OK, I confess. I was napping a little. Well, I was napping a lot. Yeah, I was asleep, but I was safely strapped into a 16-foot-tall ladder stand overlooking a harvested corn field with plenty of remaining cob litter as well as a green plot of ryegrass, wheat and kale.

The set-up was a perfect mix of natural habitat and best practices at supplemental food plotting.

I was in an ideal seat to watch deer action as the day closed out in the west. I knew this because a couple of weekends before I counted 11 deer file out of the adjacent woods at the dark-thirty timing, as they call it around here. Among the group were three bucks, but alas my binoculars were failing in the dying light. At least two of them bore multiple-tined racks, though.

The witness encouraged me to come back for another look without pressuring the stand location.

So when I shook off the dreaming at the sound of thrashing in the woods, I was not the least bit surprised to see two does bolt from cover at full throttle right across in front of me. As they a made an L-shaped run for the woods to my right and behind me about halfway there, a racked buck tore out of the woods pressing right into the hoof prints left by the two does. He was gaining on them fast and way too fast for a view in my rifle's scope, much less to take a shot.

All I could do was sit and watch the chase unfold.

The does paused for a second at the edge of the woods as I shifted in my seat swinging my rifle barrel to the east. As the buck hit the woods line, the does disappeared into the thicket. For the next five minutes, all I could see were three deer flags running in circles tearing up the forest.

Conservatively, I heard the buck grunt 50 times during this chase, and then all went quiet. I thought that was surely the end of it, though the experience was exciting enough for me.

I kept a watch deep into the woods with what light was left, but it was fading quickly. Then I caught one glimpse of the buck's rack just sticking out from behind a tree. I confirmed it with my Zeiss, and determined a window of opportunity for a shot might just open up after all.

Well, every facet of the hunt was there but one. No such luck. In the nano-second between lowering my binoculars and raising my rifle, the buck was gone. Ah, hunting the rut is such fun and frustration at the same time.

By most calculated biological averages, the white-tailed deer rut in Mississippi lasts about 40 days, give or take a week depending on weather trends. Trophy hunters do not doubt these are the most-productive days to be hunting for the chance of scoring on a trophy buck. So what do we need to know about the best practices for hunting during the rut?

Some viewpoints and tips from several seasoned hunters might prove to be very insightful.


Shopping food sources

"The old standby in deer hunting when big bucks are the prime target is to hunt where the does gather," said Mark Boyd, avid hunter and associate publisher of Mississippi Sportsman. "Easier said than done? Well, sometimes that might be true, but there is one definite common exception. That would be food.

"Bucks may cut back on their caloric intake during the rut as they concentrate on breeding activities, but the does do not. They continue to yard up together in groups at the best available food sources. When and where they gather together, the bucks will eventually come around as well."

Favorite deer foods are always a common denominator for deer hunting.

"When the rut is on, I definitely like to hunt the ladies," Boyd said. "Season after season, I have found that tactic to be the best game plan for me. Wherever the does are feeding during the rut is where I want to hang a tree stand or set up a ground blind with a good clear view of all vantage points leading to the feeding spots, especially those hidden little corner entry trails where a buck can slip into the arena or stand back to observe. It will happen sooner or later.

"It doesn't really matter the time of day during the rut when bucks are hard pushing does around the woods. This is the time to be out hunting, but be sure to spend ample time watching food sources where does will be grabbing a quick snack before the next chase starts."

One other caveat Boyd added was to be sure to always play the wind and to minimize human-scent contamination of the area. During the rut, a wily buck or an even keener doe is not going to tolerate an oversaturation of human scent lingering around its playground.


Playing the elements

Angelia Boykin from Laurel is a terrific deer hunter, and serves on the pro teams of several hunting gear manufacturers. She spends a lot of time in the woods observing deer behavior trying to piece together all the parts of the white-tailed deer puzzle from the hunter's perspective.

"I hunt by the motto 'hunt hard and relentlessly,'" she said. "Persistence will eventually pay off. If you are going to take vacation time to hunt, then do it during the rut and hunt every day possible.

"I guess if I boiled down my main tactics for hunting bucks during the rut, it would be that I play heavily on the atmospheric conditions. I watch the moon phase, barometric pressure, temperature and weather. I try to make Mother Nature work for me, or at least not against me.

"Of course, hunting the moon phases can be a little tricky, as most tactics working the environmental elements are. During the full moon, I hunt during the middle of the day when deer are likely to be moving again. Most hunters think that during a total cast moon deer only move and feed at night because their visibility is so good. Even if they do roam at night, they still have to feed during the day. So when does are out feeding and the guys at camp are at the lunch table, I'm in my tree stand waiting on a buck to slip in.

"Likewise a quarter moon is usually better for hunting the dawn and dusk hours. Some say the second full moon is when the does' estrus cycle is at its peak, but I can't confirm that by my hunting experiences.

"Weatherwise, I pay close attention to fronts coming and going. I am convinced that changing barometric pressure is extremely important for deer hunting. When it is falling or rising is the time to be hunting. Does and bucks will move ahead of a storm front and right after one, so watch the weather and hunt accordingly."

If ever there were a blissful, high-energy time to deer hunt, it has to be during the rut. Big bucks are acting whacky running all over the countryside in search of does ready for a little romance. Sometimes they let their guards down and foolishly respond to various tricks deer hunters use to their advantage. Use the tips here, and be ready to hunt for 40 days.