The best days of the deer season are finally upon us! Up to this point, field edges have been the primary stand options for early season whitetail bowhunting. But now that the temperatures are dropping, the leaves are starting to fall, and the hours of daylight shrink each day, it’s time to start implementing your pre-rut hunting strategies. Let’s dive into the factors that go into where to place your stands. Here’s a look at where to hang your stands during the pre-rut.
Fortunately, field edges are always a great option, even in the pre-rut if the food source are still desirable to the local does. If the does continue to feed on the food source you are hunting, keep this stand option intact. The buck’s hormone levels are rising which is causing them to gain curiosity in the does. If you locate a primary food source for the doe family groups, you can bet the bucks are going to check these groups out. The does are not receptive to the additional attention they are receiving quite yet, but a well-placed stand on the edge of a primary food source is a recipe for exciting hunting action. Just be sure to carefully plan your entrance and exit routes to avoid educating the deer that are using this field food source. A lot of hunters bump deer out of the field when hunting them on morning sits. Choose your stand time wisely when hunting the fields.
Hunting funnels during the pre-rut time period can provide an excellent location for an ambush. Because the bucks are cruising around checking on does and working to establish their home turf areas, they will travel through these funnels often. Look for small tracts of timber or brushy fence lines that separate two food sources or connect larger tracts of timber together. Check the deer sign in these funnels for scrapes and rubs. You will quickly know whether there’s a buck traveling this route or not. Use the sign to identify which direction the buck is traveling. Place a stand downwind from that travel route so you can intercept the buck as he passes through.
During the pre-rut, bucks are working hard to establish their core territories. In doing so, they form boundaries using rubs and scrapes. When you start to see rubs and scrapes showing up in the deer woods more frequently, try and determine what the pattern is. Stand at a good tree rub and look around. If you can see multiple rubs that form a line, you know you are on the boundary of a buck’s home area. Pay close attention to the side of the tree the rub is on, that’s a direct indication of the direction the buck is traveling. If the rub occurs on both sides of the tree, he’s using this route to travel in both directions. Many times, this rub line extends from the buck’s bedding area to his primary food source. Try to locate the transition area just inside the timber from the food source that’s along his rub line. Locate a good tree down wind and slightly off the primary trail that connects the rubs. Many times, the buck pause in this area to survey the field before entering. This is a great location to catch that buck just before shooting light fades.
Bucks make scrapes all year long, but they increase their intensity once the pre-rut period kicks off. Like rubs, bucks will make scrapes along their travel routes. When those scrapes occur at intersections of multiple trails, they become what is known as community scrapes. These community scrapes are frequented by both does and bucks. All deer traveling in the area will stop to check these scrapes. You will be able to identify which scrapes are community scrapes as they are typically much larger and always contain a licking branch located above the scrape. When hunting a community scrape, use extra precaution. Use different entrance and exit routes if possible. There will be a lot of deer activity surrounding these scrapes so the less human scent you can leave here, the better. Whenever I have a stand that I’m hunting near a community scrape, I will only sit that stand if I can get in undetected and if the wind is perfect. These areas are also a good spot to pull off the hang and hunt approach. Sneak into these hotspots carrying your stand and a set of climbing sticks during the middle of the day. If the conditions are right, the deer will have no idea you are there. Sometimes, if the location of the community scrape doesn’t allow me to get a stand in the ideal hunting scenario, I will make a mock scrape within sight of the community scrape to try and lure the buck into my area. Find the ideal location for your stand and then place the mock scrape upwind between your stand and the community scrape. The buck will think there’s another buck in the area and should come over to investigate. Hopefully, you’ll be waiting in your perfectly placed stand.
I love to hunt pinch points! These are areas where the land, or sometimes physical objects, force deer to travel through. Whitetails prefer to take the easiest route when moving through their home areas. If you hunt bluff country, ridge lines are great pinch point locations. Since all deer will use these routes, the bucks will check them often to try and find that first hot doe. During the pre-rut time period, these stand locations can offer action at all hours of the day. Given the option, a buck will travel through cover verses out in the open. If you can locate a pinch point that contains an open area on one side and a barrier on the other side, the bucks will use that route when traveling through. For example, on one of the farms I hunt in bluff country, there is a pinch point where the terrain gets very steep on the east and on the west is open grass and field. The timber is less than fifty yards wide and there is one common trail that hugs the ridge line but stays inside the timber. That pinch point has offered some pretty exciting sits!
Where to Hang a Stand During the Pre-Rut – Conclusion
The pre-rut can be just as eventful, if not more, than hunting the peak rut. It’s that interesting time in the whitetail woods where deer activity is changing, and the bucks are staking claim to their core areas. Field edges, funnels, rub lines, community scrapes and pinch points are all very productive stand locations during the pre-rut. I encourage you to try some of these strategies over the next few weeks. If all else fails, at least you will be observing the whitetail activity in your neck of the woods and starting to formulate a plan for hunting the peak rut. Good luck