The rut is the best time and best opportunity to take a good buck, but it is also a phase of deer hunting when careless and/or excited hunters can really mess things up horribly.
Push too hard on bucks when they are pursuing their lady friends, and you risk busting them out of the territory. At the very least, too much pressure on a rutting buck can cause him to herd his receptive doe back into the hinterlands of the hunting area, likely to never be seen again — not during the remainder of the rut nor afterwards, when the hunting can be just as good.
If traditional buck rut hunting strategies and tactics fail, there are alternative methods to hunt bucks after the rut subsides. The transition into the post-rut phase is an effective time to slip up on tired and recovering bucks.
Be mindful though that stealth, caution, and deliberate hunting methods are still required; bucks never really drop their guard that much.
Let the rut play out
We are not suggesting hunters skip hunting the rut, but season after season hunters have reported less than thrilling results when they step outside of common sense and pressure rutting bucks with aggressive techniques.
During the rut, the best strategies involve laying back and letting the rut unfold in its characteristic format of seek, chase, and breed. Intervention in that process can result in less than stellar outcomes.
By all means hunt the rut as much as you can using traditional strategies, which center on finding out where does are traveling, congregating, feeding, and hanging out.
Where the does reside, the bucks will be wind-checking those locations regularly for does coming into estrus. Then the pursuit and chase may reveal a buck out in the open that can be caught off guard for a harvest opportunity.
Refrain from pushing rutting bucks too hard. They have their jobs to do, so go along with the routine:
• Stay away from hide out areas.
• Don’t push into sanctuary zones during the rut.
• Catch bucks coming and going between feeding areas and bedding areas.
• Hunt travel lanes and be keenly observant of full-bore rutting behavior.
Seek after the peak
Shawn Perry comes to hunt in Mississippi all the way from Houston, Texas, where he works in the oil field industry as a safety expert. He owns land in Holmes County that his father bought years ago. He also bought his son a full share of the 680 acres shared by several hunters.
His time to hunt is limited, thus he has to maximize his efforts whenever he can take time off to make the long trip. Deer hunting is that important to him.
Perry is a buck hunter in earnest, but he knows when to sit tight, when to back off, or when to go more aggressive as hunting conditions and buck behavior changes as the season progresses. He knows full well that pressing the issue on a rutting buck can scare him back into the dark shadows for the remainder of the season. It can certainly be a touchy issue.
“While I can’t say that I really try to concentrate on hunting trophy-class bucks, but, like any deer hunter that is honest with himself, I am definitely a buck hunter,” Perry said. “I mean, really, who isn’t? I’ll work hard to take my share of antlerless deer to keep the management plan working, but I like the hard bone antlers just as much as the next guy.
“Sure, I focus on the rut like every deer hunter. I hope a nice buck with a good rack will slip up and chase a receptive doe out into the open for a clean shot. But I know the reality of hunting the rut, too. Sometimes it nearly comes and goes without much notice, or it flies by so fast it catches you off guard. Even though we know bucks are chasing does and breeding as they should, we might never actually see it happening. That is why when the chasing finally seems to be dying down, I shift gears to alternative ways to hunt bucks. I go after them.”
After the rut
Perry knows that bucks simply don’t disappear after the rut.
“If we really know our hunting property, then we should have a pretty good idea where the bucks retreat to get revived,” he said. “Keep in mind, too, that once a primary rut phase ends, there is nothing saying that there might not be a secondary and even a tertiary rut. If antlerless deer numbers are high, some does simply don’t get bred during the first go round. So, some additional lower hyper breeding activity might well continue, so be ready.”
Perry said he has learned that the follow-up rut is nothing like the full-bore rut.
“After the main rut, bucks go back to their central core areas where they can rest, feed, and lay low,” he said. “If however, a doe comes into estrus either again or for the first time, even though it is much later in the season as a normal course of breeding activity, then the bucks will always be scent checking for that occurrence, too. It does happen more than you think especially if the buck-to-doe ratio is skewed with too many does on the property. I don’t know of a situation where every doe is not eventually bred, but maybe that is possible.
“But all else being equal, when the rut dies, then I take a completely different approach to deer hunting. I get out of the tree stands, and shooting houses and start a very careful and planned approach to stealth or still hunting. Some hunters think tiptoeing through the woods at a snail’s pace is boring, but it can actually be quite exciting. The main element is that once you invade a buck’s sanctuary zone, you never know what you’ll bump into.”
Post-rut stealth mode
Perry said that, like most hunters, he basically learned to still hunt on his own by accident — and by trial and error.
“I learned to deer hunt by hanging from trees or getting into a nice covered shooting house,” he said. “Sometimes I went weeks without seeing anything, so I decided to get off the stands and start walking. At first I busted a lot of deer, but eventually learned how to ease up on them within a close enough range to take a good shot. It is a very rewarding way to hunt.
“It’s not rocket science either. But, if you cannot walk quietly, move slowly, peer into the shadows and places where bucks might lay down, or hide, then this may not be for you. When I do this it looks more like I am turkey hunting. I wear camo gloves, and often a face mask or use face camo sticks.”
And, he knows that beating a deer’s nose is just as important as its eyes.
“Even though I constantly monitor the wind, I still spray down liberally with a good scent killer,” he said. “I wear soft-soled rubber-type boots, and I move from tree to tree for cover. Sometimes if I am in the thick of a core area, I will sit down, gun on my knee just like turkey hunting. I will scan the woods over and over with binoculars, sitting, watching and listening for long periods of time.
“Rut-worn bucks still have to get up, feed, water and move around. Often I catch them doing just that. If I am quiet and cautious, I can observe these bucks to assess their racks to wait for a shot. More often than not, I pass, but sometimes I collect a nice buck worthy of mounting for the wall at home.”
So if the rut does not produce a buck, don’t give up.
After the peak rut is over, press into a buck’s home hideout to literally hunt him on his own turf. You might catch a buck unaware of your presence if you hunt smart and take your time.
Hunt the rut hard, but save your aggressive tactics until after the rut.