If there’s a general theme running through the week’s reports, it’s this: The rut is a dynamic event that requires successful hunters to adapt to its many changes. We like to think of the rut as a bell-shaped curve that builds, peaks, then slowly ebbs. While that may be true on a broad scale, it doesn’t always play out that way in the specific properties we hunt…or even in the area immediately surrounding our stand.
Eric Bruce, our South reporter, provided a perfect case in point when he told of a big Georgia buck that was shot trailing a doe on October 15, which is weeks before the rut peak in that state. Bruce also included a great interview with a biologist who detailed the many factors that can influence rut timing, duration, and intensity. I found this report especially fascinating because—as our reporting team points out in their posts this week—many hunters across the country are facing lockdown, if not the immediate post-rut.
It’s tempting to get discouraged when you know the rut has “peaked” in your area, but as that Georgia buck shot a month ago proves, individual deer care nothing about general trends. They are going to breed when their internal clock tells them it’s time, regardless of the calendar. The only way to capitalize on these events is to be out there.
That said, when it’s clear that many does are in estrus and being bred by bucks (and therefore not moving much), it’s time to use creative techniques. Great Plains reporter David Draper provided a perfect example of such ingenuity when he visited the Pine Ridge Reservation last week. Draper and his buddies used small pushes to get locked-down deer on their feet and in front of their guns. Aggressive tactics like this are an excellent way to take the fight to the deer when they’re not moving well. One of my good friends from Iowa uses a similar in-your-face approach during lock-down: Steve sets up in areas where he can see well, hoping to spot a bedded buck-doe pair. When he finds one, he simply crawls out of his stand and stalks them. He’s killed several nice bucks with this approach, even with a bow.
Mid-South reporter Will Brantley provided an anecdote that proves the point. As area whitetails quit visiting fields—thanks to a combination of lock-down and hunting pressure—his source abandoned field-edge stands, grabbed a climber, and went deeper into the timber. His aggressive approach was successful and proved that sometimes simply changing locations can make all the difference.
Despite these clear successes, it’s still important to remain patient. Brandon Ray pointed this out when he highlighted the success of his friend Brandt Vermillion and his quest for a nice Texas 11-point. Though the buck had been a regular on a property, Vermillion lost track of the buck for a time before finally tagging it recently. This hunt is a great reminder that when a buck has everything he needs on a property—even if it’s relatively small—he’ll likely return, even after he’s made a breeding excursion.
Patience also seems to be the word of the week from West reporter Jeff Holmes. His report highlights Idaho and Montana hunters who felt that weather events had held up (or interrupted) the rut. Many times over the years I’ve seen extreme heat, or even a big snowstorm, virtually halt rutting behavior. Then, when temps or precipitation moderated, whitetails were off to the races again. Even when we’re supposed to be facing the most exciting action of the whitetail year, simply grinding out time in the timber is almost always rewarded.