Rut: Time to switch up

Bucks are changing, so why don’t hunters?

By November, the deer rut is in full swing throughout all 146 counties in the Carolinas. Hormone-crazed bucks are on the move, and hunters need to keep their calendars clear to make sure they are in position when one makes a vulnerable move into enemy territory.

While most hunters rely on traditional stand setups, an unorthodox approach may provide a better vehicle to get that trophy buck into lethal range. And it is never too late to switch gears when the rut is still in full swing.

Regardless of where they live, deer are one of the most-predictable animals on Earth, except during the mating season. The rut changes everything, and bucks and will do just about anything to participate in mating activities. Generally, does will try to maintain a normal daily routine, but bucks show up and disrupt anything that could be perceived as a normal travel pattern. When the rut is in full swing, nothing is normal.

As the rutting activity increases and approaches its peak, there is nothing ordinary about big-buck travels. A buck can show up in the most-unusual places and at any time of the day.

Most hunters rely on their own normal hunting routines and stand setups around a consistent food source. While these are great places to see does and possibly encounter a trophy buck, an unconventional approach can put hunters in a sweet spot.

The bottom line is, bucks are on the move and looking for receptive does anywhere in their immediate or extended home range. They are searching for does by sight and smell, but a buck can smell much better than they can see, so places they can pick up scents from a distance are always good places for them to look. Anywhere hunters can see long distances and cover a large area are great places to sit during the rut.

Clear-cuts and agriculture fields

Some of the best places to hunt during the rut are large clear-cuts and fields sandwiched between large woodland areas. Not only can hunters see a long way, deer are able to smell a doe in heat from a very long distance. Scents will carry further in an open area than an area covered with obstructions. If the fields are cut corn or another potential food source, bucks will be in the area anyway, because there is a high probability does are close by.

Big bucks change their habits when the peak of the rut arrives. Smart hunters will make changes, too.

Clear-cuts of any age are acceptable, including the brand-new clear-cuts that were most-recently logged. Bucks will not think twice about using these areas to cross and search for available mates. In fact, deer will often use the same travel trails they used before the timber was cut. They will eventually create new travel routes through these areas, but it usually takes a while before they alter their travel patterns. Clear-cuts are prime places to hunt during the rut and should never be avoided.

Roads and logging trails

Never ignore roads. Most hunting properties have extensive road systems that bisect prime habitat. Deer will never let a woods road stop them from entering into an adjacent woodlot. They are fantastic places to set up stands, and one of the best places is where two roads intersect.

There is one key point to observe. Deer will readily cross roads, but they appear to look both ways like a group of students crossing a busy highway. Deer are curious animals and generally take a few steps in the road first and look both ways before they cross. And bucks will almost always stop and smell to see if they can pick up any scents traveling down the road. If they pick up a whiff of a doe in season, they may even walk down the road in the direction of the scent. However, if a buck is on a hot doe trail, they may hit the road and cross without even stopping at all. This is how many bucks get killed on the highway when their inhibitions are masked by the need to breed.

Regardless, when hunters are hunting on private roadways, whether a 14-foot  logging trail or a 50-foot gravel road with drainage ditches and a shoulder, hunters need to be prepared to shoot quickly, because deer will usually not stay long.

Logging or other woods roads can be great spots to see rutting bucks travelling though the November woods.

Stand placement and having some intelligence on the location of the existing crossings in crucial. When setting up stands to watch roads, hunters need to walk down the roads within their field of view to look for heavy crossings. Hunters can mark them by breaking off branches, scratching a place on the ground, or even a small piece of flagging ribbon. Either way, knowing where these heavy crossings are located will help reduce search time and bring hunters closer to making an accurate shot when Bullwinkle steps out for a brief moment.

One very important factor to consider when hunting along a roadway is that hunters should remember that people travel roads. Hunters should always hunt from an elevated position. Not only will it protect the lives of people traveling on the farm, but getting in an elevated position allows hunters to see well and to reduce scent contamination downwind.

Hunt different times of day

After years of dodging hunters in the woods, mature bucks learn to pattern hunters. Hunters need to explore options that aren’t considered normal behavior, and the time of the day to hunt is one of the most-important aspects to consider during the rut.

Typically, a pressured buck fills his belly at night because it is about the only time of when he doesn’t have to worry about lead projectiles heading in his direction. But deer during the peak of the rut will still find time to eat, and when they are feeding most of the night, especially on a full-moon night, they will be ready to eat again during the middle of the day.

Frankly, anytime it is light enough to see and is considered within the legal hours is a good time to sit in the deer stand during the rut. Bucks will be on the move nearly all day. Hunters should expect to see bucks moving at any time, and all of those times when most hunters are eating lunch or taking a mid-afternoon nap. During the rut, most of the rules go out the window and hunters can see deer at about any time of the day.

About Jeff Burleson 1312 Articles
Jeff Burleson is a native of Lumberton, N.C., who lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He graduated from N.C. State University with a degree in fisheries and wildlife sciences and is a certified biologist and professional forester for Southern Palmetto Environmental Consulting.

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