The typical rut-hunting strategy for most whitetailers is to find a pinch point or a funnel and then plant their rear-ends down until a buck comes cruising by. This has accounted for a pile of filled tags over the years and is a high-odds strategy.
It’s not a guarantee though. In fact, while this is accepted as the go-to method for alleviating a lusty buck of his lung capacity, the success rates across the nation for bowhunters tell a bleak story. If it were so easy, the numbers would be much higher.
Too many of us decide the rut is the best time to kill a buck, and impersonating a house-plant for a week is the way to do it. It can be, but it might not. Sometimes it takes a different perspective to create opportunity. This means it’s often a better idea to shake things up and get aggressive when November comes calling.
Following are five strategies for making things happen during the rut.
Find Sign, Hunt It Immediately
We use to hunt by locating rublines and scrapelines and then setting up on them. Now it seems, most of us like to set stands and then hope everything occurs around our location. Going old school has revived my love for deer hunting, and it has nothing to do with hunting products. I forget the cameras, the scents, the lures, and the decoys and strap a stand to my back and go for a hike.
This can work any time of the year, but can be deadly during the rut. The key is to resign yourself to the fact that you won’t get it right every time. In reality, you’ll be wrong most of the time. But you might observe a buck that allows you to move or tweak your setup, or you might simply eliminate dead spots. The key is to stay mobile and to never be satisfied until you’re on spine-tingling rut action. It’ll happen, you just need to look for it.
When we talk about hunting deer from the ground these days, we are almost always referring to the usage of hub-style ground blinds. There is nothing wrong with this, but in my experience, those blinds need to be seasoned for a while in any area. Deer don’t immediately accept them the way some turkeys do, and that’s a recipe for a stomp-and-snort-fest from all passing ungulates.
A natural ground blind is a different story, however. Nothing allows for the mobility of a natural ground blind, but that’s not where they shine. Instead, look for this opportunity where treestands aren’t a great option. Rutting bucks like to spend time in CRP fields, cattail sloughs, and a whole bunch of locations that might not be conducive to aerial perches.
This is where it can be absolutely deadly to sneak in and construct a natural blind. Some of my favorite setups involve tucking into cedar trees where low-hanging boughs cover your outline and allow you to become one with the pines. This is a public-land strategy that I use every single November simply because it works.
Can’t Miss Parties
I’m a minimalist at heart, but there is one time when I do pull out all of the stops when it comes to using deer-hunting products. It involves the rut, and it involves a situation where I’ve only got a small property to hunt. When moving to the deer isn’t an option, I’ll find the best spot for a decoy and plan for a long sit.
To enhance the setup, I like using fresh deer urine. It’s more expensive than some of the other stuff on the shelves (in fact, it’s usually in a refrigerator), but it can help sell the ruse. It never hurts to do a little calling as well, although I’m not much of a blind caller.
I hunt too much public land and too much pressured ground to be comfortable calling without being able to see a buck first. When I do see a buck, I’ll give him my all if he isn’t showing much interest in ambling my way.
See Him And Go
Whitetails are highly stalkable, they just don’t put themselves in a situation to be stalked very often. If they bedded out in the open the way their western cousins do, we’d kill the crap out of them by sneaking up on them. Occasionally, especially during November, they do end up bedding in visible spots.
They also sometimes expose themselves in old homesteads and other areas where you can hot-foot it to their location, or to where you believe their location will be shortly.
One of the biggest bucks I’ve got on my walls ended up wearing my tag simply because he decided to give me a chance to crawl through a standing cornfield to catch up to him. The wind was right, the situation was right, and the rest is history. It can happen, but you have to be open to the possibility.
Channel Your Inner Fred Bear
Still-hunting use to be a way of life. These days it’s about as popular as a PETA member at a trapping convention. It’s a lost art, partially because of the way still-hunting has been portrayed. Experts for years have said you need to go so slow fungus will grow on your back sloth-like. That’s bunk.
No one can go that slow, and seriously, what is the point of still hunting if you’re really only going to stay in one place? Why not just sit on a stump then? Granted, you can’t go sprinting Usain Bolt-style through the woods, but you can move slow and cover some ground.
There is no better time to run into a buck that is susceptible to still-hunting than during the rut. There is also no more of an exciting way to have an encounter. If you should happen to kill a buck this way you’ll feel a stirring in your hunter’s soul that is really something.