by Scott Bestul
Post-rut bucks are like weary travelers: All they want is to go home to rest and eat. Right now, you can expect to find them living close to major food sources within their home ranges, following a simple bed-to-feed pattern. It’s an excellent opportunity to mount a successful ambush, if you know how to scout the territory and set up carefully for these pressure-sensitive deer:
Most bucks travel beyond their home ranges during the rut and return to them afterward. These ranges may comprise several hundred acres, but to conserve energy late-season whitetails will commonly use only a fraction of that space, sometimes as little as 30 or 40 acres.
This is the key factor. Locate high-energy foods such as agricultural crops or a concentration of soft or hard mast, and you can bet there’s a good buck bedded nearby. Glass such a spot for an evening or two or walk the field edge at midday to determine a buck’s entry trail.
Expect to find late-season bucks bedded within sheltering cover close to the primary food source. Here, they’re protected from the elements and conserve energy because they need to walk only a short distance to feed. South-facing, conifer-covered hillsides are prime bedding areas now.
Home-again bucks often open new rubs or freshen several along an old rub line. This sign verifies that the deer is using a given route. It’s also usually located inland therefore reveals bucks staging area, such as the timbered bench at right. Set up nearby.
With bucks bedding close to the feed, you need to get your stand up quietly. Look for a fairly open place within the staging area, where you won’t have to make noise cutting branches to hang your stand or to make shooting lanes. And use strap-on tree steps, which don’t clink and clang like the metal screw-in kind.
Finding a covert route to and from your stand is critical. Slipping up a sheltered creek bed, for example, will keep your scent and silhouette invisible to bedded deer. Moreover, if your buck doesn’t show the first evening, it keeps you from bumping feeding deer as you hike back out.
Breeding during the late season may be less intense than it is during the primary rut, but mature bucks will hardly ignore local does that come into estrus. If you find a fresh scrape along a travel route, set up nearby. Or try making a mock scrape using doe-in-estrus urine, which can bring a curious buck right to you.