Bestul: Riding the Rut Waves

Rut Reporter Scott Bestul is a Field & Stream's Whitetails columnist and writes for the website's Whitetail365 blog. The Minnesotan has taken 13 Pope & Young-class whitetails and has hunted, guided for, and studied deer in the north-central region all his life. States covered: IA, IL, IN, MI, MN, MO, WI.

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We like to picture the rut as a bell-shaped curve; a gradually-building heat wave that rides steadily toward a peak and then ebbs. That vision is generally true, but there are always little blips and spasms along the way--periods of action and inactivity that make us wonder "just where are we in the rut?"

Case in point: Friday evening I watched a doe drag a pretty 10-point toward my stand. He wasn't hot on the doe's tail, but definitely hitched to her wagon. I left that hunt thinking "it's starting to happen." Saturday confirmed my feelings, as I saw four bucks, all mobile and wandering around in full daylight. Sunday evening I watched a good 8-point play rodeo with a doe in a picked cornfield, which gave me great hope for Monday when I sat the better part of the whole day and saw one young, hungry buck. Hungry, however, for corn and not a doe. Go figure.

But reports from my contacts around the region confirm I'm not the only one experiencing these little waves of activity. One source described his hunting as "really inconsistent; one evening I've got bucks running does all over the place, the next day I watch them come out to farm fields and feed like cattle." A friend in Missouri hasn't seen a single chase, yet spotted a nice buck bedded with a doe in a grassy ditch away from cover; a classic scenario of a buck corralling an estrous mate in an odd place where other bucks can't find her.

It's important to remember that rutting activity can be highly localized; action can be popping on one farm while it's nearly dead on a property five miles away. Other factors can cause a hiccup in observed rut activity, such as a spate of warm weather or a sudden influx of human activity (such as a small game opener). The important thing to remember about these frustrating blips is this: you just have to keep grinding it out. The only way to see the rut unfold is to be out there in the woods. When those first does pop in your area, you'll definitely know it!

Of course, hunters who've taken time to learn the core areas and general behaviors of the bucks in their area have a better chance of scoring, even when the action isn't exactly on fire. Illinois bowhunter Marc Anthony is a perfect example. Marc knows his hunting areas--and the deer in them--as well as anyone I know, and he used that knowledge to arrow this beautiful Prairie State 10-point this past weekend. Marc shot the buck from 15 steps while hunting from the ground, wearing a ghillie suit. An awesome buck indeed! Congrats Marc!