Hunters are more likely to kill big bucks during the peak of the rut than at any other time of the year. But most serious deer hunters don’t get to within 200 yards of live deer until they climb into their stands on opening morning. Although some bowhunters can take down large deer early in the season after monitoring their behavior throughout the summer, most deer hunters only get close to them on the morning of the hunting season. Some big bucks commonly sought after by hunters are also fooled by rattling during the pre-rut. During muzzleloader season, dedicated hunters who persevere to the end are rewarded with the chance to hunt some of the biggest bucks in the country.
Bucks become fixated on finding mates during the breeding season and are thus more vulnerable to hunters. They’re no longer interested in each other sexually, and food is the last thing on their minds. Instead of staying in one place, they are always moving in their search for a female deer that is ready to mate. All you have to do is lie in wait for the buck of your dreams to walk past. The word “ambush” is key here. Not just any hideaway will suffice. Seven ambush sites are perfect for hunting during the peak of the rut.
Where to Find the Best Hunting Stands During the Rut
Deer Hide and Seek: Hunting for Love in Overgrown Fields
A buck will follow a doe around constantly until she is ready to mate. When she is close to being able to mate, the buck frequently forces her into distant locations to keep her away from other potential mates. The last thing he wants is another person to try to get a piece of his pie.
I once saw a gigantic Iowa whitetail deer herd a tiny doe into a little brush lot for exactly this reason. He’d been chasing her for a while, but she stopped and hid in a cornfield to avoid him. She could be seen from far away in many different directions. That’s how I first spotted the buck.
I saw a buck prod a doe with his antlers until she stood up and ran across the cornfield. He chased after her aggressively until they both disappeared into the brush.
Not many trees in remote areas are big enough to hold a hunter safely. If I’m looking for deer in a farm area, I’ll check an overgrown field first. Mature bucks are often drawn to these fields because they’re next to agricultural areas. When a buck is looking for a mate, he will find a female already in a good spot for feeding and push her away into a thicker cover to have her to himself.
A skirted tripod or box stand positioned high above the cover would be ideal for a hunter, allowing them to see a long distance while remaining hidden. You can come in without making a noise and stay as long as you like. The best time to see deer is in the morning, but they can be seen anytime.
Cornfields: A Haven for Bucks
Bucks in their rut are drawn to standing cornfields like bees to honey. They enjoy roaming around the edges of the field and through the rows of crops next to creeks, irrigation ditches, and fence lines. Look for large tracks in the soft earth to see if bucks are rutting.
Standing cornfields also hold during the rut. The deer use the cornfield rows as their bedding areas and will hide inside the cornfields to escape aggressive bucks. The sounds of deer brushing against cornstalks or a buck in pursuit of an estrous doe can be heard if you listen carefully.
Some cornfields are better than others, and this is for reasons that may not be what you expect! Which areas are the most desirable? You need to look at the harvest timetable from the previous year. Farmers with large fields may not have harvested them all if they experience a lot of rain or early snowstorms or if they are always busy. Uncut cornfields provide bucks with ample cover, allowing many that would otherwise have been tagged to survive. Large cornfields that are not harvested until after the close of the gun season are your best bet if you wish to pursue deer hunting for bucks over the following few years.
Bucks will use ravines, creek beds, and brush fingers next to cornfields to go in and out of the cornfields. These pressure points are perfect places to ambush deer during the peak of the rut. Choose a spot to set up your ladder stand or find a place to hang on that will allow you to see bucks coming in and out of the field and bucks sneaking along the outside of the field.
Putting up a hunting stand in a suitable position is a fantastic place. A break in a hedgerow or fence line that divides one uncut corn lot from another is an excellent choice for placing a climbing stand, the second of our recommended locations. The bucks move from field to field as they look for mates that are in heat. They can move about unnoticed via these wall gaps since they are only a few layers thick.
An advantage of setting up an aerial ambush here is that there is usually no need to trim the bushes. Place your climber downwind of the opening to take a shot without disturbing the area.
The Search for Love in Deer Country
In farming areas, male deer ready to mate will use any type of cover they can find as they travel around. When thinking about places where plants and animals can live, irrigation ditches, hedgerows, fence lines, and creek beds come to mind immediately. The best place to ambush someone is on a piece of land that can’t be cultivated, where the property lines of two, three, or even four properties meet. There is a good chance you will come across a woodland region littered with dead trees, undergrowth, barbed wire, goldenrod, or briars.
When moving from one doe bedding or feeding place to the next, deer will move along these barriers. Many different age-class marks should make you confident that you are right. Bucks tend to follow hedgerows and fence lines when looking for a mate, so if you want to attract them, make sure your property has these features. A county plat book is a useful tool for identifying potential sites. You will have to work hard to make it successful.
Hang your stand early in the season, before the rut goes into high gear, and trim any necessary trees or branches early. Plan an approach path. You should avoid walking on paths that bucks or does frequently travel.
The behavior of Bucks Before the Season Starts
Whitetail bucks across much of the United States will be in a leisurely state during the last few months of summer. During this time, the antlers of these deer will grow incredibly quickly until they reach full maturity towards the end of August. Whitetail deer biologists and researchers have determined that deer antlers grow faster than any other tissue type in any animal species.
When a buck rubs the velvet off its antlers, it is ready to start searching for does that are in heat. The time at which the rut occurs differs a lot depending on the part of the continental United States, with some places experiencing it as early as October and others as late as February. Deer behavior during the rut is relatively similar regardless of when it starts in a given location.
During the summer, it is common to see bucks in “bachelor groups.” These groups of deer consist of bucks of all ages and maturity levels. After their antlers shed the velvet, some bucks might remain together for several more days. Young males sometimes lightly fight each other to determine which ones can mate with females in a certain area.
Early-season buck behavior will mainly be centered around feeding. Establishing a pattern on bucks in your area can become increasingly difficult once the pre-rut phase begins around early October. The rutting season will be a test of experience for hunters, as those who have scouted and hunted for years will have a big advantage.
Tracking Down the Pre-Rut Trail
The male deer have already lost their velvety antlers and live a more solitary lifestyle. Most whitetails will carve territorial landmarks in rubs and scrapes in wooded areas. A scrape line essentially serves as a boundary for a buck to show others that it’s claimed that area as its own. This period will happen during October for a lot of the country.
While it’s important to note where game animals have been feeding, you shouldn’t put your stand only in these areas. Although bucks will continue to eat during this phase, they will also start to chase more frequently. Bucks will turn to muscadines, persimmons, and even the first acorn drops of the year in heavily wooded areas when no more crops are left in the fields.
Hunting bucks during the pre-rut is more likely to result in a catch than searching for does. The easiest strategy to lure in deer is to position your stand along routes that lead from their bedding places to whatever food source is prevalent in your region at this time of year. As the pre-rut ends(typically late October for most of the United States), the transition from feeding to rutting behavior will become more apparent.
Risk is involved in deciding whether to hunt a scrape line or food source trail during this time. If you want to be successful in bucks during the pre-rut phase, it is helpful to understand how they typically behave in your area. The patterns you have seen in previous years are likely to be a good indicator of what to expect in the future. Although this may not be ideal, scraping lines and finding food sources are worth trying during this phase.
Bucks Gone Wild: Mid-Rut Madness
There is nothing like hunting during the beginning and middle of the whitetail deer season. During the rut, bucks will roam around looking for does. Love is in the air in the form of doe estrus that has a scent and attracts bucks.
The first female deer will start to come into heat at this stage, and bucks will sometimes become frenzied in their pursuit of a female deer in heat. Bucks will move at any time of the day or night to mate during the rut and are not afraid to come out into the open in their quest. If you want to have the best chance of seeing a trophy buck, you should plan to spend the whole day hunting.
The best place to put your stand during the rut is where the deer have to pass through narrow openings because you’re most likely to see a buck chasing a doe.
A pinch point is any change in terrain, cover, or man-made obstacles that make deer go through a small area as they avoid exposing themselves to danger. Deer are constantly looking for the safest and most hidden route between two areas.
Even if bucks are behaving oddly, hunting near their feeding areas is a good idea, as does will still be feeding according to their usual patterns. To find a good spot to deer hunt, look for an area where multiple trails come together near a feeding or bedding area. It’s better to focus on areas where the deer are active so you’re more likely to be near one.
Bucks will mate with does regardless of the time of day, so sitting in a tree stand for long periods or even all day can be productive during the rut. Many experienced hunters believe that it is best to kill giant bucks during a mid-day hunt. Some of these hunters even swear by taking it easy in the morning and then slipping into their hunting area’s treestand shortly before 11 a.m. or noon.