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Hunting the Rut: Part 1


What hasn’t been said or written about hunting the rut? As long as I have been reading and also writing about hunting whitetail deer, stories of hunting the rut have consumed the October and November issues.

This is no different. As we learn more and more about whitetail behavior we continue to evolve and adjust our techniques of hunting and killing big mature bucks during the rut.

Timing is everything. While a lot of debate has been conducted about the timing of the rut, data collected by the SCDNR over many years shows that the majority of the breeding activity in South Carolina whitetails occurs on or about October 30th. This information, according to Dr. Charles Ruth, head of the deer and turkey project with the SCDNR, is gathered from studies of fawn dropping. “We take the information gathered from when does are dropping fawns and back date to the actual breeding date.” This gives the SCDNR an estimated date of conception. “The data indicates that the majority of does are bred between October 25 and November 15 with the peak occurring on or about October 30th.” Ruth states.

What this means for hunters is simple. During the last week of October into the first few weeks of November the bucks will be on their feet. They spend this time searching for receptive does. Often bucks you have been hunting all season will disappear as they are roaming far and wide searching for receptive does. Likewise bucks that you have never seen will magically appear on your game cameras and on your land during this time. Now is the time to take advantage of this situation.

While many methods work during the rut, I like to apply the common sense rule. Bucks cannot breed without does. Hunt where the does are and you will soon see bucks. Most hunters know from experience where the does like to move across their land. The bedding areas, transition areas and staging areas are all favorite locations for stands. Preseason preparation really pays off now. Having stands for dominant winds for this time of the year will ensure the does are moving through your area and hopefully bringing a buck behind them.

Patience is critical here. A few seasons ago, I was hunting a great transition zone and had a particularly difficult year. I decided that I would take and legal deer that presented itself to ensure some venison in my freezer. Around 9:30 a.m. a doe came running out of the bedding area right in front of my stand. I grunted at her to make her stop and made the shot. When I did I noticed the mature buck that was chasing her through the area. I quickly tried to get on him and rushed the shot and missed what is without question the largest buck I have ever seen in the wild. Lesson learned: when hunting during the rut, when a doe comes running past quickly, sit tight and watch behind her. Something is chasing her. Let her go, because now is the time to harvest big bucks.

When hunting does concentrate near food sources the does prefer. With the rut coinciding with the acorn drop, efforts spent in or near hardwood ridges, or bottoms will often put does in your area, thereby bringing bucks into your area. Personally, when hunting this method, I focus in the evenings on the hardwoods and acorns. White oaks are best if they are available. However, any oak that is dropping should not be overlooked. Learn your land as best as you can, unfortunately not all properties hold good quantities of white oak trees, but even if there is just one – when it is dropping deer will walk right through a corn pile or a food plot to get to the white oak acorns.

For morning hunting during the rut, I like to focus on transition areas, the travel corridors between food and bedding. This will give you the best chance to get into deer. Moreover, if hunting for extended periods of time (Next post) setting up in the transition areas, and or staging areas will give you the best possible chances.

Good stand placement is crucial, as it is any time, but during the rut, being between food and shelter will get you more opportunities for bucks. This is the best location to find a lot of deer traveling. If you are fortunate enough to be able to combine this in or near a funnel, be prepared to sit all day if necessary.

Hunting the rut isn’t rocket science; anyone who tells you that hunting the rut doesn’t involve a lot of luck is not being honest. With bucks traveling long distances to find does, you never know when or where some of these bucks will appear. Be patient, and you give yourself the best chance of filling your freezer with a trophy buck during the whitetail rut.