3 Ways for Rutting BucksOctober 1, 2012 - Bow & Arrows Steve Bartylla
I only had one day to hunt. Having put up thirty some stands on the 200-acre farm that summer, I had options. All that work for one day of hunting. Still, if I chose the right stand, it’d be worth it.
Leaving extra early, I began the long, dark walk to the stand. It had to be long, as I placed my money on the stand covering the doe-bedding area. The short route would blow out feeding deer.
After settling in, the wait began. The bedding area was several hundred yards off the food source. With the does feeding being undisturbed, they’d likely continue feeding for the first hour of light before slowly browsing their way through the woods to their bedding area.
Sure enough, it was a full two hours after dawn before the first doe trickled in. Slowly but surely, the entire family group of does and fawns filtered in. By the end, I could count seventeen from my stand.
Unfortunately, I’d missed on my first chance for tagging out. None of them had a buck trail them in. Now, with all the eyes around me, I’d have to play statue until a roaming buck stirred them up or they made their midday movement shift.
At least another hour pasts before I heard the twig snap to my right. Cresting the rise, the eight point spotted the does. Extending his neck, he trotted in.
Already at full draw when he hit my shooting lane, I grunted loud enough to stop the scramble of deer. Swiftly setting the pin, I released the arrow. It was a good hit.
Most serious whitetail hunters live for the rut. Personally, I’ve always found that when attempting to kill a specific buck other phases of season are easier to hunt. The rut contains too many variables that can temporarily throw a buck completely off their rut patterns. In fact, though I adamantly disagree, many believe bucks don’t even have patterns during the rut.
Still, one thing is for certain. The rut can be a thrilling time to be in the woods. Even better still, the following three setups are the best I’ve found for tagging rutting bucks
#1 Bedding Area Setup
As the intro hunt reveals, hunting doe-bedding area makes my top three list. In fact, if forced to choose just one, this tactic would be it. Ask yourself this question. What do bucks want most during the rut and where can it most consistently be found during daylight hours? Does and doe bedding areas are the answers. Because of that, it only makes sense that doe bedding areas are a great spots to setup.
The real question becomes how to most effectively hunt them. As with most situations, one size doesn’t fit all. However, there are three approaches that work most often.
When one is looking at bedding areas with defined habitat edges, setting upon on the downwind side is often the best approach. Evergreen stands, swamps, marshes, tall grass areas and just about any thicket are all examples of where this can work.
In a perfect world, a stand can be placed in a pinch of some type that constricts the bucks skirting the edge to scent check the does inside. If one doesn’t exists, look for either the most active scrape on the bedding areas outskirts or the best concentration of entrance/exit trails.
All things being equal, strive to set up about twenty yards off the edge. This provides shots just into the bedding area, as well as a chance at bucks cursing as far as fifty or sixty yards off the edge.
Not all bedding areas have edges defined by changes in habitat types. Many are topographic structures.
That was the case with the bedding area that began this article. There the does were bedding on the edge of a wooded flat, right before it dropped sharply down to a wide valley. Knobs and points on ridges and hill sides are other common examples.
Then there are also the head scratchers. Deer bed in this general area, but the only answer as to why is that it seems as good as anywhere.
The mature bucks are able to scent check some of these, somewhat similarly to how they can with the habitat based bedding areas. On a ridge, for example, the mature bucks commonly run just over the downwind edge of the ridge. That allows them to effectively scent check the knobs, points and tops of the entire ridge.
In that case, I like stands setup between that faint trail and the ridge top. Many times, one is able to take advantage of an erosion cut creating a pinch between it and the ridge top. Other times, these setups can be paired with saddles.
In each case, my goal is to setup stands on both sides of the ridge, between the pinch or trail and the top. Most often, that allows one to shoot both side trail and top of the ridge. With stands on both sides, the wind will tell the hunter which to sit that day.
Finally, there are the situations where you simply must get inside the bedding area. I’m afraid that only those taking odor control to the extreme should attempt this, as deer are sure to be downwind.
Also, there isn’t even a loose formula for where to setup. I simply strive to setup downwind of the best concentration of sign.
#2 Hunting a Pinch Point
My next choice can be summed up well by a hunt involving a buck I’d actually gut shot three seasons before, when he was 6 ½ years old. At that time, I’d set a stand in a killer funnel between bedding and food.
To the east of the stand, over one hundred acres of head high CRP land served as a bedding sanctuary. An extreme sharp sided wooded ridge made up much of its west boundary. Further west was acres and acres of lush alfalfa, corn and beans. The deer naturally clung to the base, where the ridge point dropped, offering them easy travels between the CRP and crops.
Waiting until November, a doe lead the mid 160-inch monster in on my first sit. Dropping my bow arm during the “gimme” 15-yard shot, I stomach punched him. After a four day search, I was sick, believing I’d left him somewhere to rot.
Fast forward almost three years later to the day and one could find me sitting on the opposite end of the large CRP field. Two ridges offered tapering points that ended about 150 yards apart. Both points were heavily used bedding areas. To the southwest sat the same hundred plus acres of head high CRP that I lost the buck in 3 years before.
A high-banked creek ran along the northwest ridge, while smaller, yet also steep banked creek ran along the ridge to the northeast. The result was the two creeks forming a peninsula of sorts. Deer from either ridge filtered through it when going between the ridges or CRP. It was a classic funnel.
Just describing the morning’s events would fill an article. It began with a group of bucks chasing an estrus doe through the funnel. That kicked off three hours of nearly nonstop action, the likes of which bow hunters absolutely live for.
Just as things finally died down, I spotted another buck approaching. His headgear wasn’t overly impressive. I’d already passed several significantly larger racks. However, one glance was all it took to realize that he was the oldest bucks I’d ever seen on the hoof.
Still, it wasn’t until he turned his head that I even considered shooting him. Even at that, I had to do a triple take to convince myself that what I was seeing was real. Honestly, if his G2 wasn’t so distinctive and rare, I wouldn’t have believed it. Though he’d gone downhill hard, it was the buck I’d wounded on the same farm 3 seasons before.
Knowing I had to make right my past mistake, I came to full draw. Settling my pin, I sent the Rage-tipped Easton arrow slicing through the boiler room. Sixty yards later, I’d righted a wrong that had haunted me for three years. Hunting a funnel had produced yet another buck.
When looking for rut funnels, my experience with this buck covers it. Regardless of it they are topographical or habitat pinches, so long as they separate bedding and feeding or multiple doe bedding areas, they are outstanding locations to meet that rutting buck.
#3 Thirst Quencher
Water brings us to our final rut stand. This plays on the rut being like a marathon for bucks. When maxing their physical exertions, there’s nothing like a cool drink.
The setting was great. With three points dropping down to meet and doe-bedding areas above them, bucks would be using the points to get between the doe groups. As an added bonus, the bottom also narrowed at this location, pinching any bottom running bucks to within shooting range.
Still, it was the waterhole 15 yards away from the tree I’d selected that made this the spot to be. With the well placed water source so close to doe bedding, you knew the chase weary bucks would be stopping by often to quench their burning thirst.
That’s precisely what Mr. Big was after, as he herded his prize down the point. Panting, tongue hanging, foamy strands of thick saliva dripping from his lower jaw, he’d obviously had a long night. He was going to get it drink, no matter what she had to say about it.
He was so intent on this that, when the doe tried veering away for the pool, he circled and tined her hard in the side, redirecting her back towards the water. Moments later, the arrow found its mark, getting a drink was no longer an option. I’d scored an awesome rutting buck.
When selecting water sources, remember that they aren’t all created equal. The best for rutting action are those in the cover, somewhat near doe bedding areas. Rutting bucks typically won’t abandon the search for does. However, they can’t seem to resist going slightly out of their way for a pit stop at a watering hole. When setting up, the downwind side is best for odor issues.
Another issue to consider is shot angle. An easy way to ensure one is offered a broadside shoot is to force them to give it to you. Strategically stacking brush around the water source, only leaving opening that will present a broadside orientation, eliminates the frustrations of deer drinking head on and quartering to your stand.
Of course, there are other solid ways to take rutting bucks. If I had the space to offer four setups, I would have added hunting food, as many great rutting bucks are killed on food sources every year. Decoying, calling and rattling can also be effective rut techniques.
Still, if only given three options for rut hunting, I’d take these three every time and never complain. No matter the amount of hunting pressure, the weather conditions or anything else that can adversely impact a rut hunt, I’ve found these three tactics to consistently out perform all the rest combined.
Estrus Scent and Scent Drags
Mature bucks are always easiest to dupe when they are in the right mood and their mind is already set on the lie the hunter is attempting to sell them. Rattling is most effective right after a buck has beaten up another. Using a bedded doe decoy with a standing buck setup to appear as he is tending her is most effective when a buck is looking for an easy score. After all, you are simply giving him what he already has his mind set on finding.
With that in mind, it should be no surprise that estrus scents are most effective when used while hunting doe bedding areas. When that mature buck is scent checking a bedding area, what is he doing? He is using his nose to find an estrus doe. By default, that makes doe bedding areas killer locations to bring out the estrus scents.
When placing scent, I typically use two Special Golden Estrus drenched scent wicks. I place one about twenty yards out on each side of my stand.
This works great for those that must hunt the wind. On a wind out of the north, place the wicks to the east and west of the stand. The buck then hits the estrus odor stream before catching the hunter’s. He responds and you just avoided getting busted, as well as having an easy twenty yard shot.
Scent drags are then great choices when the cruising bucks aren’t pinched as much. Starting about one hundred yards from the bedding area, I give the scent drag five or six squirts of scent per side. Then begin dragging it at arm’s length on the upwind side of where I’m walking. Every ten yards, pick it up and give it a couple more squirts. That way, the odor gets stronger as it approaches the stand.
Once I near the stand, I do a half circle around it. Staying about twenty yards out during the hook provides good shot angles at an easy distance.
When I reach the opposite side of the stand from my approach, I stop refreshening the drag. After continuing the drag to the bedding area, pick it up and return to the stand. The rag can then be hung from a branch in a shooting lane. –S.B.
Finding Bedding Areas
I’ve heard of many methods for finding bedding areas. Almost all have been baloney. Unfortunately, most of today’s “experts” know the cool buzz words, but couldn’t scout their way out of a wet paper bag. Because of that, nonsense like trails splitting, locating a certain kind or rub or scrape, simply following rub lines and all sorts of other methods for finding beds are tossed around like fact.
There isn’t an easy trick to finding them. I wish I could tell you that I’m such a great woodsman that I’ve found the secret, but it would be a lie.
Instead, my best advice is that deer prefer to bed in thick cover or on features that provide a view. When they are present, check those locations first, looking for indentations from bedded deer. In the absence of those features, burn boot rubber by walking trails and looking for indentations.
When a bed is found, look around for others. If there are several, ranging in size, chances are it’s a doe bedding area. If there’s only one or just a couple, all big, odds are it’s a buck bedding area.
The only other “trick” to finding them is to then hunch down by the bed. Look around, study the area and view. Ask yourself what advantages this area provides as a bedding site. Then, try to tie that in with the area’s food sources. The more one does that, the more they understand and can better predict where deer will bed. –S.B.