Photograph by Charles Alsheimer
It’s a simple equation: The more rutting bucks move, the less successful hunters do—as in, not at all. For much of the year, whitetails are generally crepuscular creatures. But when breeding activity ramps up, a buck is as likely to be on his feet at noon—or 10 a.m., or 2 p.m.—as he is at dawn and dusk. The only way to tag such a buck is to be waiting when he puts his track shoes on. But when is that, exactly? Where should you locate yourself? And are you truly prepared to put in the hours? Follow the guidelines below to sit your way to a rut wall-hanger.
1. Analyze Breeding Activity
Sure, lots of rubs and scrapes are exciting, but an explosion of buck sign is just a preamble to the Big Show. Wait for bucks to get truly amped up. They should be seriously harassing does at feeding areas, and if you spot an all-out chase, peak breeding is a handful of days off. Once bucks reach this fever pitch, gear up for an all-day hunt.
2. Choose the Spot
There are two prime locations for an all-day stand hunt: doe bedding areas, and terrain funnels that connect bedding cover and feeding areas. If you know the specific places where does bed, wriggle into them at first light because bucks will be nosing around them throughout the day. If you’re uncertain, focus on terrain funnels that connect thick cover and popular feeding areas such as farm fields, food plots, clear-cuts, and oak ridges. Bucks will prowl these areas constantly, seeking out estrous does.
3. Watch the Weather
The whitetail rut occurs at about the same time every year, but daytime rutting activity is influenced by temperature. If heat and relative humidity are high, whitetails will limit movement to the dead of night. Drop plans for a midday hunt and focus on the normal dawn and dusk activity windows. But if there’s a cold snap—especially one accompanied by snow—count on bucks to travel throughout the day.
4. Gear Yourself Up
You’ve got to prepare for cold dawn temps and the warmth of midday; wear light clothing if you’ve got a long walk to your stand, and carry extra layers in a daypack. Don’t skimp on food and water. You’ll function better with plenty of liquids (sports drinks, soups, juices) and solid food (high-carb items like trail mix, peanut-butter sandwiches, and dried fruit). Don’t neglect entertainment, either. A good paperback will keep you occupied through deerless spells, and don’t feel bad about texting your buddies or enjoying a game on a smartphone if it’ll keep you out there.
5. Take a Break
Sticking with a stand can get exhausting and claustrophobic (the five-hour mark is when it kicks in for me), and sometimes you just need a little break to regain your stamina. When that happens, I get down, walk a few circles around the tree, and sit or lie down for a bit to stretch. I’ve even sat against the base of the tree and taken a short nap. However, I’m haunted by the story of my cousin, who took such a snooze and woke to find a giant buck staring at him from 15 steps. Usually, a minor respite is all I need before climbing back up.