Bowhunting the peak rut in the Midwest can be either exhilarating or frustrating. It all depends on your setup and how you position yourself during the rut. If you want to wrap your hands around a mature buck during the rut, you are going to have to be in the right place at the right time. Here are some tips to help make that happen. Let’s take a closer look at how to position yourself for success during the rut.
Hunt Where the Deer Are
I know that may sound obvious, but too many of us (myself included) get into the habit of hunting the same stands year after year because a few years back, we shot a mature buck out of that stand. Whitetails are creatures of habit, but they are also ever adjusting their routines based on food sources, time of year, etc. When the rut kicks in, deer will be active at all hours of the day. Weather can play a factor on daylight activity, if it’s too warm, the daytime activity will be suppressed. However, if the temps are cooperating, the daytime deer movement will be as well. Us bowhunters need to be flexible. If you aren’t seeing deer where you are setup, it’s time to relocate. Especially this time of year, whitetails are going to be acting erratic and unpredictable. It’s important you are setup to witness the chase and able to react and get into position. If you aren’t seeing does and bucks in your area, move. It’s that simple.
Find the Does
Doe family groups tend to stick to a small core home area. During the early season and pre-rut, you probably noticed that you were seeing the same does and fawns night after night. Those family groups can be easy to pattern early because they are frequenting the same food source each evening and are most likely coming from the same bedding area as well. Once the rut kicks in, the bucks are chasing does around and the family groups can get separated. They might be sticking closer to their bedding area or they could be seeking out a different food source. Whatever the reason, find those does and hunt as close as possible. This is the time of year to push in tight to their bedding area. If you can get downwind on the fringe of a known bedding area, you are going to encounter buck activity. The bucks will be cruising these fringes, scent checking the does. You will be in position to intercept him when he least expects it. This is a great opportunity to pull off the hang and hunt method. If the wind is in your favor and blowing enough to cover your activity, sneak in with a stand on your back. Try to find the main doe trail leading from the bedding area to their current food source. Then find those lesser used perpendicular trails that the bucks use to check the does. Locate that fringe area where you can pull off hanging a stand without blowing all the does out of their beds. Get downwind of that intersection trail and get ready. The action might happen sooner than you think.
Hunt Fresh Sign
Even though the bucks are preoccupied with finding does, they will still be freshening scrapes and making rubs. During the pre-rut, the buck sign was starting to appear more frequently throughout your hunting area. Now that the rut is in full force, bucks will be on the prowl to find the next hot doe. As they are searching, they will be working scrapes often to make sure the other bucks know whose turf they are on. If you aren’t seeing fresh scrapes around your stand or on your walks in and out, you should reconsider your position. Yes, studies have proven that most scrape activity occurs at night, but don’t let that deter you. On one extremely windy day during the rut, I was walking through the timber on my way to one of my favorite stands. As I was carefully and quietly navigating to my position, I noticed three scrapes that did not have a single leaf in them. The wind was blowing in excess of thirty miles per hour, there should’ve been at least a few leaves in these scrapes. I decided to abandon my original plan and instead, found a large tree to sit against between the fresh scrapes and where I had previously seen other scrapes. I was hoping to get a glimpse of whoever was freshening all these scrapes. I wasn’t sitting their ten minutes when a mature ten point walked by heading to the fourth scrape in this line. That was one of the shortest successful hunts I have ever had. It was also one of those moments I realized it’s crucial during the rut to hunt the fresh buck sign. Had I continued to my favorite stand and ignored the scrapes, I would’ve most likely never seen that buck or gotten a shot opportunity. Check the sign, even if you were in the area the night before, check to see what changed. If you have fresh sign around you, you know there’s a buck in the area. If the sign has gone cold, be mobile and find the fresh sign…the bucks will be close by.
How to Position Yourself for Success During the Rut – Conclusion
It can be tempting to get that urge once the rut kicks in to head to your favorite stand. I’m not saying that’s a bad plan, just make sure it’s the best plan for your hunt. If you sit that favorite stand and you don’t see any deer, don’t wait for the deer to come to you. Go find them and hunt where they are. Again, I know how obvious that sounds, but too many of us get into the mindset that if a stand produced once, it should produce again. Get boots on the ground and find those doe family groups. If you can get in close and position yourself along the fringe, you are going to see bucks and possibly a bunch of them. Finally, hunt the freshest sign you can find. If you are walking to your stand and notice a scrape line that’s recently been worked, get ready…he’s most likely closer than you think. We are entering the time of year all of us bowhunters long for. Don’t be afraid to be aggressive and mobile. There is a lightweight stand and a set of climbing sticks in my truck the entire month of November. I encourage you to do the same. These next few weeks are going to be a lot of fun. Stay safe, and good luck out there!