The middle of November is a magical time in the whitetail woods. In the Midwest, the peak rut typically occurs during the week before and the week after November 10th. It’s the time period all hunters prepare for each year. It’s no secret most mature bucks are harvested during this special time in November. By now, you might be getting a bit frustrated because you can’t seem to catch that mature buck you have on camera during daylight hours. Over these next few weeks, your opportunity will arise, but how will you know where to find him? How can you be one of those successful hunters that gets to bury their sight pin on a mature whitetail? Here are five keys to locating mature bucks during the rut.
Find the Funnels
Whitetail deer, especially mature bucks, travel more during the rut than any other time of the year. A whitetail’s home range can expand as much as ten times their normal range when the rut kicks in. Funnels where terrain, man-made objects, agriculture, etc. forces deer to travel through are ideal locales to find bucks cruising during the rut. Whitetail deer are generally lazy animals. They prefer to take the easiest route possible. A good friend of mine has an old fence line running through the middle of his timber. There’s an opening in that fence line along a ridgeline. Every year, just before the peak of the rut hits, the mature bucks will start showing up on camera during daylight hours walking right through that fence opening. Between him and his father, they have arrowed numerous bucks in this exact same location on their farm. They know once the bucks start to travel, it’s just a matter of time before they cross that ridgeline through that fence opening searching for that doe in estrus. If you have a location like this on your property, now is the time to hunt it. If you don’t have a prime funnel or pinch point on your property, you can always create one. If it doesn’t affect livestock, open a section of a fence line that separates two tracts of timber or separates the timber from the field edge. If you hunt funnels and bedding fringe points during the rut, you will eventually find the mature bucks.
If you hunt public land, or even private land, that has a fair amount of hunting pressure, go farther than anyone else is going. I have the good fortune of hunting private land in my area, but that land gets a fair amount of hunting pressure. Once we get into the second week of November, I move into the timber farther. Try to hunt the locations no one else is willing to hunt. Hike over to that next ridge and get further from the road. Anything you can do to separate yourself farther from the other hunting pressure is going to increase your odds of finding that mature whitetail. When the does are hot and the bucks are searching, you can get away with getting busted walking around a bit more. Get to the areas that have less pressure and you will find more mature bucks.
Hunt the Freshest Sign
Don’t get bogged down with old sign. Dominant mature whitetail bucks control their domain by keeping the younger inferior bucks out. They do this by patrolling their perimeter making rubs and scrapes to notify other bucks who’s the boss. While bucks are searching for the next hot doe, they will continue to freshen existing and make new scrapes. By being mobile, you can search out the freshest buck sign in your hunting area. Once you find it, hunt it immediately. If you come across a scrape that has just been worked, there’s a good chance that buck is still close by. I’ve come across scrapes during the rut that I could smell before I even saw them. Anytime you can find sign that fresh, the mature bucks will be in the area. It’s just a matter of locating the ambush site that can put you in the most optimal position for a shot. If your favorite rut hunting stand has gone cold, you might want to consider doing a little mid-day scouting to find where those bucks have gone. Once you find that fresh scrape or a newly formed rub line, you will put the odds in your favor of locating that big buck.
Put a Decoy to Work
I have watched my fair share of hunting videos over the years, and I was always enamored by the hunters who were successful hunting over decoys. A few years ago, I decided to purchase my own decoy and give it a shot. It doesn’t always work, but when the peak rut hits and the bucks are all trying to be the toughest and most dominant in the woods, hunting over that decoy can be super exciting! The key to luring in the mature bucks is your decoy must be an analogous opponent. All it takes is that big buck to think this new guy is reining in on his turf and he will posture up and come looking to fight. If you have your decoy positioned properly, that mature whitetail will circle around and give you a perfect shot. Another advantage of hunting over a decoy is when the bucks do commit to fighting off this intruder, they aren’t paying any attention to that hunter in the tree positioning for the shot. Employing a decoy during the rut can be some of the most exciting action you will ever witness.
Bump and Hunt
I first read about this tactic a few years ago and thought it sounded a little absurd. As bowhunters, we try our best not to get seen, heard or smelled. Yet this method calls for you to go directly into a big buck’s bedroom and bust him out. If you have a known buck bedding area in your hunting woods, the rut is a great time to try this. Around mid-day when that mature buck is bedded down getting some rest, walk right up to him. When you bump him out of his bed, find a good tree down wind of his bed and set your stand. Get into your stand as quickly as you can and sit the rest of the day. That mature buck will eventually make his way back to his bed. It might not be right away, but he will be back. I have tried this method a couple times. You do run the risk of blowing him completely out of the area, but if you can pull it off, it works well. Ideally, try this method on a windy or rainy day. If you can keep the wind in your favor and not make too much noise, the odds that he comes back sooner are much better. I have had bucks return in less than an hour and I have also had bucks not return at all. It’s a risky method but if you want to hunt the mature bucks during the rut, give it a try.
Keys to Locating Mature Bucks During the Rut – Conclusion
The next two to three weeks are going to be very exciting in the whitetail woods. If you want to find big mature whitetail bucks, you might have to change up your routine a bit. Hunt the funnels, venture further than anyone else, find that freshest sign, try using a decoy, or if you think you can pull it off, use the bump and hunt method. All five of these hunting methods will help you find mature bucks once the peak rut hits the whitetail woods. It’s finally November! Get out there and have fun! Be safe and good luck.