Don’t be afraid to move during the rut
After the heat of summer begins to dissipate, and we start to feel the humidity slowly leave the air more and more each day, we then know that fall is on the horizon. Fall for some is a gateway to winter, but for many hunters across the country, it’s a signal that the prime time for hitting the woods is soon to arrive.
Few things get a deer hunter’s blood flowing like the thought of big mature bucks on their feet and moving around during daylight hours. The time of year when their defense such as smell becomes an advantage to a woodsman. Their natural survival instincts overshadowed by their mating season, and their usual routines can often go completely out the window.
When the leaves begin to change, acorns begin falling to the ground, and we find ourselves waking up in the morning to frost covered ground, we know it’s almost time. A magical time that, if I were a betting man, I would venture to guess more mature and big-racked bucks meet their demise — a time called the rut.
For those hunters who are lucky enough to have ever spent a day in the woods at the peak of the “seeking and chasing phase” of the rut, you know what it can be like. In fact, you’ve probably witnessed those times when you see more activity in a day or even in an hour, than you have hunting an entire week any other time of the year. That’s what makes the rut so special.
A lot of hunters will sit and tell you exactly how to hunt the rut. Some of this information can be of value, and some of it may not be of any use to you. That is for you to decide. Same goes for when things begin heating up in regards to the rut– it’s not an exact science. Nobody can predict it, but when it happens, it’s undoubtedly the best time to be in the woods.
Several years ago, around late October or early November, I received a phone call from a friend telling me he managed to shoot a nice buck with his bow. He told me the story of how he saw bucks chasing does all day until one finally made his way to him and he got his shot. I got really excited and began packing my things to head out in the morning for an all day sit. I couldn’t wait to get into the woods and see all this exciting action.
I hit the road early that morning and climbed into my stand well before daylight. Then, I sat and I waited, and I sat and waited some more. I saw a few small doe feed their way across a field and head to their usual bedding spots and then that was it. By about 1 p.m. I had finished my lunch in the stand and I was fed up. I stuffed my gear into my pack, lowered my bow to the ground and began to get ready to leave.
I walked to my car, shaking my head in disbelief that my friend had gotten me so excited for absolutely nothing. As I turned onto the main road to head home, I was still frustrated to have wasted so much time — time that I tried to save to hunt the peak of the rut.
About 20 minutes into my 25 minute drive home, I began to put on the brakes as I saw a doe standing in the middle of the road just ahead. Before I knew it, a beautiful white-racked eight point buck was up and over the guardrail and chasing her right down the middle of the road.
Since I am fortunate to have several good places to hunt, that moment made me decide to head to another spot just up the road, instead of the alternative of sulking at home. I pulled into the farm, notified the property owner I was there, parked my car and walked about 15 minutes or so to my stand. I’d just climbed up and I hadn’t yet finished pulling my bow up when I caught movement a few hundred yards across the field I was sitting on. In the corner of the field, a single doe was zigzagging her way in and out of the woods.
I managed to watch her as I finished raising my bow to the stand and nocked an arrow. A moment later, just where she’s emerged previously, I saw antlers on the head of a second deer that had just showed itself. They had turned and were headed right toward me, so I decided to stand up and be ready. Fifteen minutes later, I had a beautiful heavy-horned but fairly narrow-racked nine point laying 150 yards across the field motionless after having taken a well placed arrow to the vitals. I almost couldn’t believe it.
I learned a lot about hunting the rut through my two outings that day. First, I learned that you can’t always trust second-hand information. My friend had absolutely no ill intention and wasn’t by any means trying to send me on a wild goose chase. He just told me what he had been seeing. Second, I learned that it’s OK to move during the rut. If one area seems like there’s no activity, the next farm over could be running wild with bucks chasing does and the opportunity for success will be much high. A 20-minute drive was all it took.
Since then, off the top of my head, I can think of at least three bucks I’ve been lucky enough to take that we’re the result of a change of scenery.
Some were as far as 20 to 30 miles, and others were as close as the other side of the farm. Just like any kind of hunting, there’s a time to sit tight, and there’s a time to take action.
So, don’t be afraid to make a move during the rut, it could be the difference between success and going home empty handed.
Hunt hard, hunt safe and shoot straight, friends.
John Knouse writes about the outdoors for The Sentinel.