A muscled-up buck approaches a cedar tree destined for a scarred future. It’s the whitetail pre-rut and tension is building. Full of frustration, the buck works over the tree, thrashing it up and down with thick neck muscles and heavy antlers. Flakes of bark fly into the air as the deer continues the onslaught. Then, after several minutes of mastery, he inspects his work. The buck seems to approve, and eases on down the trail. Indeed, hunting pre-rut whitetails is an exciting time.
For most hunters in the northern half of the country, the whitetail pre-rut falls during the month of October. It effectively ends sometime later in the month. Of course, many of the southern states experience rut timelines that peak anytime between July (southern Florida) and late February (several southern states). Overall, the rut spans nearly eight months in America. Maybe even better, you can get all the details about the various stages of the rut (in your specific hunting area!) by tapping into the new HuntStand Whitetail Rut Map. It’s one of the incredible new features found in the new Pro Whitetail upgrade, but more on that later.
Regardless of when the pre-rut occurs in a given location, deer tend to behave the same way. Furthermore, a set list of generalities become common threads. Because of that, a certain process can help you find success just about anywhere whitetails call home. Here’s your 10-step guide to a big pre-rut buck this season with help from HuntStand.
Understand the Dynamics
The pre-rut is a great time for deer hunters. It’s a period when most whitetail bucks have rising testosterone levels, but few if any does are receptive. This leads to a lot of pent-up frustration in bucks, especially during the latter days of the pre-rut. As a result, bucks often venture further during daylight as they search for the first receptive does. This can lead to bucks presenting shot opportunities that haven’t been possible yet.
Upgrade to Pro Whitetail: Get The Rut Map & More!
Naturally, those who understand the dynamics that drive the pre-rut will benefit most. When you know how to capitalize on these dynamics, you are much more likely to succeed and fill a tag. Especially, when it comes to mature whitetails during this special phase of hunting season.
HuntStand Help: Use the many app layers and weather forecast features available to monitor the various factors that impact the pre-rut. Don’t forget the groundbreaking new Whitetail Rut Map available in the Pro Whitetail upgrade clues you into all the important rut dates (see screen above), including the pre-rut, for very specific locations nationwide. Simply tap the Whitetail Rut Map screen and rut data appears for that specific location.
Recognize the Advantage
While bucks’ testosterone and frustration levels are rising, they haven’t yet begun covering the ground they will be during the rut. Rather, while daylight movement continues to gradually increase, mature bucks are still holding fairly tight to their core areas. This creates a blend of increased movement, and the good news is that bucks now can mostly be patterned.
For the prepared hunter, this is a mixture of phenomenal opportunity. Hunters who scout and learn a buck’s habits can piece together a plan with a high probability of success. Do the work and it just might lead to a filled tag.
HuntStand Help: Keep track of all trail camera photos of target bucks. Upload each camera location’s affiliated target buck images, so that these are stored within the app and easily viewable. Great camera locations are hot natural scrapes, and also mock scrapes that you create. With this image data plugged in, you’ll see the advantage once a buck presents one.
Find the Sign
For those who still haven’t located a deer, start by scouting for buck sign. Where bucks are living, rubs should be appearing in abundance. Searching for droppings, tracks, and trails is good, but rubs and scrapes really tell the tale. Find these and find the deer.
HuntStand Help: Deer are creatures of habit. Usually, barring habitat changes, rut sign is generally located in the same areas each year. By marking rut sign in the app as its discovered, you can sometimes look back on historical information to predict future activity. Marking fresh sign also allows you to piece together travel routes and bedding/feeding cover.
Focus on Habitat and Topography
Those who hunt in hill country should focus on key terrain. Take special note of benches, hubs, leeward ridges, ridge lines, ridge endings, saddles, and other pinch points. These are spots that concentrate deer movement and should be considered for stands. Pre-rut bucks inhabit such areas, and the right location might be in one of these.
Flatlanders typically don’t have the luxury of locating deer by focusing on key topography features. But all hunters can pinpoint big buck hotspots by hitting key habitat types. Deer often bed in early successional growth. This is often referred to as “edge cover.” Deer bed and feed in transition areas such as these.
HuntStand Help: There are no better tools than HuntStand’s 3D Map (shown above), Contour, and Terrain app layers for identifying key topographical features advantageous to deer hunters. Likewise, the Contour, Hybrid, Monthly Satellite, Satellite, and Mapbox Satellite app layers are great for gauging the habitat.
Locate the Bed
While deer gradually move more and further during daylight throughout the pre-rut, it still isn’t the rut. Deer aren’t yet running wild, especially mature bucks. Knowing where these deer bed is still crucial for success.
Often, mature bucks will take the best-available bedding. This might be a brushy bench, or leeward ridge with good horizontal cover. In addition, it could be another area that offers visual, audible, and scent-related advantages. Locate these spots on your hunting grounds, and that’s where the deer will be.
HuntStand Help: Deer tend to bed in predictable areas. These spots offer reprieve from human intrusion. They also provide security benefits that help deer see, hear, and smell threats before they get too close. Knowing the areas to look for via the app can help cross off unlikely areas. Doing so makes it easier to locate high-odds locations, effectively saving time.
Know the Food
While the rut is on the horizon, food is still king throughout the pre-rut. Wherever the grub is located is where the deer will be, bucks included. Knowing local food sources is always important. These locations are where deer will be heading in the afternoons. And where they will travel back from, in the mornings.
HuntStand Help: The HuntStand Monthly Satellite app layer in the Pro Whitetail upgrade is an excellent tool for identifying potential food sources. This is especially true for “guesstimating” agricultural status, such as crop rotations, harvest timings, etc.
Home in on Water
Water sources can be very important, too. Generally, deer bed down relatively close to it, as they tend to drink during the day, too. Even a small, stagnant source is enough to support several deer. Even if it’s a short distance from their beds, homing in on water sources can be a great way to intercept a pre-rut buck.
HuntStand Help: Mature bucks love small, secluded, quiet, water sources close to bedding cover. By using water-identifying app layers, hunters can discover, and then mark, water sources they wouldn’t otherwise know about.
Pinpoint the Pattern
Maybe you’ve found the right topographical features, habitat types, and located good sign. If you’ve also found some bedding cover, food sources, and watering holes, it’s time to pinpoint the pattern. Analyzing how deer are traveling from point A to B is an excellent way to find success. Understanding these lines of movement, and intercepting deer along these travel routes, is the best way to find consistent pre-rut success.
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HuntStand Help: Marking each scouting find within the HuntStand app can help paint a picture of how a buck lives on and maneuvers throughout a hunting property. Drop those pins and include special notes. This helps hunters visualize the “whole picture.” When considered from detailed aerial views, it helps us see things we tend to miss. This is a huge advantage.
Hunt the Weather Fronts
Because the pre-rut stills finds bucks in specific patterns, the pre-rut is all about finding a specific target buck. Once you’ve figured out its pattern, wait for prime conditions. HuntStand will lead the way. Most research on weather’s impacts on deer movement is conflicting. However, my anecdotal experience suggests that rain events and temperature drops ignite October deer movement. Fronts are great, and hunting on these high-odds days is an excellent pre-rut maneuver.
HuntStand Help: By monitoring the detailed and accurate weather forecasts, hunters can keep an eye on great opportunities to come. Also, the ground-breaking new Whitetail Activity Forecast in the new Pro Whitetail upgrade is a “when to hunt” game changer. This seven-day Whitetail Activity Forecast (see screen above) shows, at a glance, each day’s deer activity level score for your very specific hunt area. The higher the score, the better your odds of witnessing deer activity on a given day.
Stage a Fight
You say numerous pre-rut sits have failed to produce a sighting of your target buck? Or shooter bucks continue to skirt just out of range? It’s time to consider staging a fight to lure one in close for a shot. A well-placed buck decoy and appropriate calling and rattling can tick off a buck just enough to bring it in.
Place the decoy approximately 15 yards from your position, to where it’s quartering toward you. Most dominant bucks will circle downwind and approach a buck decoy head-on. Pairing your well-placed decoy with grunts, snort wheezes, and if necessary, rattling, might be the ticket. It might just be enough to pull your target buck into the setup.
HuntStand Help: Using the HuntStand HuntZone wind direction indicator, hunters can often predict how bucks will approach. Whether responding to calling and/or decoying efforts, know that most every mature buck will approach from downwind. Use this info to your advantage when setting up!
Bonus: Take a Risk
If all else fails, and you know where your target buck is bedding, it’s time to push the envelope. If your target buck isn’t making it within range during shooting hours, try pushing as close as possible to the buck’s suspected bedroom. Set up shop as close as you dare, and wait for that buck to rise from its bed and work your way.
This is a high-risk, high-reward tactic. But when it works, it works. It takes time to master this skill. Slipping within 75 to 100 yards of a bedded deer is no simple task. But with the right habitat, topography, conditions, and stalking abilities, it can be done. Often, it’s the only tactic that works for a pre-rut buck that doesn’t travel far from its bed during daylight.
HuntStand Help: Marking specific beds in the app when you discover them, helps you know how close you are when stalking into position. It can mean the different in pushing just close enough, going too far, or not far enough. Be sure to double-check the HuntZone wind direction before you go.
Fill That Tag!
The pre-rut is upon us, and with it a window of opportunity will open. But it will open only for those who are prepared to capitalize on it. Hunters who aren’t, must wait for the rut, and who knows what will happen when it arrives. For now, the prepared pre-rut deer hunter armed with HuntStand can make his or her moves, before patterns fade away into rut-crazed chaos. Good luck with your carefully considered pre-rut gameplan!