The Whitetail Rut is Coming – Are You Prepared?
The whitetail rut is viewed by many as the most exciting time for a hunter to be in the woods – and for good reason. After all, love-crazed bucks roam the free-range landscape and you never know what you’ll see. The changing levels of hormones in bucks and does means they can breed, and the apex of this activity is consistent throughout the country – around mid to late November (with a few exceptions).
For deer hunters, it’s a time to dream big and work hard. On its own, hitting the woods during this stage isn’t nearly enough. Do you have a weekend to hunt the rut, or do you have a large chunk of vacation time to devote to it? Either way, there are important steps to take at home and in the field to maximize your success during this popular, yet brief hunting period. If you’re dedicated to exploiting it, approach this part of the cycle with a grind-it-out mindset.
Right Out of the Shoot
Whether your job offers limited vacation days, or you’re blessed with plenty of autonomy, request your time off as soon as possible. In either case, make it a priority to nail down the optimal hunt times. At a minimum, seek information from local deer processors, taxidermists, and experienced area hunters. These are the folks that have an idea of when the best area bucks of the year are typically taken. Though the exact timing of each annual rut is unique, this is still a great place to start.
Take Care of the Ladies
For hardcore whitetail hunters, hunting and preparing for the rut often takes precedence over other responsibilities. I can’t count the number of times that I pushed household chores to the curb – much to the chagrin of my wife. Neglected honey-do lists lead to strife and missed opportunities in the field. If you haven’t already put the wheels in motion, dig into the list now and stay in good favor with your partner. It beats the heck out of having it hanging over your head in the stand, or worse, missing these precious hunts altogether. It goes without saying that checking this box is important for males and females alike.
Find the Other Ladies
The four-legged ones, that is. By far, the main goal of rutting bucks is to breed. If you have does in your area, you’re in good shape. But it’s not that simple. Determine where they spend most of their time – from bedding to feeding. Scout crops, woodlots, bedding areas, and funnels. Whether on small acreage, massive ranches, or multiple properties, set up on these areas and capitalize on what every buck will be chasing this November – the does.
Leverage Your Trail Cameras
Trail cameras are a great tool for many applications in whitetail hunting. But once the rut starts, buck movement becomes very unpredictable, and the use of game cameras takes on extra importance. Determining movement patterns of both bucks and does reveals much about optimal hunting locations. While wireless models are best, even careful manual card pulls provide great knowledge. As always, don’t merely gawk at your images; rather, use them to track deer movement. Pay close attention to travel times and weather conditions – and again, don’t forget to concentrate on the key to a buck’s heart: the does.
Weather and Wardrobe
Other than the rut itself, nothing can be more unpredictable than the weather. Planning around changing temperatures, wind changes, moon phases, and barometric pressure are paramount to success. Being present during the moment of truth means being willing to log more hours in your stand. In fact, if you can swing it, all-day sits are a great idea. Extended hunting hours have a few implications, but none more than the need for effective clothing choices.
If you want a better chance at harvesting a big love-struck buck, aim for comfort. Once you’ve decided on your blind or treestand, make sure you’re donning warm clothing for the colder days and potential temperature swings. Dressing in efficient layers is your best route. Luckily, the material and technology for hunting-wear are advanced, and there are great options available, including base-layers.
Making Scents of it All
No matter your opinion regarding the use of hunting scents, they have their place. It’s at this time that bucks are becoming increasingly competitive and often can be drawn in to check for unwanted intrusive bucks. Therefore, a quality buck urine coupled with real or mock scrapes makes a good attractant as the rut approaches.
Once the peak rut is close, it’s time to employ estrous-type scents. This is a great choice to use throughout the rut as does come into estrus at different times. Estrous scents pull double duty as they serve as good cover scents as well.
Finally, using the tarsal scent from a buck can be effective in charging the sexual drive of big bucks. They can be effective throughout the peak period in areas such as scrapes.
As far as scent control, use as many practices as you can stand. If you’re not fanatical, at least take care of the basics such as using scent-free detergent, separately storing hunting clothing, and spraying yourself down with a scent eliminator prior to hitting the stand. Why not? Your time is precious. The rut represents a small window of opportunity.
Planning for the best rut action requires little more than a calendar, so long as you put in the time at home and afield. While this may seem overly simplified, you might be surprised at how many deer hunters impulsively approach the rut with no real plan other than to show up.
While the whitetail rut may still be a few weeks away, it’s never too early to actively prepare for it. If you do, you’ll be in a much better position to wrap a tag around the antlers of a puffy-necked whitetail buck.
Based in Texas, Jerald Kopp is President of 1st Light Hunting Journal. His articles cover a variety of topics about hunting and the outdoor lifestyle. Jerald is an avid outdoorsman with deer hunting and whitetails being by far his greatest passion. He was introduced to hunting and fishing at an early age and has been enjoying it for 40+ years. In 2005, he established the Empowerment Outfitter Network (EON) – a faith-based non-profit organization that provides hunting opportunities for disabled and terminally-ill children and youth. When not hunting, he spends his time traveling and enjoying life with Amy, his wife of over 30 years. Jerald and Amy have two adult daughters and a son-in-law.