This is what we’ve all been waiting for: The whitetail breeding season is at or near its peak, depending on where you live, right now. While it’s true that peak breeding means some bucks will be locked down with does, it also means that every buck that isn’t will be frantically looking for a mate. If you’re patient, it can be the perfect time to intercept a giant. I’ve had more than one biologist, and a number of hardcore hunters I trust, tell me that November 14-17th is the annual breeding peak in my area, so you might think action would slow down in then. Yet I’ve had some of the most incredible hunting I’ve ever experienced in this timeframe, and in years where I’m tagged out or hunting another state, my cameras have captured some of the best bucks of the fall right now.
Lockdown or no, the thing to remember is that while some of the real gagger bucks don’t bother with the prerut shenanigans, every one of the true giant in your area are fully engaged now. So, while some may be tending a doe, others will still be searching or in between mates. That means that if you can get yourself into a stand or blind on Wednesday, you’ll have a real chance at interception a slammer buck. So, heres a closer look at where we are in the breeding cycle and a pair of tactics for making the most of it.
Rut Phase: Peak Breeding
In a well-balanced deer herd, the vast majority of fawns will be born in a narrow window each spring, and that means that the vast majority of does will come into heat in a similar, relatively short period. Most of us, however, don’t live and hunt in areas with a well-balanced deer herd. This means that does will be coming into estrus in a kind of staggered process, and bucks will be working hard to keep up with each new pulse of ready does, which means they can be on their feet any time of day.
It also means that the precise timing of the lockdown can vary within a relatively small area. So, keep two things in mind. First, if lockdown hits where you are hunting and you own or have permission on multiple properties, try making a move and you may find very different rutting activity. I’ve seen it dead one farm and on fire only 10 miles down the road. If your deer are a little ahead of or past lockdown, you could have some incredible hunting, but even if you are right in it, a giant can cruise by any minute.
November 15 Morning Hunt Plan: Stick It Out or Rattle and Run
Typically, I give you one morning and one evening hunt plan, but for the best day of the year, I’m going to give you one morning, one evening, and one all-day plan, starting with the last—and the best: If you’ve got a killer terrain funnel, one that connects multiple covers or even properties, your absolute best bet today is to plunk your butt in a stand and sit until dark, or until you tag a buck. Virtually every big buck in your area is obsessed with breeding right now. The fact that some of them may already be tending does simply means you may have wait longer for that monster to cruise past you. In other words, patience call really pay now. So, my best advice is to pull an all-day sit.
That said, few of us have more than a few all-day sits in us each fall, and you may have already reached your limit for the year. In that case, have some fun with an active morning technique that can be very effective, and one that allows you to cover some ground in your search for a buck.
Start by identify several known or potential bedding areas on a map. Then determine wind direction for the morning and mark spots on the map that are downwind of these covers. Then spend the morning walking to your X-marked locales, one at a time. In each, find a spot with a decent vantage point that offers good visibility and shooting lanes and, after letting things settle down, do a rattling sequence. You can start fairly low-volume, but if that doesn’t produce, make a bigger racket; snap branches, whack the ground with your antlers and lean on that grunt tube. Your goal is to draw a buck from the thick stuff that’s wanting to mix it up with a rival. Chances are, even if he’s with a doe, he might come to check you out if the fight sounds intense enough. If you can’t entice a buck from the first spot after 30 minutes, pull up stakes and move to the next, repeating until you’ve burned the morning or punched your tag.
November 15 Evening Hunt Plan: Stalk a Breeding Pair
If you’ve decided to pull an all-day sit, you don’t need an evening plan. On the other hand, if you’ve decided that your deer are fully in the grip of lockdown and that sitting longer makes no sense, it’s time to take the fight to the deer by covering some ground to spot a breeding pair, or to catch a buck on his feet looking for his next mate.
In farm or prairie country, I search for deer in patches of oddball cover. like brushy fencerows, abandoned farmsteads, or patches of willows or cattails in the middle of a field. All are places a mature buck will use to sequester a doe and hide her from competitors. Glass these covers from a distance where you can use your optics to pick apart cover, looking for an antler or the head of a doe, or–if you’re really lucky–a breeding pair standing up to stretch. In areas with more timber, slip along the edges of dense cover, such as swamps and marshes, a clearcut edge, or the top third of a bluff in hill country, and keep your eyes peeled for the same. This is a balance between covering ground, but moving slowly enough that you can glass the cover ahead. If you live in the north and there’s snow on the ground, it’s a huge benefit; not only can you spot deer better, but notice their tracks and remain on high alert. Once you spot the pair, you can either try to slip close enough for a shot, or use the technique above to call the buck into range.
Hot Tip: Bust Out the Snort-Wheeze
Rattling and grunting can certainly get the attention of a buck, but very little will get his attention like a snort-wheeze. In my mind, it’s a matter of purpose and intensity; a buck can be wandering on his own and grunting, almost out of boredom and frustration. But a snort-wheeze is a challenge call; it means a buck has seen a rival and is calling him out to either fight or flee. In my experience, nothing is more certain to pull in a mature buck. You can make this call with your mouth by simply imitating a tire deflating in three quick steps, phhh-phhh-phhhhhht! If you use any of the tactics above but can’t get an out-of-range buck to close the distance, try a snort wheeze—and be ready to shoot.