The Seven Best Days to Hunt Deer This Season

The Best Days to Hunt in 2006
Norm Eggleston of Streator, Illinois shot this 12-point in the late afternoon from 5 yards away with his bow. It scored 156 5/8 (Pope & Young). October 22
The early pre-rut is just beginning. Testosterone levels are building, and bucks are in peak physical form. Five weeks from now, when the rut is over, they'll have lost 30 to 50 pounds from fighting with other bucks, chasing and breeding does, and not taking much time to eat in the process. Once the days start to cool and the new moon appears, bucks move more at dawn and dusk. Though the rut is imminent, mature males mostly stay in the thick, nasty cover in their core home areas. Look for these spots in elevated or swampy locations and then fan out from there, searching for the early rubs-"preferably 3 inches or thicker-"that bucks make as they start to look for older does coming into heat early. Corridors that lead from rugged summer hideouts to gentler doe terrain near cropfields, food plots, abandoned orchards, and oak flats are especially good places to hunt today. Food is still important to bucks at this stage, so keep an eye out for large single sets of tracks and scuffled leaves where deer have foraged for acorns. Nibbled blackberry, greenbrier, honeysuckle, and raspberry bushes along travel corridors also let you know that bucks have started venturing into doe territory. Rut Wrecker: The weather could be stifling hot, which would cause deer to bed down during the day and move after dark, when it's cooler. Either hunt right at dawn and dusk, or wait for the heat to break in a day or two.
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The Best Days to Hunt in 2006
Larry Porter took this 13-point, 175-pound buck with a 50-caliber muzzleloader after it charged out of a thicket in Weakley County, Tennesee. October 31
Ghouls aren't the only creatures roaming about on Halloween. Mature bucks are moving hard now-"not chasing does yet, but checking their scrapes to see if any of the ladies have paid them a visit. Today is a Tuesday, hunting pressure should be light, and you should be in the woods. Look for sign on benches and knolls, in creekbottoms, near the corners of fields, and in semi-open staging areas where deer gather before entering feed areas just before dark. If you find a scrape, see if there's a bent and chewed branch 4 to 5 feet overhead and if any leaves or debris are covering the fresh dirt. A clean scrape is a fresh one, and if it smells of urine it's really fresh. Several large scrapes in a location are better than one, as that meansa buck is using this area on a regular basis. Rut Wrecker: Most scrapes are freshened at night, so even if you've found a hot spot you may not see any bucks. Counter this by hunting a well-concealed trail leading to the scrape, especially if it's in an open area.
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The Best Days to Hunt in 2006
Brad Calvert hunted this Casey County, Kentucky buck for two years before bringing him down with a bow last November 5. It scored 176 4/8 (Pope & Young). November 4
Buck testosterone levels are nearing a peak as the decreasing daylight triggers reactions in the deer's pineal and pituitary glands. Expect lots of movement, which could last all day as the seek-and-chase phase swings into full gear. November 5 will have a full moon, so midday activity should be strong today. Don't bother with scrapes right now. Instead, check areas where does congregate-"gentle terrain with soft knolls, overgrown pastures, pine groves, and semi-open fields sprinkled with cedars and stands of switchgrass. Locate these areas by first finding food sources, then checking the surrounding cover for family beds: 2- to 3-foot oval doe depressions intermingled with smaller fawn beds. Bucks always scent-check these areas to see if any females are in heat. They'll use stream bottoms, brushy sidehills, drainage ditches, hollows, and funnels of cover as they move among various doe groups. Set your stand off one of these routes. Rut Wrecker: Vegetation can still be thick in many areas, and bucks are moving rapidly in order to cover a lot of ground. Your chance for a shot may last no more than two or three seconds. If you see a fast-moving buck, use a grunt call to try to stop him.
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The Best Days to Hunt in 2006
Steve Daines and his 15-year-old son, David, took these two big bucks, one mule deer and one whitetail, in November while hunting the rut in eastern Montana. November 7
Take this date off to vote, then spend the rest of the day hunting. Although most does aren't quite ready to breed yet, they are all active now, with many secreting a pre-estrus scent that attracts the males. Bucks with swollen necks and glazed looks in their eyes will be traveling among female groups almost all day. When they scent a doe that's almost ready to breed, bucks often stay in the area and wait her out. To vent excess energy and declare their presence and intention to breed the doe, dominant males make new rubs, thrashing trees violently with their antlers. If you find such fresh rubs, hunt the surroundings immediately. Rut Wrecker: Strong November winds can make deer skittish and reluctant to travel through exposed places. Wait for a calmer day to work these spots, and instead concentrate on valleys, hollows, and other sheltered areas.
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The Best Days to Hunt in 2006
Travis Loew shot this buck (1852/8 B&C; official) in mid-November of last year in Rusk County, Wis. November 14
By now deer have had a chance to settle down from the weekend hunting pressure. In addition, because the moon is waning and most does have come into estrus, dominant bucks will be on the move everywhere, seeking to claim one of the many eager females. Today is one of the best days of all to hunt. Take advantage of it. All too soon the woods will seem eerily quiet. Focus your efforts on doe bedding areas with scattered plum thickets, warm-season grasses, cedars, and honeysuckle. Also watch the funnels that bucks use to travel between these areas. Brushy saddles, overgrown hollows, strips of cover connecting open fields, and weed-filled ditches are all worth checking. If you see a large doe looking back over her shoulder or with her tail crooked straight out or to the side, get ready. A mature buck could be shadowing her from nearby cover. Rut Wrecker: Different family groups cycle at slightly different times. Stay mobile, and make sure you're following does that are ready to breed, not those that already have or that won't be in heat for another few days.
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The Best Days to Hunt in 2006
Trevor Tomlin brought down this 15-pointer with a 50-yard shot in Champagne County, Ohio, toward the end of the month last November. November 25
The peak of the rut is over, and things have been extremely quiet in the woods lately. That's about to change, however, as bucks begin moving from one bedding area to another, frantically seeking the last few does that still need to breed and will be coming into a second estrous period. Scrapes again come into play now. Look for super fresh ones that have been pawed up in the past 24 hours. Find them near doe bedding sites on knolls, in cedar-dotted fields and pine groves, or near the best feed areas. A cluster of several scrapes, or a particularly large fresh one, indicates a good spot for you to set up. Watch for bucks either visiting or scent-checking these sites from downwind. Rut Wrecker: Late-season deer are skittish. Today's a Saturday, too, so heavy hunting pressure is possible. If it's crowded where you plan to hunt, try to get to areas far from parking and access spots. Head to steep, thick terrain, swamps, and brush-choked territory where deer will hide when the pressure mounts.
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The Best Days to Hunt in 2006
Last December 5, Richard Jenkins fought the cold and the snow to get this deer in St. Mary's County, Md. December 5
Post-rut bucks have spent their energy and spread their seed. Needing to rest, feed, and rebuild their strength for the coming winter, they head for isolated spots that have good cover and browse: fresh timber cuts, oak flats that still have acorns, out-of-the-way food plots, and places with mast leftovers such as persimmons, grapes, and crab apples. Bucks haven't entirely abandoned the doe areas, though. Younger females that didn't breed last month are now coming into estrus again, stirring the start of the second rut. With so few females in heat, the largest bucks dominate the breeding at this time. Between resting in their remote, thick hideaways and feeding in secluded spots, the big boys will make forays back into doe territory searching for one last mate. Your best chance for action will come in areas protected from brutal weather, such as valleys and riverbottoms. Watch for small does that are traveling alone and acting nervous-"even during midday, given the full moon and colder weather-"then get ready. Bucks you see now will likely be dominant males that want to spread their genes until they drop. Rut Wrecker: A major snowstorm could impede buck movement. Check the Weather Channel and hit the woods either just before the storm strikes or right after it breaks. Movement will be strong at both times.
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