Magical mornings. It's what any hunter would expect. Most media and tall tales describe deer losing their mind and running back and forth all day. Is the description true? You know it can be if you've hunted enough to have one of those magical rut mornings. I often wonder if our mind tricks us into thinking that one amazing day was more like five or six.
The truth about the rut is for as many highs you'll experience, you could have twice as many dull moments. It doesn't matter if you're a public or private land hunter. More often than not, rut hunting isn't all it's cracked up to be every time you hit the woods in November.
Negativity aside, there are fixes for tough rut hunting. With all the anticipation, we often need to remember some basics and not overthink our plans. Understanding the proper mindset now will save your rut hunt later.
Standard Hunt Times
Throw typical times that you should be hunting out the window. The truth about the rut is there isn't a "right time" to be hunting. If you're in the woods, that is the right time to be there. You will read about early rut mornings, the 10-2 cruising time, and hunting food sources in the evening. There are opinions on which is better, and they all contradict each other.
A rut hunting day is never the same day twice. That big buck you saw chasing does along the edge of cut corn could hang out a day or two. But if he's done his business, he'll be well on his way to the next doe.
With limited time, hunt the time you have. If you have to hunt between getting kids on and off the bus, then hunt that time. Just make sure your kids are ready to hit a blood trail when they get home!
Where Are Doe Family Groups
Always investigate newly discovered doe bedding for every property you've scouted. That also means you should never stop scouting. The doe bedding you found in a sea of ferns won't be there in November. Every time you find new bedding, drop a waypoint! Learn where does move when they're pressured, when the food changes, when the cover changes, or how they bed for specific weather.
Does often bed in clusters and circles in groups of three or more. This makes doe bedding easy to find.
The best opportunity to bow hunt doe bedding is to hunt within 20 to 30 yards of the bedding. If a family group of does moves past your location on November 6th, stay patient for as much time as you have left to hunt. That movement is one of your best leads to catch a buck making a mistake.
Don't worry if the does bust you. As long as the deer keep moving in the same direction, you still have an active trail for bucks to follow. However, if you were winded, you'd better know where they winded you from. You'll need to make a shot before a buck gets to that vulnerable spot.
Trail Cam Data
Review historical trail cam data if you've run cameras in that area. Did you have a rough hunt, and now you're trying to go back to the drawing board? November 5th's trail cam data from last year won't help you if November 5th is over.
Understand why the bucks used the location. Did does move into the area? Could it be the best place for them to travel to get on a doe's trail? Is there a common weather pattern where that spot sees a burst of activity? Specific dates can be helpful here, but weather will dictate the plus or minus a day or two. Last year, November 6th might have had a 20-degree temperature drop overnight. If that kind of weather is predicted to happen on the 5th or the 8th, those will be the better days to target that spot.
Killing a homebody buck in the rut isn't an impossible task. But plenty of good bucks live every year because a hunter was waiting for a specific deer. The rut isn't a good time to pass bucks that you're on the fence about shooting them. Some hunters accept eating tag soup, but if you're not that hunter, don't feel the pressure to kill the 150 you had on camera in October.
During the rut, bucks aren't going to stand by while you estimate the length of their browtines and G2s. If a deer excites you and has a frame to make you happy, let it fly!
Hunting during the rut is many times a test of patience. It's not uncommon to spend long days without even seeing the flick of a tail. However, with the right mindset, the rut can help you develop mental strength. When you face tough hunting conditions, avoid acting impulsively or trying too many different tactics. Instead, focus on the basics and establish a solid foundation for your hunting strategy during the rut.
Author: Aaron Hepler, Exodus Black Hats Team Member