Focus on doe bedding and feeding areas right now because even mature bucks are getting up to look around
The woods change fast with the flip of the calendar. Yesterday morning, Nov. 1, I made my first sit in a favorite stand in Tennessee. I was situated in a creek drainage that's bordered on one side by a pasture, and on the other by hundreds of acres of the neighbors' row crops. There was a fresh scrape line on the pasture edge, and as it got light, I could see more deep, black pawings on the ground under my stand. I figured I was in for a pretty good morning, and I wasn't disappointed.
I saw a half dozen does and fawns before the first buck appeared. He was a nice 8-pointer, cruising down the edge of the pasture side scrape line. Just as I prepared to draw my bow, another doe burst into the pasture, followed by an even bigger yet 8-pointer. That buck chased the doe within my sight for just a few seconds before darting back into the cover.
A while later, I made a few deep grunts and a snort-wheeze. That brought the first 8-pointer marching back by my stand. Again, I started to shoot but held off. But the third buck that came by at 9:30 wasn't so lucky. He surprised me at 30 yards, the first time I saw him. I shot him just as he stepped up to freshen one of the scrapes under my stand, then watched him fall dead 40 yards away. I had that that was a young buck you just killed feeling, but I didn't much care. Bowhunting the rut is supposed to get you good and amped up, and that 8-pointer, with stained hocks and a thick neck, sure did.
If you live in the Mid-South region, you should be in a treestand right now, or at least making plans to be in one later this week. The does aren't ready just yet, but I'm starting to see lone fawns, mostly button bucks, out and wandering alone. That's a sure sign that breeding is about to commence. The more exciting news for hunters, though, is that bucks are antsy right now, and they're starting to roam and look. For pure odds of bowhunting success and steady action, I'll take the next week over the entire rest of the season.
Key spots to try:
- Pinch points, near doe bedding cover: Do you know where a family group of a few does and fawns has been hanging out all October? The area bucks know, too. Find any sort of terrain feature nearby that will funnel movement, get the wind, and set up for the long haul. If you've chosen the right spot, a buck will eventually amble through.
- Tiny food plots: By this time of year, does are getting harassed by young bucks in bigger, open ag fields. Hidden food plots give them a place to browse with security cover nearby. Even if you don't have pictures of a buck in one of those plots, they will be there if the plots have been left mostly undisturbed to this point.
- Red oaks: We had a bumper mast crop around here, and for a few weeks in October, white oaks all but made deer vanish from open areas. Now, it seems, most of those white oaks have hit the ground and gotten a few rains on them, making some of them sprout. Red oaks, meanwhile, are still falling. I've got a cell camera placed over a mock scrape next to a sprawling red oak on a hardwood bench. There has been a group of does and fawns virtually living there this week, and it's only a matter of time before a shooter buck cruises through there, too.
We're forecast to get our first freezing weather of the season later this week, and the timing of that couldn't be better. I expect good daylight activity, including at midday, and bucks should be especially responsive to calling — again, within the Mid-South tier of the region. Hunters in areas of the Deep South — with the potpourri of peak ruts, many of which happen closer to winter — will need to be patient, as this phase of their season is still a few weeks away. Still, the upcoming cold snap should only increase daylight deer activity and help whitetail hunters regionwide. Good luck out there.
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Will Brantley is an outdoor writer and whitetail outfitter from western Kentucky. He spends much of his fall bouncing back and forth across the border between Kentucky and Tennessee.