Last week we revealed the seven Best Days of the 2021 Whitetail Rut, and the first day is this weekend, October 24. That means that (1) you need to get out there, and (2) you need to have some solid strategies in mind. Below is a breakdown of the current whitetail rut phase, the action you can expect to see this weekend, and, most important, a game plan for both the morning and the evening hunts. The clock is ticking toward the 2021’s first best day of the rut, so let’s get to it. 

Rut Phase: Lat Pre-Rut

Of all the rut phases, this is my favorite, mainly because I usually know the locations of several good bucks I’d love to tag. And right now they’re like lions pacing the perimeters of a cage—full of pent-up energy but contained. For now, bucks are still sticking to their home ranges and core areas. But they’re laying down lots of new sign and amping up daylight movement by the day. If you have similar intel on a good buck or two, this is the time to get serious about killing him. 

October 24 Morning Hunt Plan: Watch a Scrape Line

Whitetail buck working a scrape
A nice buck works a licking branch over a scrape at the edge of a swamp. John Hafner Photography

Hunting over scrapes has a bad reputation, but this is the time period when it can really work. Savvy hunters recognize this as “scrape week,” that 7- to 10-day period when bucks are continually checking scrapes, often during daylight hours. That said, not all scrapes are created equal; bucks make many scrapes almost reflexively, as means of working off steam. These scrapes are made in odd areas and quickly dry up and go dead. Spend any time over these, and you’ll dismiss scrape hunting too. 

Instead, look for lines or clusters of scrapes in or near thick cover. My favorite areas are on logging roads in the timber, benches and saddles, timbered creek or river bottoms, and along hard edges where one cover type meets another, such as a swamp and a clearcut edge. Mature bucks not only feel safe visiting these in daylight, but other deer do as well. I’m not convinced you need to sit these spots all day right now, but you should get into the woods early and grind it out until noon or 1. If you typically do not hunt mornings through most of October, today is a great day to start.

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Pre-Rut Tip

Don’t dismiss the importance of temperature right now. If it’s a cool day, or especially if there’s a light drizzle or impending storm, stick in the stand as long as possible as bucks will be moving well. But if you’re looking at unseasonably warm weather, get out of that morning setup (I like to wait two hours from my last deer sighting) and get some speed-scouting done during the midday. This valuable intel should reveal the hottest buck sign, and set you up for a great evening hunt. Many hunters are reluctant to scout now. That’s understandable, but remember, rut sign is literally exploding, or dying, by the day now. If you want to be on the freshest stuff, keep those boot soles busy.

October 24 Evening Hunt Plan: Staging-Area Ambush

While bucks are definitely amping up their activity, the true whoppers remain reluctant to step into an open field or plot in daylight. This makes a staging area—a spot 50 to 75 yards off a major food source—the perfect place to meet up with a giant. 

Staging areas are often pretty easy to find; start at the field edge and simply walk entry trails back toward dense cover. Usually the first clump of dense trees or brush will host a cluster of rubs and/or scrapes now, and this is the spot where bucks dilly-dally for stepping out into open, making and checking sign, scent-checking does enroute to the field, and sparring with other bucks. 

This is also the spot to encounter Mr. Big. Young, eager bucks will bomb out into the groceries, checking out every doe they see. But the true giants rarely waste energy, especially in this late pre-rut period, and they don’t survive to maturity by blundering into open cover too often. So hang a set to shoot to the freshest buck sign (staging areas are often started in September, so some rubs and scrapes might be weeks old) and let those young bucks pass as you wait for the whopper.  

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