If you were to head into the woods now to drop a few cameras off in anticipation of your rut-cation this month, you’d miss out on a lot. For starters, the predictability of most bucks erodes a little more each day as we move further into November. What was a good staging area pattern in October will be a lost cause now. That field edge stand that was so hot earlier in the year is likely a ghost town or a forky-fest today.
The beauty of the rut is that it can be chaos, but the downside of the rut is that it can be chaos. The action you’re dying to be a part of could be half of a mile away when a single doe’s biological clock strikes just the right time, leaving you with an empty woods and the false belief that it’s just not happening yet.
It is, and to be where you need to be you can use trail cameras now, but also take a long look at all of the digital recon from about the beginning of September until now.
Research has shown that mature bucks tighten up their home ranges as they age. While they may light out across the landscape on an excursion or two during the rut, they most stay where they are most comfortable.
This means that if you’ve gotten trail camera images of a buck consistently using a specific area after he went hard-antlered in the beginning of September, you know where he is likely to cruise. If you had the buck all summer long as a velvet loafer, and then he stuck around throughout the fall, that’s even better.
But either way, pore through your photos to see if there is an area a certain buck obviously favored but remember, if your cameras were mostly on field edges or food plots, you might want to set some cameras now in the next available security cover. Bucks will certainly hit the openings for amenable does, but if they experience a decent amount of hunting pressure they may also just scent check those areas while staying in the thick stuff.
Cameras Then, Cameras Now
Hopefully you didn’t hang all of your cameras on food sources, because you’ll want to know what’s going on in the in-cover travel routes on your hunting grounds. A buck that walked through a specific pinch point to reach a nearby alfalfa field in late August might use that same terrain feature to cruise doe bedding areas.
This is because there aren’t as many accidents in nature — or deer behavior — as we think. Bucks travel with a purpose and with the conditions that best favor their survival. The latter gets tamped down some with their short breeding window and the frenzy that accompanies it, but they still seem to intuitively behave in some ways that will keep them safe. That often means they travel known routes that have kept them alive for months, and more likely, years.
Again, take a long look at your trail camera photos from the past couple of months and see if there are any digital bread crumbs leading you to potential ambush sites.
With a game plan forming due to past reconnaissance, it’s not wise to pull all of your cameras yet. Where legal, cellular cameras can give you a glimpses into up-the-minute chasing activity. That can be extremely beneficial, for obvious reasons.
Traditional cameras, especially those that feature technology that filter out specific bucks, are a great tool now as well. If you’ve got your hunting grounds covered with a few cameras and the willingness to go mobile with your treestand setups, you’ll never have to focus on dead ground for too long. This means that if that hot doe drags your local bucks away from where you were sure you found the perfect pinch point, a mid-morning camera check can clue you into the best action.
If you’re set up to hunt as soon as you know it’s a good idea, then you can be right back in the action after only missing — at most — a day. That’s one of the best ways to remove a little of the chaos from the rut and return to some semblance of a pattern. And of course, to fill your tag on a bruiser, which is the goal.