The rut is days away from absolutely exploding. The moon–which will hang in the daytime sky for close to 10 hours today–should mean heightened activity. If daytime temps are anywhere close to normal, buck activity will begin combusting.
We are now dead center in what biologists call the “chase phase” of the rut. Bucks have been abnormally active for several weeks by this point, but the truly big ones have been going at things somewhat methodically: roaming widely, checking out potential mates, and sizing up competitors. But today their fuses are short and burning hot. When a buck spots a doe now, there’s no method, just madness. He will try to run her down, and possibly goad her into submission, as if he could will her to come into estrus.
It gets better. As a buck pursues a doe, he’ll be vocalizing loudly, grunting his passion and frustration. The pair will make plenty of noise, their hooves stomping dirt, thrashing leaves, and breaking sticks as they run. Any buck within earshot will decipher its meaning in a second. Young bucks will race to the scene fueled by instinct and curiosity. Old bucks will join in with a sense of purpose honed by maturity and experience. And if two mature animals, especially deer that don’t know each other, meet up during one of these chases, odds are high that they’ll brawl over breeding rights. These can be some of the most intense, aggressive battles of the season.
Your tactics should mirror the frenetic behavior of the deer. Get your brashest, most aggressive grunt call–if it sounds annoying when you work it at home, it might just be loud enough to catch a wandering buck’s attention. Stick that and some rattling antlers in your pack. Today is the day you’re going to call in a buck.
If the wind is relatively calm, start the morning in a stand on a high spot–where your calls will carry well–that is also a terrain funnel. Use a topo map or aerial photo to identify such elevated funnels; a saddle high on a ridge is perfect. This is important, as you’ll want a buck that responds to your calling to have an easy path to reach you. The funnels are key on another level as well: Since you won’t be calling constantly, they will naturally steer bucks past your stand. The urge to breed is intense now, and bucks will be roaming long after most does have bedded down.
In less than ideal weather–wind, rain, or snow–set up tight to thick cover areas such as clear-cuts or swamps. The conditions will push does off feeding sites early to seek bedding cover. But bucks aren’t wasting time in a bed today. They’ll be up and cruising known bedding areas, looking to bump a doe from the security cover. Stay on full alert, as the woods can go from serene to psychotic in seconds. When a doe comes trotting toward your setup, assume there’s an antlered pursuer right behind. Be prepared to stop the buck with a grunt or low whistle; he won’t pause unless the doe pauses.
If you don’t want to sit on stand, still-hunt into the wind all day long. Work an area that gives you access to edges of various bedding areas, such as a ridgetop. Pause at each bed edge for brief rattling sessions, mixed with grunting and scuffing in the leaves. You want to make noise today because that’s what the deer are doing. Stay alert–the action you’re imitating may well attract the real thing.