The Rut is crazy. Bucks will be closely following does this time of year, sometimes they may even have them pinned down in thick cover. It’s this time of year that many hunters live for, yet there are probably better odds of tagging a mature deer during the pre-rut. Without the right techniques simply getting in the woods might not be all it takes to bag a trophy buck during the ever popular rut.
Regardless, this is certainly one of the prime times to hunt throughout the entire season. From approximately November 12th through as late as the 27th the rut will be in action throughout most Northern states, peak rut often takes place right around mid November. Mature bucks will be on the move this time of year and they will be found where the does are or they will be on the move looking for another group of does.
Scientifically speaking there is gap between the early-rut and the rut. That is a 28 day cycle. There is a month between, the early-rut, rut, and late-rut. Marking the three phases of the rut. The early-rut encompasses only mature does, the primary or main rut includes the majority of the doe population, and the late-rut which is hit or miss includes yearling does and other does that may not have been bread in the main rut.
The specific peak rut days may vary from year to year, but typically are right around mid-November in Northern states. The deer activity will depend on the buck to doe ratio in the area. More does than bucks can mean bucks have to move less, or it can mean bucks have to wear themselves out tending all the does. During the peak of the rut mature bucks are known to tend does and pin them down in certain areas. In essence the largest bucks will claim a group of does and breed those ready. This can lead to a decline in activity at the peak rut. Meaning that the early part of the main rut and the final days of the rut may be better hunting the the peak rut. No matter what period of the rut being hunted bucks will eventually need to pursue new groups of does. It’s often in the transition of going from one group of does to the other that a hunter will see the buck. Hunters that know of prime breeding grounds won’t need to peruse bucks transitioning from one group of does to other. These hunters can spend ample time posted along the edges of prime breeding grounds.
The rut looks quite different depending on the size of bucks seen. Young bucks (1 1/2 years of age) will hassle does and in some ways drive them nuts. Despite their foolish tendencies year and half year old bucks will in fact do some of the breeding of does. Bucks 2 1/2 years old will do quite a bit of breeding as these bucks are still quite young and very healthy. Bucks 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 years old will be most active in the breeding process as they are often dominate deer herd in the area. The bucks even further into maturity will be masters at pinning groups of does down and these 5 1/2 – 6 1/2 year old deer will likely be still involved in the rut, but their activity level will depend on their health and testosterone levels. In some cases these old bucks will steak be remarkably healthy and dominate much of the breeding. It really just comes down to the health of the buck as it ages. The true mature bucks (7 1/2 years and older) may not be very visible, it depends on where they stand in the pecking order. Some bucks at this point in life may cease breeding all together and focus more on survival.
During mid November (generally the 12-18th) will be the most effective time to use a doe estrus bleat and buck grunt. It’s wise to use scent’s when using these tactics. Decoys again add to the illusion for trying to tempt bucks. Other scent techniques include scent drags where hunters will use both buck rut urine and doe estrus scent. Dragging these scents upwind of the area you believe the deer to be can provide success to luring in a buck. Drag the scent a ways before getting to the hunting stand and hang the drag 20 to 30 yards from the hunters position. Heavy fighting may take place during this time period, so it is not a bad idea to rattle more aggressively during this period. Decoys are likely to increase the success of rattling. Placing rut buck urine and does estrus scent on the decoys can be helpful. All of these tactics can be helpful and should be tried from time to time. Overuse of the tactics could cause deer to spook or lead them weary of the tactics altogether. It is critical to simply be in the woods during this time period. The best places to hunt are as follows. Secluded breeding areas, doe travel routes from bedding and feeding areas, and pinch points or all funnels often attract many bucks looking for does. Funnels caused by water can be buck magnets as well. Keep in mind that bucks will often bed with does during this period. Bucks will be exhausting themselves during this time. Find secluded water sources can be a great place to catch a buck that needs a drink to refuel or even cool off. Remember that bucks basically abandon scrapes and rubs focusing on does during this period. So key in on the areas that does will be.
By the 23rd-27th of November the primary rut will be near it’s final days, this is in fact one of the best times to tag a mature buck going after the last of the hot does. After this period of the rut hunting strategies begin to change dramatically.