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Avoid These Rut Mistakes

If you can avoid these five common mistakes, you are well on your way to making this a November to remember.


We are entering whitetail prime time in most of the United States. The next 30 days is why I run my trail camera, practice with my bow and spend countless hours staring at aerial photos. It's time to make hay and be part of the most fascinating month in a bowhunter's year. But as exciting as the rut is, not everything you do will produce action. If you can avoid these five common mistakes, you are well on your way to making this a November to remember.

Mistake 1: Missing Magic Days
Obviously, if you hunt every day of the rut, you won't miss the best three days. But if you don't hunt every day, like most people, you run the risk of missing this magic window. It is amazing how few days sizzle with action-most are a slow burn at best. We tend to think of the rut as a nonstop buck parade, but in reality, if you miss the best three days, you eliminate half the action. You need to recognize those three days so you can greet them in your best stands.

First, watch the weather, as any cold front is going to spur activity the day after it passes. I love it when a cold front rolls through in early November, because the woods come alive with bucks the next day; I have shot plenty of bucks the day after a late-October or early-November cold front.

The second key to the rut is the doe cycle. Everyone knows that, but many bowhunters think the peak of the rut is the best time. It isn't. More specifically, you need to be in your best stands when the first few does are coming into estrus. You are likely to see more activity from mature bucks during this two- to three-day window than you will see the rest of the season combined. You can get very close to nailing these three days by simply paying attention to the calendar. In areas with a defined November rut, the time from Nov. 6 to Nov. 8 is very hard to beat. Most years, this is when the first does come into estrus.

Mistake 2: Trying To Pattern Bucks
Trying to hunt a specific buck during the rut will distract you from doing what actually works. It will be more by chance than by design if you are able to kill a selected buck during the rut. Some of them are homebodies, and you do have a chance of patterning and shooting such a buck, but most are roamers and it is very hard to anticipate what a buck is going to do next, or where he will be, when he doesn't even know himself.

Last season I patterned a number of bucks in October using trail cameras, but when the rut came, I saw some of those deer as much as a mile from where I thought I would see them. I also saw several nice bucks that I had never seen. While the rut is a time for shooting big deer, it just isn't necessarily the best time for shooting a specific big deer. Don't get hung up on just one buck. Hunt him for a while but then open up your options.

Mistake 3: Focusing On Sign
I spent many years trying to figure out where to put my treestands for rutting bucks based on buck sign. Sounds reasonable enough, but it led only to confusion and frustration when the bucks never did what I thought they should. The puzzle pieces never fit together. Over time, I realized that a much more consistent and predictable strategy arose from focusing on the terrain and cover and ignoring the sign. I went from being a sign hunter to being a travel-route hunter. Travel routes are usually funnels formed by the cover or the terrain. If you want to grow as a bowhunter this year, forget about the sign and focus on funnels.

Mistake 4: Skipping the Morning Hunt
Yes, it is a little bit bleak and intimidating to get out of a warm bed and step into cold darkness, but that step will more than double your chances for success. After many years of hunting every day of the rut, both mornings and evenings, I would rather give up my evening hunts than my morning hunts.

Deer are on their feet for more daylight minutes in the morning than in the afternoon. Mornings are usually cooler than afternoons and the deer activity is focused back in the cover-near bedding areas-where the deer feel more secure. So naturally, they move more under these conditions. Be sure that your rut strategy has a strong lineup of bedding area stand sites for morning hunts.

Mistake 5: Hunting Too Aggressively
Sometimes bucks do act stupidly, but in general, you still have to hunt very cautiously. The bucks are hunting does and the does are no less skittish now than they are at any other time of the season. If you alarm and educate the local doe groups, you are going to pay for your sloppy hunting.

Alert body language among the does will signal danger to all the other deer. The bucks dogging them will naturally show caution as a result. Even if they are rut-driven idiots, they still know enough to follow the doe's lead. When the smart old does start to avoid your stand areas, the rut begins to unwind. Hunt just as carefully during the rut as you would when trying to take a big buck on a feeding pattern. Look for entry and exit routes and stand locations that keep you from alarming even a single deer. It is a tough task, but you have to hunt smart or the rut will be disappointing.


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1 Response to Avoid These Rut Mistakes

Christopher wrote:
November 09, 2014

I live in Md were hunting pressure is great.. it seems that these deer are nocturnal ..its very rare to see any trophy bucks during daylight hours ..I guess I must slow my role because I hunt very aggressively... cant stay still for to long..