A Great Late Rut for Hunters This Season

Sometimes, the race goes not to the strongest or quickest, but to the person who simply won't give up. Scanning the reports and photos from this week reminded me of that simple truth, because hunters are tagging some of the season's best bucks right now. Those successful hunts illustrate the need for patience, relentless effort, and solid hunting skills.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the week's reports from South Central reporter Brandon Ray, who profiled successful Texas bowhunter Tanner Alexander.

Tanner tagged two amazing bucks in the space of 24 hours. An all-day hunting effort allowed him to witness tremendous midday buck activity, and his willingness to call lured a pair of awesome trophies into bow range. Having just come off a few all-day sits, I can attest that these stand marathons are anything but easy. But if the potential reward is a buck of a lifetime--or any deer you’re happy to tag-- keeping yourself strapped to a stand is worthwhile.

Tanner's successful hunt illustrates another important fact proven out by other rut reports. Even as the breeding peak passes, bucks remain actively seeking does and laying down sign, as Northeast reporter Mike Bleech noted in his account of his Pennsylvania firearms hunt.

So I'm going to put on my scouting boots this week, searching for new or re-worked rubs and scrapes as I walk. I'll pay special attention to any buck sign that pops up in wooded areas and thick cover. Remember, this sign is likely left by a mature buck, and after weeks of hunting pressure he's not likely to expose himself to areas of easy hunter access or open cover.
We talk a lot about food in this space, and as we transition into the post-rut that topic becomes more important than ever. Mid-South reporter Will Brantley noted that in the week's reports, particularly the attraction of green food sources.

Will’s observation directly matches my experience: Even when we’ve been hammered by snow, whitetails seem to crave any green thing they can chew on. I’ve seen alfalfa fields—largely ignored by deer for a month or more—suddenly evolve into the hottest salad bar around, and food plots that grow brassicas, turnips or wheat/rye become buck magnets. Naturally, any secondary rutting activity that’s going to happen will be concentrated in or near these areas.

It's important to remember that, at this stage of the game, even the biggest, toughest bucks are getting tired and hungry. While it seems that a mature whitetail is a breeding machine—ignoring the need to feed and rest—at times, every deer runs out of gas at some point. This point was illustrated nicely in Steven Hill's Great Plains Report and should serve as a great reminder that knowing the best security cover and food sources on your property is critical at this time of year. As the rut winds down and bucks rest up, the tighter you can set up to places where they feel comfortable, the greater the odds of success.

Finally, as hunting seasons come to an end, I’ve found it highly valuable to reflect on the season and learn from my successes and failures. For example, one aspect of the fall that really popped out at me was the stellar buck activity I witnessed after the breeding peak. I enjoy the luxury of being able to hunt several prime deer states each fall, and it’s always tempting to leave one spot—usually my home state—as soon as I sense rutting action has cooled. But this year, the best big-buck action occurred after most of the does had been bred…and I intend to devote more time to this period next fall. I always feel if I can emerge from each fall with at least one “takeaway” lesson, I’ll be that much better off next year. I hope you’ll do the same.