Contributed by: Brodie Swisher
In today’s over-commercialized world of hunting TV, we typically see success portrayed by a particular product used. Countless hunters get duped into believing that hunting the rut simply involves blowing a grunt call, bangin’ the antlers together, tipping over the can call, and here comes the buck. We’re lured into the thinking that there’s a monster buck behind every tree, and that with just one puff on the grunt call, he’ll come runnin’. Just that easy! Why? Because we’ve seen it happening on TV…in less than 2 minutes. We’re often told that if we’ll just spray down with this product, or hang that product at our stand, success on rutting bucks will surely come our way. The truth is there is more to hunting the rut than gadgets and gimmicks. Don’t get me wrong. I love gear. I love trying new products each season. But the reality is, when it comes to hunting the rut in the real world, the deadliest of tactics may not be seen on TV.
Closing in on the Core
No product or secret weapon can replace the priceless value of knowing the core area of the bucks you hunt. If you’re simply after an average buck, you’re sure to have ample encounters during the rut if you put your time in on the treestand and hunt areas where deer frequent. But putting your tag on a mature buck will take knowing the playing field in a greater way. You have to know his haunts…the place he calls home.
Finding the core area where bucks hang out is vital to success; no matter where it might be.
Todd Pringnitz of Wicked Tree Gear and White Knuckle Productions lives for getting close to big bucks. More than half the adrenaline rush for him involves letting younger bucks walk as he waits on the biggest buck in the woods. “People have this misconception that big mature bucks throw caution to the wind and run around crazy during the rut,” says Pringnitz. “Immature bucks do for-sure. But what I’m finding where I hunt, is once a buck hit’s 5-1/2 years old, they are only vulnerable a couple days a year outside of their core area, which is usually very small. Those couple days are when you can get “lucky”, but I’m not much of a believer in luck. Move in tight when the weather and conditions are good, and get aggressive if you need to.”
Once you’ve closed in on the core area you must begin to tread lightly and be very cautious regarding the time you spend in this area. “Kill the first night in,” says Pringnitz. “This means unless you have a buck pegged, stay out until the time is right, considering big bucks don’t really start traveling much during daylight until late October. Don’t burn your best spots out early. Field edges and easy access spots are what I hunt early in the season, unless I have a reason to believe I could catch a buck in his core area. For me, the ultimate spot for hunting the core during the rut is when I can put the wind “mostly” in a big buck’s favor, yet still cut him slightly….that’s a kill set-up.”
Some of my most exciting rut hunts have happened in the first 30 minutes of the morning. I’ve typically had my greatest success in rattling in bucks in the first 30 minutes to an hour of the day. I think much of this is that bucks have been cruising or hounding does all night and seem to have their guard down the most at first light. But few of my hunts have been as rewarding as the ones where I’ve killed a big buck at mid-day. There’s something about sticking it out on stand long after other hunters have left the woods and being blessed with a buck cruising within bow-range in the mid-day hours.
Jimmy Primos, of Primos Hunting, has hunted rutting whitetail bucks all across the country. And, while Mr. Jimmy is known as a game-calling guru, he’ll admit that things change drastically when the rut is in swing. “My main rut tactic is to stay in the woods as much as possible during the rut,” says Primos. “During the rut you can throw tactics out the window…bucks are too unpredictable. The rut often occurs during a full moon. If that is the case, one of the best times to hunt is 10am to 2pm. I think bucks lay up in the early morning after chasing does all night but often get up from their beds around noon as their rut instincts start to kick in. I have killed a lot of big bucks during the rut around 12 noon.”
My buddy, Dave Oligee, agrees that many hunters miss out on the mid-day opportunities during the rut. He admits that one of the greatest “tactics” for the rut is to develop a tough butt and stay in your stand for the long hours. “You gotta be in the stand to reap the benefits. So many people get in their stands before daylight and are out before 11:00am. I’ve killed a lot of bucks between 10am-2am tucked in nice and tight to bedding areas.”
Stay Mobile for Your Buck
It was a few days before Thanksgiving several years ago when I found myself impatiently awaiting the end of my daughter’s Thanksgiving play at school. I loved the play, and my daughter did an amazing job…but I was a bit distracted by a treestand along a creek bottom that was calling my name. Earlier that day I had encountered bucks chasing does in the timber strip across the field from me. Not being one that likes to just watch the show, I quickly got down, moved my stand into the midst of where all the action seemed to be happening and made plans to come back after my daughter’s play for an evening hunt.
By staying mobile, Brodie was able to shoot this Montana buck five minutes after he climbed into the stand.
As I made the mad scramble back to my stand on that afternoon, I encountered 2 bucks with a doe…standing right under my treestand! I moved in slowly hoping to “gently push” them away so I could climb in to my stand. It was that crazy time of the rut when bucks pay little attention to anything other than a doe standing still. I was nearly in bow range before the deer finally scooted away from my stand. I quickly climbed in, buckled down in my safety harness, and was attempting to put the tree arm on the tree for my video camera when the larger buck chased the doe right back up to my stand. I had been in my stand less than five minutes! When I saw the buck was oblivious to my presence, I took the time to pull the rangefinder from my pocket and confirm the distance. I shot him at 35-yards. He was standing in nearly the exact same place that the trio was when I first arrived that afternoon. For whatever reason, that doe wanted to be in that spot.
By observing deer frequenting this particular chunk of ground, on that particular day, and being mobile to move in where the party was at, I was able to punch my tag on a great Montana buck.
Most often, hunters get bogged down by sitting the same stand over and over again, expecting different results, but continuing to come up empty. And that’s a classic example of insanity. Don’t just watch the show. Go “mobile” as you move to where the action is taking place.
Tools of the Trade
My favorite tools for staying mobile as I hunt the rut are my Primos Double Bull ground blinds and a climbing treestand. Laziness rarely lends itself to results in the hunting woods. That is why we often sit the same stand over and over rather than taking the time to move our set to a more likely location. A climbing treestand in the back of the truck allows me to move at a moment’s notice. In a matter of minutes I can be where the deer activity is the hottest. It may simply be moving my stand 100 yards to get in the middle of the funnel. A climbing stand allows me to quickly and quietly stay in the action.
Even the biggest bodied bucks in the woods will make a mistake during the rut.
When the perfect tree is unavailable for a stand, or when wind direction won’t cooperate, I put my ground blind to work for me. Few things can compare to an eye-level whitetail rut hunt. Like the climbing treestand, a ground blind allows you mobile concealment at a moment’s notice. You can quickly and quietly move it as well, and it sure makes all-day sits much more enjoyable as you can safely sit, eat, nap, or move about without being detected.
Get into a big buck’s core area this season and plan to sit all day. Stay mobile as changing deer activity calls for different stand sets, and you’ll be in the hot-seat for what could be your greatest rut hunt yet! The beauty of hunting the rut is that you just never know what God will bring your way with each morning during the rut. You just gotta be there!