Prairie Prize

Pattern and kill a big open-country buck with these deadly tactics

It may not look like deer country at first glance, but the wide open prairie is home to a growing herd of whitetails—many of them worthy of a taxidermy bill. Lack of hunting pressure and the difficulty of getting within range gives these bucks the opportunity to grow old. The mature deer are wary and ready to take off at the first sight of a hunter, but like any whitetail, their guard drops during the rut. These November tactics will up your odds of killing a genuine big-sky bruiser.

open country bucks
Look for deer near water tanks, windmills, and seasonal ponds. Steve Sanford

Connect the Dots

Just like their cousins in the timber, prairie bucks lay down rut sign in the weeks leading up to the big show. Rubs can be particularly prevalent in any tree row, and it’s common to find an old cedar fence post worn thin. Rutting bucks will tear up the ground, too, but scrapes are harder to find in all that open country. Connect the dots on these blazes to uncover preferred travel routes and set up an ambush.

Water Watch

Dew and shade are at a premium here, so prairie deer drink more often than woodland deer. Tanks, windmills, and seasonal ponds are all prime spots to intercept a big buck. Water holes also function in much the same way as large community scrapes. Some bucks will visit them several times a day during the rut. If possible, set up blinds near water holes before the season to allow deer time to ­acclimate to them.

rut deer hunting tactic
Rattling is a viable strategy. Steve Sanford

Long-Distance Call

Without trees or brush to dampen it, sound travels far on the prairie. This makes rattling a viable strategy, provided you set up correctly. Bucks will circle downwind of a fight, so find an elevated spot that offers plenty of visibility, then hammer a pair of antlers together to pull aggressive bucks into range. You’ll likely be able to see him from a long distance, so make sure your nerves can take the anticipation.

rut deer hunting tactic
Scout CRP fields, brushy draws, windbreaks, and abandoned farmsteads. Steve Sanford

Cover and Contour

No matter how flat and barren the prairie looks, whitetails find places to hide. The best spots come in the form of CRP fields, brushy draws, windbreaks, and abandoned farmsteads. When cruising for does, bucks will rarely expose themselves and instead will move along subtle terrain folds and saddles. Using good optics and old-fashioned topo maps is still the best way to scout these likely corridors.

Sweetheart Set

Deer densities are low in this country, and bucks rely heavily on their vision. That makes decoys highly effective during the rut. The sight of a single doe in November will likely pull a buck out of his pattern and bring him running for the chance at a hot date. A doe decoy with a brushed-in blind set downwind along a bed-to-feed corridor is a killer combo.

Flat Wares

Essential gear for a wide-open deer hunt

[1] Vortex Viper HD 10×50 These binoculars have multicoated, high-density glass for better resolution at dawn and dusk, and they’re tough enough to take belly-crawling abuse.

deer hunting gear
$749; Vortex

[2] Flambeau Boss Babe Near-constant wind plays havoc on fabric decoys, so opt for this molded model that you can stake firmly in place.

deer hunting gear
$144; ­ Flambeau

[3] Hunters Specialties Strut Ground Blind At 27 inches tall, this blind doesn’t create a giant silhouette on otherwise open terrain, and it can be moved quickly should the need arise.

deer hunting gear
$20; Hunters Specialties

This article appears in the November 2016 issue with the headline “Prairie Prize.”