the only thing on their minds is finding the first estrus does. Does haven’t changed their patterns. They still are only concerned with bedding and feeding.
In my area, soybean fields, food plots and acorns are preferred food sources. If food plots are an option for you, these should be easy to monitor. If not, it is important to find which oak trees are loaded with acorns and what soybean fields were planted later in the season. Deer will not feed on beans that have started to die unless there is no other food source around. Acorns are like candy to deer. So, if they move off a location where they were feeding, it’s time to look to the acorns.
I like to sit downwind of these food sources. I set up on the edge of the food source with the ability to shoot 25 yards into the timber as well as into the field. Bucks will still try to stay in security cover while monitoring the does. They will cruise downwind to scent-check each doe in the field. Keep this in mind when selecting a stand location. I like to be close to doe bedding, though, since they are still not willing to be moving far until it is dark.
I take a two-step approach to locating doe bedding. I find the preferred food source, then I reference it on a topographic map. I mark a few locations where I think does are apt to bed. I then check these areas during shed season.
It is not hard to locate doe bedding. There is usually never one bed; typically, there are several. Keep in mind that does like to bed on the edge of wood lots, in tall grass, under downed trees and in fence rows. They will bed in different places around the food source based on the wind.
Once you locate the food source, set up your cell cams between where you think they are bedding and where they enter the field. This will tell you where to set up. If you know where they bed, the bucks will scent-check these areas closer to the peak rut date while in the seeking phase.
Some bucks will travel long distances looking for the first estrus doe. In my view, this is the best place to sit on a midday hunt. If I can’t be in the woods before dark, then this is the stand where I am heading. When hanging this stand, the entry and exit points are very important. The last thing you want to do is bump out does while heading into your stand for a hunt.
Bucks will cruise downwind of doe bedding looking for the first estrus does.
Decoys, Scents, and Calls
Decoys, scents and calls can all be effective during the rut. Everyone knows that bucks are looking for a fight, so rattling antlers, grunt tubes, buck decoys and dominant buck urine can all pique a big buck’s interest.
One thing I have learned is all of these can also scare a buck. Not every buck is looking for a fight. Just like people, bucks have different personalities. One thing that won’t scare a buck off during the rut is does. Unless I know there is a bully buck in the area, I like to trade in my buck calls and scents for doe calls and estrus scents.
Let’s start with decoys. Most decoys have removable antlers. I like to use Flambeau’s scrapper buck decoy without antlers. This makes it universal and I just leave the antlers in the pack. I will place my decoy in a food source upwind of me. I will cover it in Raw Frozen Scents peak 30 estrus scent. If a buck is cruising close by, this will surely get his attention, because he has a scent, and a visual sign, too.
Speaking of scents, Raw Frozen Scents offers three different products that have a doe scent. I like to use body blast scent wicks. I have had great results using these to gather trail camera data. You could also attach one to your decoy. I like to use peak 30 estrus in my mock scrapes along with their scrape lure. I won’t start using estrus scents until the week leading up to peak breeding, though. You have to freshen up the scrape often to keep a buck’s attention as he looks for the doe. I keep cell cameras on all my mock scrape locations. As far as calls go, I have been ditching the grunt tube and using Woodhaven’s “The Closer” Doe Bleat. If you use scent or a decoy and get a bucks’ attention, but he won’t come into range, this call can be what seals the deal. The use of all three tactics above can be highly effective, especially for bucks who are not looking for a fight.
Everyone is looking for a for sure way to get a look at a buck during the rut. There are several different tactics to use, and what works for you may not work for me, and vice versa.
The one thing for certain is that bucks are definitely looking for does. If you stay on top of the does and wait it out, you will have the best chance of getting an opportunity at a buck. It may not be that crazy hunt were the buck comes in bristled up and looking for a fight, but it will still put him on the wall.
When it comes to decoys and calls, using something different than what everyone else around you may be just what’s needed. Just writing this article has me ready for those cool crisp November days in the stand. If your tactics aren’t working, give one of these a try; it may be just what you needed for more success.