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In only a matter of days, the majority of does across whitetail range will be in estrous and may well be pinned down in some oddball cover by the best buck in the area—and that buck will be very difficult to hunt. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we are not there yet.
For now, we are instead in that magic bubble before lockdown when virtually every buck in the herd is in full-on go mode. Some does are already being bred right now, so the scent of estrous is in the air, and any buck worthy of wearing antlers is on a mission to find his own mate. That’s why I’m picking tomorrow, November 4, as one of our seven Best Days of the 2023 Rut. About the only thing that can side-swipe some amazing daylight action right now is hot weather, and even then I wouldn’t miss hunting this weekend if I had to wear shorts and a t-shirt.
Rut Stage: Chasing/Early Breeding
As noted, at this point in the fall, there has definitely been some breeding activity already, so bucks—even the oldest, biggest bucks who’ve been exercising patience up to now—are as active as they’ve been since last fall. Any walking doe is considered a potential mate and will be pursued with abandon. If a buck finds himself without potential targets to chase, he’ll be covering ground throughout the day to find one. While most of this activity will occur within their established home ranges, count on some frustrated bucks to start pushing the envelope and exploring new ground in a relentless search for does. Which means, an unknown brute of a buck could show up on your property any minute.
November 4 Morning Hunt Plan: Camp On a Doe Bedding Area
Through much of the deer season, you want to leave doe bedding areas alone. You want to locate as many of these sanctuaries as you can and keep tabs on any epicenters of antlerless deer activity. But you don’t want to pressure them. Why? So that you can spring the trap now.
With the rut’s peak so close, bucks will be bombing through these areas throughout the day, searching for one willing mate. Choose a doe bedding area with the best wind direction for the day; one that allows you to enter undetected and hunt for much of the morning without getting busted by deer. In my country, I often look for a ridge end with a wind that blows my scent out over the valley, if I hang a set right where the hill drops off. Does will filter in throughout the morning and bucks will invariably follow, either chasing deer they see, or simply on a prospecting mission. If the action is good, I’ll stay in the stand all day, as a mature buck is as likely to come through at midday or early afternoon as it is first light. Otherwise, I take a midday break and switch to the eventing hunt plan below.
November 4 Evening Hunt Plan: Tuck Into a Secluded Food Source
It’s tough to be a doe right now. Those not ready to breed are still hungry, but every time they sticks their noses into a popular food source, they get harassed by at least one buck and sometimes multiple suitors. So what’s a girl to do? Dine at a hidey-hole food source, where she can fill her belly without attracting so much attention.
There’s only one problem (for the doe). Bucks know these spots too and will be patrolling them in the afternoon, usually long before they hit the destination food source(farm fields and big food plots). So plant yourself on that hidey-hole food plot close to bedding cover, or that little pocket of oaks still dropping acorns, or a clearcut edge close to a bedding swamp or marsh. Set up early in the afternoon, as a monster could cruise through any time. I always have my rattling antlers and calls, but I’ll use them only to call to a buck that I see in this scenario. Blind calling or rattling can cause a nearby doe to shy away from the feeding area, and you want her to feel safe and comfy coming in there. As a bonus, any doe being tended by a buck might wander in for a bite as well, as these obscure food sources are famous for attracting breeding pairs who want to stay away from the main herd.
Related: The Biggest Whitetail Bucks of 2023
Hot Tip: Run a Drag Rag
If you’ve been waiting for the right time to deploy that bottle of doe estrous urine, this is it. When you’re about 150 yards from your hunting stand or blind, pull out a clean rag or wick that’s attached to a 10-foot length of rope or cord and douse the rag in scent. Then just walk to your stand, freshening the rag up every 50 yards or so. Finally, hang the rag in a good shooting lane 15 yards from your stand. My buddy Sam Collora taught me this 20 years ago, and since he’s now killed four bucks over 200 inches, I’ve made it a point to act on his advice.
Hot Gear: Rattling Antlers
I’m still mildly shocked at the number of hunters who don’t carry or use rattling antlers. I attribute this to a combination of factors; a shyness about making noise in the deer woods, a fear that a fight will scare deer rather than attract them, and a belief that rattling only works in big-buck states like Texas or Iowa. Let’s make this the year we shed those phobias and start banging bone together, and here’s a perfect scenario to start: Let’s say a buck (or bucks) have chased a doe but lost her. They’re running and sniffing all over like beagles trying to find the bunny that’s given them the slip. Grab those horns and start clacking, and I’ll bet that befuddled buck snaps to attention and heads your way. He’s already looking and listening for other deer, and the sounds of two bucks going at it can only mean one thing; they’re fighting over the doe. Just make sure your bow is handy.