The Ultimate Whitetail Plan 3: The Rut!
Author's note: This is the third of a four-part series that we'll post this fall covering all four phases of whitetail season, from the first day of archery through the rut, till the bitter end in December. We'll be highlighting the best stand locations on the same farm with each installment. No matter when you take off to hunt, we've got you covered. Now it's the rut. Game on!
On November 3, 2010, the west wind howled to 40 mph, and Nick Pruitt and Ryan Russ had a decision to make: Do we stay home, or do we go?
With the rut picking up steam and the temperature 42 degrees, the friends strapped climbing stands to their backs, grabbed their bows and headed to a hot spot they'd discovered on archery-only public ground.
It was a creek bottom habitat, with three wood lines that acted as separate funnels to a soybean field. The edges were blazed with fresh rubs and scrapes. The hunters chose trees about 150 yards apart, climbed up and saw deer immediately. Their stands wobbled some, but the stiff winds didn't seem to faze the animals.
Ryan saw the huge buck first. He was moving their way, and either he or Nick would likely get a shot, depending on which funnel the buck took.
As luck would have it the giant chose the trail Nick was watching. The woods and brush were so thick, I was unable to see him until he was within range, he recalls. Nick caught movement, readied his bow and touched the release. I lost sight of him, but I thought I heard him crash, he said. Then Ryan buzzed his cell. He's right here, man! he hollered, 25 yards from my stand!
Nick climbed down and ran over to his buddy and the buck. They stood shocked and dazed. The monster had 17 points and 25-inch beams. It net-scored 201 1/8—the No. 1 archery non-typical for Delaware.
You might not kill a 200-inch giant like Nick did, but you never know. What I do know is that you take off and hunt any day or week in early November your odds of killing a big deer are as good as it gets.
PRIME MOON WEEK CONTINUED
In last month's post I mentioned how Halloween week is one of the best times to hunt mature bucks any year, and I said the full moon Oct. 29 should make it even better. My theory is that big bucks move best in and around the full moon closest to the rut. With remnants of the full moon glowing until November 6 this year, bucks will prowl for does harder than ever. Sit in a well-placed tree stand for as long as you can hack it every day, and you have a better than 50/50 chance of seeing at least one big deer.
Killer Morning Stand
A killer morning stand for any day up until November 15 or so is on the edge of a CRP field, overgrown pasture, old clear-cut, etc., 100 to 200 yards off an agricultural field where you hunted and saw some bucks in October. Many does gravitate to these weeds to bed and hang out; some girls go deep in the cover, trying to shake the randy bucks that have been hassling them for weeks. But the testosterone-addled boys are persistent and cruise in the chest-high cover after the gals.
Find a tree that allows you to see the cover well. Set up near a funnel or trail with fresh sign, especially if you're archery hunting. It is a perfect spot to rattle until 11:00 a.m. or so. Sit all day because you might see a rack moving and sparkling in the sunshine anytime.
Best Rut Stand
Mid-November, whether you hunt with bow or gun, is the time to get smack in the middle of the action. The rut is wide open, and it's hard to predict exactly where and when you'll see a good buck. Your best shot is to set up where you can see far and wide. Try to hang a tree stand where two or three ridges and thick-cover draws converge and peter out in a creek bottom. All the terrains create a huge dumping ground for deer. You might spot a doe coming down a ridge with a giant 8-pointer lapping her heels. Or a shooter, nose down and grunting like a hog, might shortcut from one draw to the next. Or if it's the lockdown phase, you might see a good buck push a doe back into one of those thickets. When deer are rutting strong, you never know what you'll see, but in a diverse spot like this, it might be something big and good.
In mid- to late-November, the time of year with the most hunting pressure, you need at least one post that allows you to play off that heat. One year a friend leased 500 acres that bordered public-hunting land. He didn't hunt the lease at all in October, but on Nov. 18 he was there early. Dave sat at the top of a hollow he had scouted, on a vantage where he could cover three brushy draws and finger ridges below, very similar to the setup we talked about above.
Opening morning, the sun rose and rifles cracked on the public ground. Dave spotted three bucks in the next two hours. One was with a doe on natural movement, but the other two fled the nearby shooting and slipped through the brushy funnels toward my buddy. He shot the biggest one, a 157-incher. Look for a similar opportunity 200 to 400 yards off the border of a public tract or heavily hunted private ground, and smoke your Thanksgiving buck right there.
Sidebar: Rattle & Grunt Time
November, especially the first two weeks, are the best time to attract fired-up bucks. Try:
- Studies show that rattling works best on cool mornings with 10 mph winds (or less) from 7:30-10:30.
- Crash and grind the horns hard for 20-40 seconds; in my experience, hard rattling works better than light tinkling.
- After rattling, lay down the horns, be still and watch. Many hunters move too much and spook bucks coming in.
- Grunt loud and nasty—blow 5 to 10 second series of deep, gurgling grunts to mimic a rival buck tending or hunting a doe.
- Mix bleating (sound like a doe in estrus) with your grunts. You never know which call will strike a buck and bring him in.
Must Have Rut Gear
The rut is the best time to get your buck, so think positive and be ready to work. The SOG Hunter-Revolver is interesting: 10 long with 4 3/4 stainless straight blade with gut-hook. Press a release on the side of the handle, push the blade down and out revolves a 4 3/4 saw (whittle through a buck's pelvis, saw a limb, etc.). The knife blade and the saw are machined from one piece of steel that revolves and locks solidly in the handle. ($41.50, sogknives.com).
Every day in November, hang two wicks soaked with estrus doe scent near your stand. This is the smell that drives bucks crazy now, so swirl it in the air where you hunt. My choice and a proven performer is Special Golden Estrus from Wildlife Research Center.
Quick Tip: Check the record books: more monster whitetails have been shot from November 7-12 than any other days. In any year, regardless of moon or weather, these are the best rut days to hunt across North America. Can you get off work?