You hear a lot about sitting all day during the rut. Have you considered walking all day? It’s true, rutting bucks are active at all hours this time of year, but their movements can be unpredictable. Unless you know that the funnel your treestand overlooks is red hot, you may be better off taking the action to the deer by still-hunting. Right now, you could wander aimlessly through the deer woods and have a chance. But your best strategy for walking up a trophy is to stage several lightning-strike sneak-and-peek hunts throughout the day at the best still-hunting spots on your hunting area. Not sure where to start? Here are four of my favorite routes to walk during the breeding season.
1. Clear-Cut Ridges
In the big woods, 2- to 7-year-old clear-cuts are prime feeding areas for all deer, and great spots for rutting bucks to check for feeding does. In the morning, deer typically head to higher ground to bed. The secret here is playing the thermals. Get up extra early and climb to the top of a ridge overlooking the clear-cut. When shooting light comes, slowly zigzag your way downhill into the rising thermals, hoping to intercept a big buck following a hot doe heading uphill to her bedding grounds.
2. Swamp Spurs
Unready does get fed up with bucks’ constant harassment and often take refuge deep in the heart of water-filled swamps. But that doesn’t stop bucks from going after them—often by cruising spurs of dry land leading into and out of the marsh. This may be a long, low ridge that juts into a big-woods swamp or a narrow strip of trees that reaches deep into a grassy wetland. Either is a great spot for a slow walk. Zigzag the length of the spur, crosscutting the wind. You may be able to cover several such spots in a day.
3. Cornfield Edges
At the height of the rut, when many does are seeking mates, uncut cornfields have it all: They are at once feeding areas, bedding areas, and rendezvous spots. Does will hang out in and around the corn all day, frequently venturing into adjacent semi-open areas of CRP, goldenrod, brush, or pasture, where they can be seen by bucks. If you work the wind carefully, you can sneak along three sides of the field. Slip just inside the corn or in bordering woods or hedgerows, all the while glassing into those semi-open areas for bucks.
4. Farmland Creek Beds
In open farmland, wooded creek beds are the primary places where rutting bucks can cruise under cover while checking fields for hot does—and their linear nature makes them a natural for still-hunting. The cover, however, can be too narrow to walk undetected. So look for a creek that has at least one steep bank and use it to hide your movements, periodically peeking over the edge to look for deer in the cover below. Most times, you’ll want a crosswind that carries your scent into the adjacent field. But if the bank is high enough to keep your scent above the deer, you may be able to kill a buck in any breeze.