Learn to hunt the rut

Bucks calling card

This rub appeared 1 week before rut kicked in, does feed in a bottom directly below.
This rub appeared 1 week before rut kicked in, does feed in a bottom directly below.

Timing is key to hunting the rut

Learning to hunt current conditions and visual signs can be the difference in a successful deer hunt. Adjusting to deer behaviors is the real key to hunting the fickle rut. The rut can be very hard to predict, can come and pass before many hunters even realize it's gone. Over the past several season's our hunt club has had leases in 2-3 connecting counties. The stage of the rut can vary more than most deer hunters would expect. While members from one county was reporting that the rut was full blown, 10miles away there was no sign at all, and 25 miles away they were still in bachelor groups. The rut varied 48 days between that distance last season so how can you time the rut. Although much of the timing is controlled by weather and moon phases, it's deer behavior that will let you know when the rut hits.

4 Keys in adjusting to hunting conditions:

  1. Watch deer behavior for visual signs
  2. Know the current food source, where are does feeding
  3. Adjust your stand placement to current conditions
  4. What techniques, attractants, and calls may work



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Understanding deer behaviors

We had been hunting for several days with little deer action so, I decided to try a secluded hole along a steep ridge with an open bottom. A few deer had already begun to feed, when several more does slipped in from a thicket. One was acting a very nervous and kept looking back over her shoulder. All at once several bucks started popping in from different directions, I decided she must be a hot doe. What seemed like an eternity but was probably only a minute or two, a large 8 point come crashing through some dense brush. The stud threw his nose to the air, the doe began to take off with the big bodied buck right on her tail. They ran like the wind for several minutes before she lead him off to another secluded thicket. I couldn't pull a shot off with them on a dead run but I thought to myself "The rut is on".

Deer behavior is one of the best indicators of the stage rut you're seeing. Bucks will be ready long before does. Watch for bucks to wander from bedding areas before sunset, you may even see some midday field sightings. Bucks will begin to monitor scrapes and watch does from ridges, food sources, or hang out near thickets where does are bedding. Look for bucks necks to swell and their tarsal glands, at their hind legs to turn black.

Does body language normally is very casual,and relaxed. They tend to feed at the freshest food source then back to bedding areas in groups led by mama. As rut draws near you'll begin to see more does off by themselves. Does will prance, act antsy, look over their shoulders and will stick their tail out straight or crooked to one side. These are all indicators the rut has kicked in. You may even be able to smell estrus does or tarsal bucks as go make your way thru the woods. Does will begin to pee in deer scrapes or maybe leave some droppings for a calling card.

If you see bucks chasing does or fresh tracks with dirt kicked up from running, don't be afraid to follow the sign. A buck could be breeding a doe at the nearest hidden opening in the woods or bottoms. Changes are they're more interested in breeding than looking for predators slipping in. The rut is probably the only time they'll get this careless so don't be afraid to take advantage of their need to breed.

Deer sign will be near your food source

Deer droppings are a sure sign they have been feeding or bedding nearby.
Deer droppings are a sure sign they have been feeding or bedding nearby.

Freshest food is where you'll find the best hunting

Knowing the freshest food source under the current conditions, will improve your success. Does will feed on the best food available at the time and bucks are sure to follow. Oak acorns, Ag crops, soft mast, deer like to eat whatever the freshest food source is at the time. They all come into play at certain times, you need to know what your deer are eating today, not what they were eating last week. There's hidden food sources in secluded holes that always get lots of attention, especially once hunting pressure gets heavy. Bucks will follow the does while does will follow the food.

Tree Stand Placement

Make sure that your stand is down wind, with no silhouette, for deer to bust you.
Make sure that your stand is down wind, with no silhouette, for deer to bust you.

Finding the right location for your stand

As I've said before deer are creatures of habit, they will use the same travel routes year after year. Maybe not the exact same path but the same routes, trees fall, brush thickens, still they'll follow an area that has been safe to go to and from bedding and food. Does will usually come into heat at the coolest part of your property first, most cases the elevated ridges. Swamps or creek bottoms the water tends to keep in a little warmer until the water gets cold or frozen.

It's always good to look for pinch points, ditches or changes in timber for travel routes. Bucks will have a route for scent-checking does, make sure for scent is blowing away from their scrape lines and travel routes. I've found that inside dense thickets many times there's travel routes or many even holes deer love these during rut. You need to cover all your bases, stands for field edges and elevated ridges, stands for early and late food sources, and stands for bedding areas and thickets. Make several routes to each so you can play the wind, then monitor does so you'll know which you should be hunting. Know your property, scout the off season, then you can make informed choices for your tree stand placement.

What techniques and calls should work

Rattling and using calls:

Pre-rut can be a very rewarding time to hunt, bucks will be sparring, wandering from home looking for that first hot doe. This is when they might just be fooled by rattling, grunt tube, doe bleat or maybe a well laid scent trail. Once rut kicks in that well thought out sequence of calls is over the top, bucks are busy chasing and tending does. When bucks fight during rut is happens out of nowhere, is extremely loud and over in just minutes. A nearby buck will either commit or pass so don't over think it. Also if you do bring in a buck you don't want to be fiddling with your calls. STAY ALERT.

I find grunt calls and doe bleats to be effective all hunting season, even rattling some branches or raking some leaves can work. If a buck isn't with a doe, it's not hard to get his attention. Don't over call, it might take 30 minutes for some horny buck to work his way from a secluded bedding thicket. Relax, be patient and persistence.

Rut techniques:

  • Hunt the coolest part of the property first
  • Watch does body language
  • Hunt where you see the most does
  • Don't hunt scrapes during rut, bucks are busy tending does
  • Watch for bucks you've never seen before
  • Look for big bucks near dense brush or thickets where food, water and does are near
  • Hunt to current conditions

Doe groups will come into heat at different times, food sources will change, weather, hunting pressure and moon phase will all effect how you should be hunting. Keeping a deer hunters journal can help you track results from one season to the next. You have to adjust to current conditions every time you plan a hunt. Once you know what stage of rut, where does are feeding, you can place your stand where you'd expect bucks to pop up. Just remember to play the wind, don't over call and everything thing else should fall in place.

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Comments 2 comments

Kasman profile image

Kasman 3 years ago from Bartlett, Tennessee

As I'm looking to get to hunting again for the first time in forever, I'm excited to be using some of these tips to help out. Thanks a lot for taking the time to detail this out as some young hunters always need a guide! Voting this one up!


ShootersCenter profile image

ShootersCenter 3 years ago from Florida Author

Glad be be of help, I'm always trying to help people enjoy the outdoors. I've been hunting and fishing over 40 yrs so if there's any questions can answer feel free to ask.

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