We assign an otherworldly quality to the rut. For 11 months each year we think about November as the time when any zipperhead can walk into the woods and kill a giant buck. Sometimes that happens, oftentimes it doesn't. If the rut was as easy as we'd like to believe, I'm confident the success rate would be higher in states like Iowa and Kansas.
That said, the whitetail rut is an awesome time to be in the woods, there is no arguing that. However, it is a good idea to keep your bowhunting wits about you. They are still deer, and for most of us, they must be hunted intelligently.
Sure, a big boy might slip up and trot obliviously into your setup. But he might not. And if that's the case, it's best to hunt smart and keep after it.
Following are seven tips for bowhunters looking to make the most of their valuable PTO during November.
Observe and React
This is good advice for the entire deer season, but is definitely appropriate for the whitetail rut. The action won't be everywhere, and an awful lot can influence how much movement you witness. The last time I drew an Iowa nonresident tag, I thought it would be unreal.
It wasn't. It was very real.
The weather was hot, hunters were all over, and it took some observation to get onto the bucks. They were sticking to the thick cover along a creek bottom where they could harass does all they wanted without poking their noses into the open. Moving into that security cover resulted in one of my best bucks yet, and a good reminder to always be on the lookout for current activity.
If it should be on, but you're not seeing much - keep looking. Somewhere you'll find a hotbed of buck activity, and you'll need to rethink your setup.
Considering that you need to observe and react to current activity, expect to have to be mobile and plan accordingly. I don't hardly set foot in the deer woods without having at least one hang-on stand and steps in my truck for just-in-case moments.
If I run across a ton of fresh sign, or simply don't believe my original setup is going to work out, it's time to move. Too many bowhunters pick a pinch-point or funnel stand and expect the deer to come to them. The bucks might, but if they don't it's not a good idea to push a dead program. Grab a portable stand and go looking.
This is easier on big properties, but is also something that can work on small parcels as well. It doesn't take much to be looking over new ground, and it might be all you need to go from bored to on edge and ready to draw.
Treat All Deer as Target Deer
I don't know too many bowhunters who spend their days on stand during the whitetail rut hunting does. It's all about the bucks, the big bucks, this time of year. That doesn't mean you should ignore the ladies and the young bucks. That's a mistake.
Developing a cavalier attitude about non-target deer has a tendency to lead to getting busted and snorted at, which is no beuno. When you see deer that you don't want to shoot, treat them as if you do. You never know who is going to show up on the scene looking for a fight or a little bit of love.
Shut Up, Mostly
Every year I spend several days on public land trying to tag a mature buck during the whitetail rut. What that means is that I listen to plenty of bowhunters clashing antlers together and blowing on grunt tubes every seven minutes. I know calls can work, but relying on them to amp up your rut hunt is often a mistake.
If you've done your homework, you'll likely be in a spot where the bucks want to cruise. This makes calling much more effective if you need to do so. I'm a firm believe that unless you're on a primo property in a great state, it's best to leave the blind calling to the competition.
In fact, the previously mentioned Iowa buck I killed came trotting in my direction after skirting my hunting partner who was rattling like there was an all-out mature buck MMA tournament going on under his stand. That beast of a buck was clearly a lover, not a fighter, and he just wanted to cruise that creek bank looking for a girlfriend.
Know The Wind
We all play the wind, right? What we don't often talk about is how well bucks play the wind. Unless they are totally out of their minds, they are going to travel with the wind in their favor. They can scent-check does and detect danger this way. It's how they live and how they keep living, even when we do our best to kill them.
Find spots like the tops of ridges or the banks of rivers where they can cruise with the wind in their favor and not get downwind of you. You'll know you found the right setup when you see a buck cruising through like he owns the place. He is confident he can detect danger, and he won't be able to which is the key to puncturing his heart with a broadhead.
The wind is one of the greatest factors in how he travels his home turf. The more you understand about that, the easier he is to kill come November 7th.
I once had a well-known whitetail writer tell me that bucks simply can't rut if it gets above 50 degrees. Biologically they will overheat, he said. I don't know if that's true or not, but a little common sense tells me that if a coyote chomps a buck's butt or a sexy doe prances through giving off a good-to-go scent, a buck will figure out a way to move - mercury be damned.
We use excuses to sleep in all of the time, or skip a hunt waiting for better conditions. Don't do that. Do the opposite. Hunt as much as you can during November. Forget conventional whitetail wisdom because a lot of it is bunk. Hunt hard and good things will come, which come to think of it, is a pretty solid plan for the entire bow season.
When we fantasize about the whitetail rut bringing a big buck by our stand, it's usually images of a Booner we conjure. That's fine and dandy if you're on 1000 acres of well-managed southern Iowa ground, but what if you're on public land in Pennsylvania? Or you've got 25 acres to hunt in southern Missouri?
Take what you can get. If 120-inch deer are top-end bucks in your neck of the woods, don't expect the rut to bring a 160-incher your way. It can happen, of course. It just probably won't. Hunt the deer that you have a chance at and have some fun with it. After all, that's why you're out there, right?