We're in the heat of the rut now and the stories and photos that appeared in this week's reports serve as proof. Some fantastic bucks have been taken, and they should motivate all of us to devote as much time to stands and blinds, tracks and trails, as possible.
That said, even when the rut is popping and every sign points to "go-time," the deer activity seen by individual hunters can vary widely. And let's face facts: Sometimes that action can be downright disappointing.
Evidence of this was found in the contrasting reports filed by Plains report from Draper, who noted that Kansas hunters were seeing multiple bucks during all-day sits, and the Western report from Jeff Holmes, who told of Montana hunters seeing activity only during the first and last hours of the day. The difference? Temperature. Even during the peak of breeding, whitetails don't move widely when temperatures climb. Rising thermometers will never halt the rut, but higher than average temperatures will tone down daytime deer movement and make hunting very frustrating.
Another curveball to rut activity we see is lockdown. For a relatively brief time during the rut, the majority of the does will be in estrous and are tended by bucks. Research indicates that most of these trysts last only a couple of days, but if those days fall during a hunt, it can seem that action has run into a brick wall. I was in Kansas hunting for the last few days and, despite seeing the best buck sign I'd ever witnessed in my area, I saw only one mature buck over a 3-day span. Reports I'd received just prior to my arrival indicated incredible buck movement, I knew what was happening after a couple of days.
So how do hunters deal with these rut curveballs? The most obvious solution is also the most difficult one; you just keep grinding it out, hunting as hard as you can whenever you can. Mid-South reporter Brantley's account of his wife Michelle's successful hunt for a beautiful Kentucky buck is a perfect example. With only one hour to devote to a stand, Michelle could have bagged it and waited for the weekend. Instead she rolled the dice and scored on a dandy buck, proving once again that the only way to shoot a buck is to be out in the woods every chance you get.
Another solution was pointed out by South reporter Eric Bruce, who related tales of two successful hunters who shot bucks by focusing on open-cover areas where they could see well. When bucks are looking widely for does (especially after they've had their first one) they typically cover a lot of ground as quickly and efficiently as possible, and the best way to spot those deer is to wait in areas with great visibility. Also, bucks tending does will frequently push them into open areas, away from other bucks and the competition they provide. Hunting from a vantage point that allows you to see a lot of terrain is the best way to capitalize on this behavior and get a shot.
In short, we all dream of the days when a half-dozen bucks will parade past our stand and we'll be left with the happy chore of picking the nicest one. Reality, however, paints a different picture. Scout hard, know the favorite haunts and habits of local deer, and then simply grind it out. Patience is one of the few facets of deer hunting that can't be taught. But it's among the most important, especially when the hunting is tough.