As a bowhunter the early-rut is an exciting time of year. In this section the early-rut indicates the early rut in which oldest mature does come into heat. In Northern States this happens sometime in mid to late October. The early-rut is something I’ve seen little written about, but something I’ve experienced season after season. I can’t say I’ve seen actual breeding during this time, but I’ve witnessed chasing behavior that can only be explained as rutting behavior that you’d typically witness in northern states during the first two weeks of November.
Mature bucks begin to lay down their scrapes and rubs earlier than other bucks. The first sightings of these signs shows the promise of the rut. Once mature bucks begin to lay down these signposts using trail cameras is one method to determine the time they tend or check these rubs or scrapes. Be sure place cameras over scrapes above 8″ (when possible) as cameras often spook bucks at scrape locations rather easily. Look for locations where there a numerous scrapes preferably in cover, the more scrapes present the more likely this place is a primary scrape area. These are key areas to hunt from roughly Oct. 15th-20th. It isn’t a bad idea to key in on scrapes a few days prior to that period and a few days following. Place stands in locations that conceal the hunter but also cover the majority of the scraping area. Some mature bucks will actually scent check their scrape anywhere from 35-75 yards downwind from the scrape in a covered area. In order to kill a buck that does this it is necessary to have a stand near that area he will scent check this scrape, look for the nearest thick cover. The quiet use of an ambush sling or lone wolf tree stand would be wisest approach for a hunter looking to tag a buck using this method. The best way to tag a buck off a scrape or rub line is to place a stand prior to the season near the areas that mature bucks typically make scrapes and rubs. It will give the buck no inclination that a human moved in to place a stand. This requires pre-season scouting and stand placement in January, February, and March. Prior knowledge of the area hunted can also allow a hunter to place stand over buck sign far in advance of hunting the location.
Many bucks will be sparring this time of year. Further establishing their dominance, therefore light rattling is an appropriate technique to lure in a buck. The use of pre-rut buck scent and a decoy will be of help to the hunter who desires to use this technique to take a large whitetail. Keep in mind buck’s often come in downwind, that is why scent can be helpful for a better success rate using this tactic. Hunters rattling with no scent or decoy would be wise to do this in heavy cover to get a curious buck wondering what is in the area. Since it is harder for the buck to see, it will be more likely to approach the hunter even though scent or decoys are being used. Be weary of these creatures when using this technique, they have an uncanny ability to sneak into the area. The buck may notice human movement or even human scent and sneak away without a hunter even knowing the buck was ever there.
If you do not prefer to hunt over scrapes, use scents, or rattle consider locating the largest mature does in your hunting area. Try to key in on their location to give yourself an edge during this short early-rut period.
The early-rut is highlighted by a short period 2-3 days of rut type activity. It is during this time that some mature does come into heat. The oldest does in the area, those 4 1/2 years or older have a more regular estrus cycle and often start the process of the rut. Bow hunters witness incredible activity during this period. Since only a few mature does are in heat the bucks have to deal with other intruders attempting to breed the few does that are in estrus. Fighting may ensue, but mature bucks will typically be the ones with the opportunity to breed these mature does.
As soon as any indication of this period in mid October is identified it will be in the hunters best interest to spend as much time in the field as possible. Hunting near the location in which mature does bed, travel routes, preferred breeding areas, and preferred feeding areas can be exceptional during this short period. Grunts and estrus bleats can be effective during this short period as well. Just as quickly as the early-rut begins it will end.