The only certainties about the whitetail rut is that deer behavior will change quickly and that you need to stay on top of it to score. The month of November has just begun as I write this; it’s a period I’ve come to call “scrape week”—that magical window when bucks seem to on a milk run from scrape to scrape, often during hunting hours. Sitting right on the hottest sign is a legitimate tactic now, but the window is short and easy to miss. One day bucks are fretting over fresh dirt, and the next they are off to the races, covering ground in search of ready does.
It’s easy to get behind the eight ball right now, left in the proverbial dust as buck behavior adjusts to the availability of does. On the other hand, it’s not that hard to stay top of things if you’ve got a plan in place, and one that not only reacts to, but anticipates the action. Here’s how to keep your hunting plan in sync with the latest buck behavior.
I can’t tell you exactly when scrape week starts. Nobody can. What I can tell you is that roughly a couple weeks (or a little more) before peak breeding, I start making midday speed-scouting missions to search out the freshest scrapes, especially the ones close to prime cover, such as logging roads, inside corners, and transition areas between bed and feed. Field-edge scrapes can work, but they’re best if there is bedding/security cover nearby.
When I find the freshest scrapes (emphasis on plural; look for a cluster or line of scrapes, which suggest frequent visits), I hang a stand immediately and hunt it as soon as the wind allows. Meanwhile, I hang cellular cameras on other scrapes to keep track of their activity. If one of my cameras tells me that a certain cluster of sign is on fire, I may switch my hunting location to take advantage. Otherwise, I’ll stay on the freshest sign. Remember, bucks will have several scrape lines within their home range, and it may take just a little patience to arrange a daylight meeting with even the most active scraper.
The Early Chase
Scrape week is a pretty accurate term; typically, I figure I’ve got five to seven days to kill a buck over a hot scrape line. But as soon as a doe or two comes into heat in that area, bucks will abandon scrapes and go right into chasing mode. And once again, you need to switch from hunt mode to scout mode. If once-hot scrapes suddenly go dead, the chase is on, and you need to make a move.
Now it’s time to hunt terrain, not deer sign, as bucks are covering ground as efficiently as possible, looking for the next hot doe. Hang stands in pinch points, along hogs-backs, ditch crossings, wooded fence lines connecting blocks of timber, and creek and river bottoms. Sometimes these spots will have rubs and scrapes, but don’t walk away from them if buck sign is absent. Remember, the best buck sign occurs in places where deer dawdle, and funnels don’t fit that description.
Something important to remember: The rut is the perfect time to be aggressive in your scouting and stand-hanging. Early and late in the season, a buck’s world is pretty small, and he’s extremely sensitive to even small changes to his environment; so that’s a time when it makes to pussy-foot around. But once a buck turns his attention to breeding and is covering lots of new ground, he’s less likely to notice your scouting intrusions, your just-hung stand, or recently-cleared entry paths or shooting lanes. Plus, unfamiliar bucks are part of the equation now, and they’re not going to notice any changes. So, don’t be afraid to scout hard now to stay on top of the most recent activity. Then set up accordingly to ambush a preoccupied buck.