With the rut close at hand, stay in the woods
November means one thing to most bowhunters: It’s time to hunt white-tailed deer.
As the most widely distributed and accessible big game animal in North America, they are hunted more than any other species. Most bowhunters cut their teeth hunting whitetails, and there is no time better and more fun to hunt them than during the rut.
Each November, many bowhunters make the trek to the promised land of whitetails, — the Midwest — to get in on this action.
Even if you don’t travel there, however, this month at least marks the beginning of increased buck movement almost everywhere in the South.
Throughout the Midwest, early November is “game time.” This is the peak of breeding and chasing across most of that region.
Bowhunters who travel to that region are treated to some of the best that hunting whitetails has to offer. Calling, rattling, scents and decoys all work well there.
And because of shorter gun seasons that often don’t coincide with the rut, bucks in these states often reach older age classes and massive size.
Open crop fields with wooded draws and fingers generally make deer easier to pattern and, therefore, easier to set up to ambush with a bow.
Also, because of reduced firearms pressure, these deer are more likely to move about during shooting hours. Every bow hunter owes it to themselves to hunt this region in November at least one time.
Meanwhile, in most of the South, November is a time of transition for the deer. Early in the month, bucks are still focused on feeding heavily to bulk up in preparation for breeding season. They are focused on high-fat, high-calorie foods like acorns.
Bachelor groups of bucks are beginning to break up as a dominance hierarchy is established.
Also, bucks are increasingly becoming more interested in does and less tolerant of each other as their testosterone levels continue to increase.
Smart hunters will notice this change and shift their focus from food sources toward travel routes as the month goes by.
Acorns from different oak species fall at different times, but in November across the South, nearly all types of oaks that have mast that year are dropping to some extent.
Deer can quickly change preferences for which species they eat — and even which particular tree of a species they feed under. I’ve played “musical feed trees” with the deer, and lost more times than I’d like to admit.
Still, there’s nothing like finding a hot oak tree raining acorns with the ground beneath it covered with deer tracks and steaming deer droppings.
Deer nosing around in the dry leaves while they crunch acorns make ideal targets for the bowhunter, because the noise they make reduces your chances of being caught drawing back your bow.
Later in the month, rubs and scrapes often begin appearing. While I usually don’t hunt over scrapes, they make a great location to set up trail cameras. Even though a lot of your photos will be at night, the images let you know what bucks have stayed in your area, as well as reveal new bucks that might have moved in.
You can then use intuition and past experience to make an educated guess as to where those bucks are travelling during shooting hours.
Here are just a few thoughts about equipment and tactics for this time of year.
During the chase phase, when bucks are actively chasing does, many hunters wrongly assume deer are more tolerant of human scent. These hunters become complacent in their scent-control regimen. This is a major error.
Although bucks might be distracted by thoughts of love, most does haven’t let their guard down at all. Many hunters have had their chances ruined by an old doe that picked them off just before they could get an arrow into the big buck that was following her.
Don’t be one of these hunters: Maintain your regimen religiously.
Another thought is your bow sight. Although I usually hunt with a single-pin sight at other times of year, I switch to a multi-pin sight during the rut.
When bucks are chasing does, it is often hard to stop them, and a lot of times they don’t stop where you want or expect them to. You might only have a split second to take aim and release, so every second counts here.
Sights with more than one pin help reduce the time it takes to adjust your aim.
So does pre-ranging some landmarks in the area. These also help when a buck hangs up when responding to a call or rattling. If you have several spots pre-ranged, it’s simply a matter of aiming the correct pin.
Everyone who bowhunts for white-tailed deer looks forward to this month each year. The leaves are really falling and bucks are on the prowl.
You should spend as much time as you can in the woods this month. Don’t be set in your ways and afraid to try new things like calling, rattling, or a decoy. A buck might not respond 99 percent of the time, but you’ll never forget the one time it does.
Stay focused and diligent when it comes to your scent control and you’ll increase your chances for success. Tweak your bow setup to maximize its effectiveness.
Things happen very quickly in the deer woods this time of year, and you have to be willing and able to adjust rapidly if you want to be successful.
Most of all, have fun and enjoy all that the woods have to offer. This is what we work and prepare for the rest of the year.
Good luck and good hunting!
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