The pre-rut is undoubtedly the best time of the year to be in the woods. Bucks will be more active during this period than any other time of the year. Bucks will also be most vocal during this period as well.
As early as late October (25th-31st) through early November (prior to the beginning of gun season in many areas) is a frenzy period for deer in most Northern States. Does will release a pheromone prior to being ready to breed; it’s this smell that drives bucks crazy. For most bow hunters this frenzy period (or pre-rut) just before the rut is the best time to take a mature buck. Bucks adrenaline will be flowing at it’s highest this time of year. Bucks are most likely to respond to grunts and rattling more during this period, then they will any time of year. Some conservative hunters argue that this is the only time of year to actively call in deer. It’s up to the hunter to determine the effectiveness calling in their area, other periods of the deer season are simply not as good of times to call in bucks. At this time of year bucks are most likely to approach sounds of breaking brush more than any other time of year. Male deer are willing to be loud and are very active throughout the pre-rut. Decoys are always a plus when using grunts and rattling techniques, but are not essential. The best decoy this time of year is a buck and doe decoy used in combination and the addition of scents should only increase success.
Beyond calls the key at this time of year is to be in the woods. Many hunters make an effort to hunt pinch points and funnels. Doe food sources and bedding areas also start to become more popular about this time. Other areas of interest include hunting primary scrape areas in cover, and rub lines/rub clusters in cover. In any these locations calling can be quite effective.
A wise hunter will wait to hunt primary scrape and rub areas until they know these areas are actively being used. Hunting them too early in the season will simply alert mature bucks of human presence. If there is not fresh sign traveling to the stand back out and hunt a different stand that is typically used in the early part of the season or hunt other primary scrape locations that you’ve located via scouting. Trail cameras can also tell you the activity level on any given scrape. Return to hunt the area a few days later determining if the sign is active. If no sign is present the deer may have moved to a different area for scraping and rubbing. At this time of year sign should be very visible. Once the rut itself appears to have kicked off stop hunting over the scrapes and rub lines. Does become the most important variable during the rut.
The pre-rut is the period that many hunters prefer to hunt more during the mornings, and they’ll stick with this tactic into the rut. During these primary breeding periods and just before they start bucks become much more active in the morning and there is a much greater chance of harvesting mature deer during these hours. By all means hunt the evenings, but be sure to make it out for morning hunts during this period. For some mid-day hunts and all day hunts can be great options during the pre-rut.
Don’t hesitate to break out nearly all of your tactics during this period of the season. It’s the time bucks aren’t quite as smart and are solely focused toward the upcoming peak-rut. It is still critical to play the wind and not to over hunt locations, but it is also appropriate to take risks more this time of year than just about any period of the season. The hunter that takes risks during this period could be rewarded greatly.