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Five Rut Revelations

After 25 years of hunting every day of the rut, Bill Winke found that keeping it simple is the key. Use these five hard-won tips to fill your tag this fall.

After 25 years of hunting every day of the rut, I’ve found that keeping it simple is the key. These five revelations may not seem earth-shattering, but they are hard-won and are enough to assure a good season.

Hunt the Does
If you really want to simplify the rut, forget about patterning bucks and focus on patterning does. From late October through the remainder of the rut, it is hard to go wrong hunting where the does concentrate. The bucks know where these spots are and will come looking eventually.

Roughly one-quarter of the bucks I have shot during the rut were following does—all of the rest were out looking. One of my best bucks is a perfect example. The bruiser chased off a rival buck and then came back looking for the doe. He nearly tore the thicket up as he grunted with every step. He was determined to find her as quickly as possible. The more time you spend around does, the better the chances that you will be there when one of them starts to come into estrus.

Hunt Funnels
When bucks aren’t with a doe, they are often cruising from one doe concentration area to another looking for signs of estrous activity. This means that funnels between two such areas are great sites for a stand. A saddle, creek crossing, ditch crossing, bluff edge, narrow strip of cover or even an open gate represents the path of least resistance, and that’s where you should hang your stands.

The list of possible funnels is long so you will need to get out and look for them. If something creates a barrier, it will also create a funnel where the barrier ends and the deer go around it. Also, look for anything that creates more security for traveling bucks (keeps them out of sight). Examples are saddles, strips of thick cover and fence lines across open fields.

Hunt the Best Days
There aren’t as many really good days during the rut as most people think. It runs in fits and starts. The very best days of the season start when the first doe comes into estrus in the area you are hunting. This is one of two time frames when an otherwise nocturnal buck makes a mistake. The other time is on a brutally cold day in the late season.

All the bucks are available, and wired tight, for the start of the action. Typically, the first few does will come into estrus eight to 12 days prior to the peak of breeding. In most of North America, this puts the first rush at approximately Nov. 1 through Nov. 5. The farther south you go, the later it starts. You need to know when the peak of breeding occurs in your area so you can back up the required eight to 12 days. If you are not sure, ask someone who has the experience to steer you right. This should be the start of your annual bowhunting vacation each year.

Be Aggressive
Normally, bowhunting is about avoiding the chance of bumping deer at all costs, but you can be more aggressive during the rut than at any other time of the year. You might consider hunting stands that don’t have perfect entry and exit routes or maybe places where the wind swirls a bit. I would save these higher-risk spots for the latter part of your vacation, however.

By aggressive, I mean get after any buck as soon as you realize he’s in a certain area. Don’t expect him to stick around for long. And don’t over think it; just get in there and hunt him. Don’t take big risks, but go for broke more than you would at other times of the year. You may get picked off, but your odds of killing him are never higher than when you know where he is.

Hunt Mornings Hard
My experience suggests mornings are better than evenings during the rut. Well over half of my bucks have come in the morning even though I hunt both mornings and evenings every day. It comes down to opportunity rate. You can count on about two hours of movement in the evenings and about four hours of movement in the mornings. Therefore, morning hunts double your chance that you’ll see a good buck. It is usually cooler in the morning than the evening and I think that helps to promote longer daylight activity.

I hunt near doe bedding areas (or between two of them) almost every morning during most of the rut. I will often hang to the side, near a small opening or tiny secluded food plot, rather than sit right in a bedding area, but the bedding pattern is first and foremost for morning hunts.

Does use their normal bedding areas until pressure from bucks drives them into thicker cover to hide. When the does disappear from their traditional bedding areas, it is time to shift your morning stands to areas with thick cover.

Keep your stand on the downwind fringe of the bedding area in a place where you can get in and out without being seen, heard or smelled. You’ll find that this requirement eliminates a lot of potential hotspots. Remember that now you are hunting does and that brings with it a need to be more stealthy than when you are sitting in travel corridors waiting for a buck. You have to fool all of the does all of the time or they will stop using the area.

While I hunt near doe bedding areas in the mornings, I hunt near feeding areas in the evenings. Early in the rut (before the first doe comes into estrus), the bucks are focused more on feeding. That is why I only hunt evenings until the last week of October. As the rut comes in, I still hunt the feeding areas, but the action changes from feeding to chasing. Bucks know they can find does in these areas and dog them here relentlessly until the does stop coming out. This downturn typically doesn’t happen until the middle of the breeding phase of the rut—about Nov. 12 through Nov. 19 in most areas.

The rut can be very chaotic, but if you focus on these five simple truths you can bring some order. You will rarely pattern bucks during the rut, but by focusing on their tendencies and the big picture of what is happening, you can be very consistent and keep yourself ahead of the action. Plus, hunting is a lot more fun when you can keep it simple.

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