Common Traits of a Successful Rut Hunter

By Paul AnnearNovember 1, 2023

If I had his spot, I would kill big deer too.” 

If you scroll social media enough, you’ll see that direct quote or something very similar to it every single fall. It usually comes from a disgruntled hunter who isn’t having any current success. I’ve been there, and at times thought the same thing. And to some extent, it’s true. Many people could kill big deer if they had a front row seat to where big deer lived. There’s more to the story though.

A handful of key traits make up a successful rut hunter—and wishing, hoping, and complaining about your hunting spot isn’t one of them. The most successful rut hunters I know work their tails off to acquire new land, and tirelessly aim to make their hunting grounds better. Here are four critical traits I see from successful rut hunters.

Common Traits Of A Successful Rut Hunter

They Are Always Scouting

It’s already November, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep scouting. The best hunters I know are always thinking and scheming around what they believe deer are doing at that time. Scouting for whitetails should consist of boots-on-the-ground scouting, but not all scouting needs to be in-person. Running trail cameras is a form of scouting and should be a branch of your repertoire.

My theory is this, when it comes to daylight trail camera photos: if deer are moving in daylight on your trail cameras, they are really on their feet and moving and you need to be in the woods. Honestly, when it comes to trail cameras – the more the better.

On the flip side, don’t let trail cameras discourage you. A trail camera provides a tiny snippet of what is happening in the woods, so don’t get too down if you’re only getting nighttime photos. Like an NFL team on a winning streak, you can’t get too high or too low – the game will humble you sooner or later. It’s the same with bowhunting.

Common Traits Of A Successful Rut Hunter

Successful rut hunters strike a balance of trusting their traditional stand sites that have produced good results in past seasons, but they aren’t afraid to bail on those locations in favor of their instinct to be in the hot area in the moment.

You must be able to read the woods and sense what is going on throughout the day. If you get a high number of bucks frequenting an area overnight on trail camera, it’s a good bet a number of those same bucks might be in that area at sunrise still searching for a hot doe. Use your off-season scouting to backtrack stand locations on the way back to bedding areas.

Successful rut hunters rarely let the small details of the hunt ruin a chance at a big buck. They are prepared and take precautionary measures to have back-up items, and prepare for any situation. They understand the small intricacies of bowhunting such as knowing when to draw their bow, and when to stop a deer. Scouting and being in the woods a lot hones these skills.

They Pace Themselves

It’s easy to get burned out and lose focus during the peak rut. A few days of slow movement and non-target deer will get a hunter agitated quickly. A great way to attack hunting the rut is to come up with a game plan of only trying to hunt the best weather days.

This isn’t always possible, but instead of taking an entire week off to hunt the rut, take a two or three 4-day weekends instead. Sprinkle in a few mornings or evenings mid-week off as well, if you can hunt local.

Common Traits Of A Successful Rut Hunter

Spreading out your vacation time in three-day chunks almost guarantees you will catch multiple cold fronts and weather patterns. This will likely keep your family happier, and your place of employment pleased too. It is hard to be gone for a 9-day stretch of hunting and keep life in order if you have family that depends on you.

Successful rut hunters understand the importance of prioritizing the best weather days and giving it a rest on other days with marginal wind or weather. You can absolutely kill deer in the rain, but if you’re prioritizing hours to hunt, plan to be on stand when the rain event is ending because deer will be on their feet. This might mean taking a morning off and hunting for the afternoon, or vice versa.

They Find Good Spots

They find great land to hunt, and good spots on that land. If you can’t make your hunting better in your current spot, find a better spot! Successful rut hunters work tirelessly to beg, borrow, and plead their way onto good hunting land. This includes phone calls, letters, door-knocking, you name it. You might need to offer help on their land. If you don’t pay to hunt the land, be sure to give them a nice gift card at the end of the season.

If you want to consistently kill deer during the rut, you need to have options and a back-up plan. Almost every year, I talk to hunters who lose access to permission hunting land mid-season. A relative decides they want to hunt, the land might get sold, anything can happen. You need to be prepared and have a back-up property. Shooting good deer is no accident. Successful rut hunters always have a plan B and C in their back pocket.

Finding good spots requires research and trial and error. Find bigger chunks of land on a map and look around at the smaller pieces of land that border it. Not to say you can’t get access to the bigger more appealing pieces but try to scoop up the smaller pieces first.

Common Traits Of A Successful Rut Hunter

Ice in Their Veins

Successful rut hunters know how to close the deal when a bruiser is in range. They make it count with one lethal shot. They know when to move, when to draw, they pay attention to other deer besides their target. They close the gap between having a close call and sealing the deal.

Positive self-talk when a deer is in range can calm your nerves and settle down your senses. The best way to gain confidence and be ready for a moment of truth is practice, and you can do that by shooting does. Shooting a doe in advance of the rut can be a critical step to feeling ready for primetime. There is no substitute for live deer practice.

The rut can go from 0 to 60 in no time, you need to be ready for a shot at less than a moment’s notice. You cannot let your psyche and adrenaline take you to an uncontrolled place. A lot of successful rut hunters I know came from humble beginnings and weren’t afraid to shoot a younger deer to get some deer under their belt. I have seen new or younger hunters continually pass on younger deer, only to mess up their chance when a great buck presents himself.


There is no shame in working your way up the ladder to become a hunter who is always in the mix during the rut. It takes years of perfecting your set ups, tinkering with the small details, and not being afraid to go to great lengths to find that next buck.

Check out this article on Rut Tactics You Should Try:

Underrated Rut Tactics You Should Try This Season

Paul Annear
Paul Annear is a freelance writer born and raised in the picturesque region of southwest Wisconsin's Driftless area. He currently resides in northeast Wisconsin. He is a proud father of three, willing mini-van driver, and a former 7' high jumper for the Wisconsin Badgers. 
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