If you’ve given up on big bucks just because we’ve passed the breeding peak, you’re making a big mistake. From the Deep South to the Northeast, from Midwest farm country to the mountains of Washington, we’re learning of hunters who’ve persevered through the latter stages of the rut have been rewarded in a big way.
The reason is fairly simple, as Steve Hill’s report from the Great Plains region indicates. Most bucks have been locked down with does, but now that peak breeding has passed, those once-difficult bucks suddenly become killable again. This theme is repeated in other posts, including Brandon Ray’s report on his successful hunt for an old buck he’d nicknamed “Frosty” as well as entries from Will Brantley (Mid-South) and West reporter Jeff Holmes.
All convey basically the same message: Big bucks are shaking loose from does, and may be even more vulnerable than they were in the late pre-rut, when most of us think hunting is at its finest.
Video illustration by Andre Malok
Still, you can’t sugarcoat the difficulty of hunting now. Just a few weeks ago, young bucks were actively pursuing does and stirring things up. That situation results in more deer sightings and helps hunters stay in the timber, waiting for something bigger or better to come along. But at this stage of the rut, many of those young bucks are played out and staying on their bellies longer. So hunters waiting for that monster to make a move can suffer through some long hours staring at empty trails. It takes patience and hunting time that a lot of us simply don’t have.
And then there’s the pressure factor. As pointed out by South Reporter Eric Bruce in his post, weeks of hunting pressure can make even the ruttiest buck cautious about moving. His interview with Georgia hunter Greg Garmon revealed an interesting strategy: Garmon only hunts evenings during the mid-November time period, largely to reduce his footprint on the landscape and to keep deer relatively unpressured. That’s a great idea. Another tactic that some hunters use to achieve the same effect is to establish sanctuaries where human activity is forbidden. While that’s difficult to do, giving deer safe-zones can keep them on (or near) your property and moving during daylight hours.
One other point to keep in mind: While mature bucks are typically the chief players in this late-rut activity, even the oldest, gnarliest buck may not respond well to aggressive tactics like rattling or calling. Remember, it’s late in the game here, and bucks are tired. They’ve been running hard for does and fending off rivals for weeks, and may not feel driven to duke it out with another buck. In my experience, it’s always best to start light and non-aggressive with calling now, only ramping things up if the buck seems receptive to grunting or rattling. As a rule, I believe that hunting terrain funnels and simply waiting for a giant to cruise through is the best bet. When I call, I like to mimic doe bleats, and the visual appeal of an antlerless decoy can be tough to beat right now.
Finally, it’s important to remember that, at least in some areas, the prospect of a “secondary” rut is very real. As Mike Bleech points out in his Northeast report, any does not bred during the peak-breeding phase, as well as fawns entering estrus for the first time, will be ready to breed about a month after the normal peak. Bleech also correctly notes that this secondary rut is more likely to occur in areas with relatively high populations, especially where does outnumber bucks. I’ve seen some stellar second-rut action over the years, and it’s always occurred in areas just as Mike describes, and that action is focused near food sources.
There are many days of great hunting left in the 2014 season, and I hope the week’s rut reports have motivated you as much as they’ve started a fire under me!