Hunting the Rut: Take a Buck During the Seeking Phase

Photograph by Mark Raycroft

Regional Seeking Phase Dates
When can you expect to see bucks start ­cruising? Our Rut Reporters researched fetal-­aging, fawn-drop, and other data to determine a range of dates when each rut phase is most apt to be active in seven regions.

✖ Northeast: Oct. 25–Nov. 1
✖ North-Central: Oct. 25–Nov. 1
✖ Great Plains: Oct. 25–Nov. 1
✖ West: Oct. 29–Nov. 5
✖ Mid-South: Oct. 30–Nov. 6
✖ South-Central: Nov. 6–13
✖ South: Nov. 12–19

Trophy Tactic: Stage an Ambush
The Action: Ever watch a zoo lion pace the perimeter of his cage in an endless circle? That's how bucks are behaving right now; they're prowling the confines of their home range, laying down rub and scrape lines, nosing around food sources, looking for the first hint of a hot doe. At no time are bucks more active, yet more predictable.

The Hot Zone: While bucks are seeking does, they’re mainly doing so near the usual key feeding fields, and the true brutes will be reluctant to step into the open until the last sliver of light. That makes staging areas the top big-buck spot now. Walk field-entry trails 50 to 70 yards into the timber, and you’ll soon find an area bombed with rubs and/or scrapes. This is where the biggest buck is blowing off steam before heading out to harass does on the field.

The Hunt Plan: Deer of all sizes will use the staging area. To get a ­legal-​light shot at Bubba, you need to find the trail he uses to reach the spot. If there are scrapes, start there, and look for a faint trail, likely marked by a big rub or two, leading toward a rugged or thick-cover bedding area. Set your stand downwind of this trail. But not too close. There’s a good chance that a wary buck will circle slightly downwind to scent-check the scrapes before moving in to work them over. Give yourself a makeable shot to the main trail while also giving him a little space to circle without busting you.

Tip: After you set up, rattle lightly and make a few grunts. The big one is likely bedded within hearing distance, and the sounds of sparring bucks may goad him to his feet just a bit early.

Any-Buck Tactic: Find the licking branch
What most small to ­decent-size bucks really want right now is to be around other deer, and with the testosterone dump hitting them, they'll bomb straight out into a field or oak flat to harass does. So locate the best entry trails, and then search nearby trees for an active licking branch. These are used by every deer in the herd, so your buck (or the doe he's intent on finding) will hit it eventually, no matter where the deer enters the food source. Set up in a tree with good cover; you're going to have a lot of eyes and ears around you.

Tip: If your buck hangs up out of range, tip over a can call. Bleats are a curiosity builder and won’t spook does feeding nearby.