Hunting the Rut: Risk vs. Reward

By Bow StaffNovember 12, 2018

by Paul Annear

Weighing the benefits and downfalls of risk vs. reward hunting is a difficult task—many factors come into play. Family time, work obligations, and remaining vacation hours all play into how much you can hunt and what tactics should follow. However, since rut hunting is the “Superbowl” for most hunters, aggressive moves should be made if you have limited time, as the window to catch a cruising buck shrinks quickly. Knowing when to throw all hunting ‘rules’ out the window can be critical to rut hunting success. There is high risk involved with each aggressive move, but the reward can be great.


You got to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em when it comes to risk vs. reward on whitetail bucks during the rut.

Hunting the Rut – The Risk

If you only have a few days to rut hunt, you should be a weather watcher and plan risk vs. reward hunts accordingly. Watch your cameras closely if it is not too much intrusion to pull cards. Your latest camera info could be the ticket. My rut hunting vacation time can vary depending on the year, so I am always weighing the aggressive moves vs. sitting back and finding what area is hot. If you are limited to weekend hunting, it would pay to be aggressive and sit in or near bedding areas and known rut corridors, and sit all day if possible.  If you are lucky enough to have a full week or more of your own hand-picked days, maybe observe over a food plot or ag field, and make more aggressive moves based off those observations.

When diving into bedding areas as a ‘weekend warrior’, you run the risk of bumping deer, or a target buck. If you hunt where deer live, you will bump deer, end of story. Do not let this discourage you. If you are struggling to see deer and have limited time, I think it is worth the risk of getting inside bedding areas with proper winds. As I type this, I am chomping at the bit looking at perfect southeast winds scheduled for November 3rd, which will allow me to hunt a stand specifically set just for peak rut hunting in the middle of a ridge-top bedding area. If you are limited with rut hunting time due to work or family obligations, it might be time to toss some hail mary’s and go for broke.

hunting the rut - timber-ridge

Knowing when to hold off and when to dive right into your best stand locations can be a gamble.

Hunting the Rut – Rewards of Non-aggressive Tactics

If 200 acres are out your back door and you can hunt every cold front which passes through, you are most likely someone who can sit back and find deer movement to stash away in your hunting journal. Of all the factors contributing to successful hunting, I believe time in stand trumps everything. During peak rut, hunting time outweighs scent control and bad stand access in my opinion. “Smarter, not harder hunting”, is a popular line right now in the hunting community, but I don’t always believe it to be true. If you put in hours and hours during the rut, you will eventually cross paths with a mature deer if they exist on your land. I believe that to be the case, although I am sure many disagree. If you do not have time off for the rut, then all of those above factors like scent control and stand access become extremely important as you do not have time to mess around.

Some obvious examples of non-aggressive rut tactics would include sitting a field edge, food plot or ag field inside corner with large timber chunks surrounding you so you can gauge rut activity all the while hanging out on the edge not disrupting too much. If you see a few patterns emerge or a certain doe group that is getting dogged heavily, it might be worth getting a little deeper into the woods and upping the aggression on non-pressured bucks with potentially hot does. Those are the benefits of non-aggressive tactics when you have the time to employ them. The rewards on non-pressured rutting bucks can be amazing. I have seen the power of the first sit hold true on a yearly basis. Saving a stand for the right time of year holds much value. Just this past weekend I hunted a secluded clover plot for the first time since late September and had a great encounter with what I think is a nice 3.5 year old buck and several other young bucks.

hunting the rut - field-edge-scrape

When the sign shows up in the right spot, it’s the right time to get in there and go for it.

Hunting the Rut – Conclusion

Rut hunting can be a roller coaster ride and you most likely will not experience constant rut action each hunt. Knowing your land, your deer, and what tactics to employ will be critical to your success. Understand the situation, think ahead, and gauge whether you must be aggressive or sit back for a bit.

How will you be hunting the rest of the rut? Aggressive? Sit back and wait? Let’s hear it! Comment below and let us know your plans.

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