Whitetail bucks may not care much about security in the summer, but, once they shed their velvet and begin rubbing and scraping, they become more security conscious. They move less during daylight hours, travel more at night, use secluded areas, and keep more to the security of woods and brush, where they can’t be easily discovered by predators or hunters. However, as the breeding urge hits them in October and November, they seem to forget about security, and they begin to travel more in search of does. In their effort to find does they often begin traveling during daylight hours, and they often use the same trails as the does. They also begin frequenting the same feeding areas as the does.
Find the Does
Late October is a good time to look for bucks traveling during legal hunting hours, it is also a good time to look for the same thing the bucks are looking for; does. If you know where the prime food sources are, you should be able to find the does. Once you find the does you can locate their core areas, food sites and travel corridors, where you may find buck rubs, rub routes and scrapes. And once you find bucks rubs and rub routes it is only a matter of time and effort before you find the bucks.
Even though my wife and children are big football fans I often get the urge to head for the woods in the fall. So, during the afternoons and evenings on Saturdays and Sundays I drive to one of my hunting/research areas to look for deer, and deer sign. I begin my scouting by glassing (using binoculars) while I drive around the country, checking farm fields at dusk. Once I find where the deer are feeding I watch the fields to see where the deer come from, so I can locate their bedding areas.
Every once in a while I get lucky and see one of the bucks too, like I did the Friday evening before the gun opener in 2002. I was looking for does at the south end of one of the cornfields I hunted. As I neared the end of the field a fawn crossed the opening in front of me. I quickly turned off my lights and stopped the Suburban. Another fawn crossed the opening, followed by a doe and a massive 10 point buck locally known as “Bullwinkle.” As I sat silently in the Suburban the buck caught up with the doe and bred her, then they both moved into the woods, which I knew was used as a bedding area by one of the does in the area, probably this very doe. As a result of my scouting, and with a little luck, I had a pretty good idea of where to setup to see the buck the next morning.
After I find the does I start field scouting, looking for evidence of bucks passing through the area. Rubs and scrapes are very evident during late October and early November, which makes it easy to locate the buck’s rub routes. Once I find a rub route I backtrack it to find the buck’s bedroom. More often than not I go into the bedding site and spook the buck, but I don’t worry about it. I’ve found that bucks often return to their core areas and bedding sites as long as they aren’t disturbed more than one or two times.
After a few weeks of scouting I know where the mast crops are, and which feeding areas the does are regularly using. To get a better idea of when and where the deer are moving I sit in a tree stand, or on a high point, where I can see a lot of territory. I watch the deer for a few, days to find out what time to expect them at certain points along their travel routes. Then I choose which stand sites to use at what time of the day for the best chances at the bucks.
T.R.’s Tips: Hunting Sight Setups
Hunters often use scents, calls and rattling to attract bucks during the rut. If you are use any of these methods to attract bucks remember that adult bucks invariably try to get downwind to check the area for scents and sounds, so they can detect and avoid danger. You should also remember that adult bucks try to remain in cover when they travel.
When you setup to take a particular buck along a travel route, give the buck the cover it likes to move in, while you set up in a nearby area. Try to position yourself crosswind of the buck’s travel route to avoid detection. If there is nearby cover the buck may use, and a more open area, or cover too thick for the buck to move through, crosswind of where you think the buck will travel, setup in the area the buck won’t use. Give the buck the area it will use, while you wait in the area it won’t use, and where you won’t be detected. You can also setup downwind of the buck’s approach while luring the buck to a position upwind of your position.
When you use scent wicks or canisters be sure to place them close enough for a shot. If you have to setup upwind of the buck’s approach, take extreme precautions to avoid detection; don’t put your stand in a direct line with the buck’s line of travel, you may be seen. For the same reason you should keep your stand site a comfortable distance from the travel route, far enough away to avoid detection, but close enough for a shot.
When I am hunting an area I have not hunted before, I prefer to hunt in the evenings, when most scent marking activity (rubbing and scraping) occurs. If I find a rub route I backtrack it until I think I am near a buck’s bedding area. Then I setup as close as I can to the bedding area without alarming the buck. If I can’t locate the rub route or bedding area I look for staging areas (where the deer gather before moving, into feeding areas at sunset) near food sources.
Once you have chosen an area to hunt, and a where to put your stand, decide where to place the scent. It can be hung from trees on felt pads, film canisters or a dripper. I place several drippers crosswind or upwind of my position, about fifteen yards from my stand and fifteen yards apart, near a rub or scrape, and wait for the buck to come by.
The November Rut Phases
Depending on where you hunt, whitetail deer may be going through one or more rut phases during November. In the northern and mid-latitude states they may be in the later stages of the Pre-Primary Breeding/Scraping Phase from early to mid-November; in the Primary Breeding Phase from early to mid-November; in the Rest Phase from mid to late November; or in the Pre-late Breeding Phase in late November. In the southern states these stages may begin several weeks earlier, and each phase may last longer. To determine when peak breeding occurs in most states you can log on to the Trinity Mountain Outdoors web site at www.TRMichels.com and click on the Whitetail Rut Dates Chart.
November Hunting Sites
When you are using scents, calls and rattling you should get as close to the buck bedrooms and feeding areas as you can, or setup along the travel route between those two areas. If the bucks are not actively working their rub routes and making scrapes, and you know where they bed, travel and feed, you can setup near the bedding sites, along the travel routes, or near the feeding areas. During the Pre-Primary Breeding/Scraping Phase (late October to early November in the north) bucks may be making rubs and scrapes along rub routes. They’ll travel their rub routes semi-regularly at this time, and you should be able to pattern the buck along its rub route, where you can setup near either rubs or scrapes. During the Primary Breeding Phase, when the bucks are looking for or with estrous does, they are unpredictable. But they may still frequent their rub routes, and the doe core areas and feeding areas. During this phase you can setup near buck bedrooms, along travel routes and near doe core areas and feeding areas. During the Rest Phase (after peak breeding) the bucks often return to their core areas and nearby feeding areas; you can setup near the buck bedding areas; or between the bedding areas and the food sources. Three to four weeks after the peak of the Primary Breeding Phase you can expect a Post Primary Breeding Phase, when the bucks begin traveling their rub routes again. During this phase they can be found near their bedding sites, and with the does in staging and feeding areas. During the Post Rut the bucks often return to their bedding areas and seek high quality food sources to put on weight for the winter. During this phase you should setup near buck bedrooms and feeding areas.
This is when you should setup along a rub route or near a scrape in a wooded area that the bucks use during the day. When I am hunting a previously patterned buck during this phase of the rut, near a rub or scrape, I am confident of the trail the deer uses and I don’t need numerous scent dispensers. Because I have patterned the buck, and I am hunting before the breeding period, I’m fairly sure the buck will come by me sometime within a 3-5 day period, unless it meets an estrous doe first, or is spooked by another hunter.
I use the scent to position the buck for a clear shot. The scent also gives me a chance to bring in any other bucks in the area. I hang up one or two felt pads with buck urine or doe estrous scent, but I don’t leave them out when I’m not there. If a buck comes to doe scent and doesn’t find a doe, it probably won’t fall for it again. By taking the scent out every day you don’t educate the buck.
You can also hunt near a scrape, or make your own scrape. I make a mock a scrape with the heel of my boot, rattling racks, or a stick, under an overhanging branch. I pour forehead scent on the branch and tarsal scent in the scrape. Then I hang an Ultimate Scrape Dripper with Golden Estrus or Active Scrape over the scrape, or near my stand in a shooting lane. This combination of buck infringement scents and doe in heat scent attracts bucks out of the urge to exert dominance, or to breed.
If you don’t know exactly where the buck’s bedding area is you can setup on the rub route at the first scrape the buck makes as it comes out of its core (bedding) area by using this same techniques. If you don’t know where the core area is you can setup near a staging area or food source that the does are using. When I am not setup along on a rub route or near a scrape I use several film canisters spread out 10 yards apart to attract the buck over a wider area. If you know the buck is traveling after sunrise in the morning you can use this same technique on the rub route leading back to its bedding area.
During this rut phase you should setup along the buck’s rub route or near areas the does regularly use. Because the does are in estrous the bucks are either with a doe or looking for one. If you know a particular buck is not with a doe, and is staying in its bedding area, you can setup as close to its bedding site as you can. Try to get between the buck and the first doe area it visits. If the buck finds an estrous doe before it gets to your stand site the chances are it will follow the doe and not the rub route. By setting up between the buck’s bedroom and the first doe use area you have a good chance of seeing the buck on a regular basis, and attracting it to your stand.
Because bucks are looking for does and want to protect their breeding rights both Territorial/Dominance scents and Sex scents work during this phase. To capitalize on this you can make a mock rub near one of the buck’s rubs or scrapes, and a mock scrape. You can drip a line of tarsal, interdigital or urine scent across the trail the buck uses and lead it to the mock rub.
To make a mock rub remove the bark from a tree with a wood rasp, then drip forehead scent or some other scent on the rub. Wear rubber gloves and boots while you do this, so you don’t contaminate the area. Mock rubs should be placed in a shooting lane, near your stand, where the buck will stop to investigate it, often sniffing and licking the rub, while offering you a shot.
Remember, during the breeding phase or “peak rut” the bucks may be traveling anywhere and anytime in search of does. Because the bucks are unpredictable during this phase you should spend as much time as possible on stand. Choose a site near a rub or scrape near doe core areas, in staging sites, feeding or watering areas, or get close to the buck’s bedroom. Hunt three or more days in each area, changing stand sites frequently. If the buck is with an estrous doe it may stay with the doe for up to three days; it may not return to its normal activities until the doe is out of estrous. If you quit hunting after two or three days you may miss the buck when it returns to its normal pattern.
Once the majority of the does in estrous have been bred, the dominant bucks often begin to travel their rub routes again, making rubs and scrapes. The subdominant bucks may also begin rubbing and scraping at this time, because they haven’t come in contact with the dominant bucks or with fresh rubs and scrapes, which often keeps them from making their own rubs and scrapes. Either way there is often renewed rubbing and scraping activity for a week or more shortly after peak breeding as both the dominant and subdominant bucks search for does. Setup along rub lines, scrape routes and in staging areas near food sources. Buck urine and doe in estrous work well at this time. Tarsal or interdigital scent can be dripped on a trail to lead bucks to rubs, scrapes or your stand site.
Rest Phase Hunting Techniques
A week to two weeks after peak breeding the older bucks may not show themselves. After the fighting, chasing and breeding of the Breeding Phase the dominant bucks may be worn out, hungry, and in need of food to supply enough fat to get them through the winter. They often return to their bedding areas, or look for a secure place to rest, with high quality food sources nearby. If you know where the bucks are and where the available food sources are, you can setup between the two to intercept the bucks.
The bucks may not be as willing to fight after peak breeding, but they may still be interested in breeding. Estrus scents and buck urine work well at this time. Some bucks may respond to Curiosity scents; Food scents like acorn, corn and peanut butter may work. If you are confident of your stalking skills you can go after the buck in its core area.
Late Breeding Phase
About two to three weeks after peak breeding has ceased some of the younger does that did jot come into estrous earlier, particularly six month old fawns in many regions, may come into a first estrous, and older does that were not bred earlier come into a second or possibly a third estrous. This may cause an increase in both rubbing and scraping activity as the bucks begin to travel their rub routes and search for late season forage, where they may come in contact with does or the scents the does left behind. Since the younger or subdominant bucks may have never ceased looking for does, the earliest of these activities may be attributed to the these bucks, resulting in what appears to be a pre-late breeding phase, which precedes the peak breeding of does at this time. The actual Late Breeding Phase peak may last two to three weeks. However, breeding may continue for a month or more before ceasing, with breeding continuing longer in the mid-latitude and southern states.
Winter Home Range Shift & Migration
Limited food sources and cold winter weather may cause the deer to migrate, or to move to Winter Home Ranges. I’ve seen this Winter Home Range Shift occur as early as mid-November if the weather turns cold, the snow gets deep, the natural food sources are gone, or agricultural food sources like corn and soybeans are picked. If you don’t see any deer in you area, they may have moved or migrated. If they have you will have to start the scouting, glassing, patterning process all over again if you want to be a successful deer hunter.
Pre-Late Rut Phase and Late Rut Phase Hunting Techniques
No matter which rut phase you are hunting during late season deer hunts, the further you are from the food sources you are, without getting too close to the deer bedding areas, the better your chances of seeing deer during the day. Even though the deer may arrive at the food source well before dark, they are most alert near the food sources, where you may be detected. And, because bucks generally travel later than does, you will have a better chance of seeing them in protected areas, well away from the food sources, in the early afternoon.
T.R.’s Tips: Right Place, Right Time
When you are hunting in the morning try to position yourself between night resting areas/early morning food sources, and daytime bedding areas. Your hunting sites should be located along trails leading to buck bedding areas so you have an opportunity as the bucks return to their beds.
I often see deer bed and feed in overgrown fields of brush and saplings on the downwind side of hills in the morning. They often stay in these areas until daylight, then, as the sun rises, move to areas of deeper cover. When this happens you can setup downwind or crosswind of the trails the deer use as they leave. You can also setup near known buck bedding areas, provided you get there before the buck returns.
The time to hunt late season bucks is when the conditions are right. When foods are scarce, or a preferred food is available; and when there is cloud cover and the wind-chills drop, expect to see deer earlier in the evening and later in the morning than normal. After a winter storm lets up, or it has been cold, windy, or after there has been heavy precipitation for more than a day and a half, which causes the deer to miss two or more feeding periods, and then the wind dies down, or the temperature/wind-chill rises, you can expect the deer to begin feeding, and to continue feeding for the next couple of hours.