Whitetail Hunting photo

by Scott Bestul

Some hunters just pack it in when the rut is over. Dan Thurston doesn’t have that option. The pressure for him to put clients on big bucks is unchanged when the action slows during the post-rut–which doesn’t seem to bother him a bit. “Sure, it can take some extra effort to get on a good deer now, but our success rate is about the same after the rut as it is any other time.” To be specific, eight out of every 10 hunters who bring guns to Thurston’s camp late in the whitetail season go home with a trophy. “As a matter of fact,” he says, “our two biggest bucks ever were both shot well after the peak breeding period.”

Outfit: Lazy D Outfitters
Years Guiding: 10
Biggest Client Buck: 212-7/8 inches (gross)

Here are Thurston’s post-rut secrets:
#1 – His Mantra
“Be flexible,” he says. “If it’s cold and the deer are hitting feeding areas hard, we sit and wait for them. Yet we’re always ready to change tactics if warm weather or late rutting activity has bucks off major food sources. We go right after them then. Our rifle season lasts into December, and we’ll make pushes to get bucks on their feet if we have to.”

#2 – His Secret Weapon
“The Weather Channel and all the weather dot-coms are invaluable now. Those forecasts really dictate where and how we hunt. If storm systems or cold fronts are moving in, I know deer will be on their feet feeding. The last few gun openers here brought strong snowstorms, for example, and we had excellent luck sitting over prime late-season food sources.”

#3 – Big-Buck Know-How
Mature deer switch up their sleeping quarters as soon as the primary rut is over, according to Thurston. “When it’s cold and snowy, a big buck will usually start bedding very close to a good food source,” he explains. “In warm weather, though, he’ll shelter in odd places where he won’t be bothered. Here, that usually means some old cattle pasture that doesn’t look to have but one stick in it. Then you put your spotting scope on that stick, and it’s the rack of a big old buck.”

#4 – Big-Buck Myth
“Lots of hunters think that when the main rut is over, the breeding is pretty much done,” Thurston says. He knows better: “Bucks can’t get to all the does during the primary rut, and those females just keep coming in until they’re all bred. It’s slower action than the main event, but big bucks don’t miss it when a doe pops.” If you see or even suspect late breeding behavior, Thurston advises, don’t hesitate to call, rattle, hang scents, or use other rut tactics.

#5 – Dan’s Master Plan
Post-rut hunting is at its absolute toughest when the weather is warm and there’s little obvious breeding still going on. That’s when Thurston turns to this productive maneuver. “I start pushing little draws to my clients,” he says. “This time of year, our prevailing wind is out of the north. Bucks like to bed on the northwest corner of a draw, so they can get that warm morning sun on them while the wind blows over their back.”

Thurston puts his hunter within shooting distance of the most likely exit, usually a low spot or funnel leading to a larger block of cover. “Then I walk the draw very slowly, clapping my hands occasionally. It’s a simple drive that anyone can pull off, as long as the driver takes his time. Otherwise a big buck will let him walk right past. My two biggest client trophies–a 194-inch 10-pointer and a 212-inch 12–were both shot on this type of push. And both bucks waited until I almost stepped on them before they ran out.”