On private ground—where I have a good idea of how much hunting competition I’ll face—I enjoy the rut for obvious reasons. While hunting public ground, I have a much more complicated relationship with the month of November. I still love having faith that a mature buck will screw up and trot by my stand while scouring the woods for a good-to-go doe, but I hate the fact that everyone else feels the same way.
If there’s one time aside from opening week when public land is bound to be overrun with other bowhunters, it’s during the rut. When Halloween ends and October gives way to November, it seems that every single hunter with a tag in their pocket decides to hunt. This doesn’t bode well for anyone on tax payers’ deer ground. However, just like during the rest of the season, there are some things you can do to out-hunt the competition and take advantage of the rut.
USE VACATION DAYS
Whether I’m hunting small public parcels near my home in the Twin Cities or camped out in the Badlands of North Dakota, there’s one constant: Weekends are always busier than weekdays. This is reason enough to plan vacation days around mid-week hunts. If you have the option to take a few days off of work during the week, take them. Fewer hunters will be out, giving you a better chance to encounter a good buck.
Manufacturers of hunting products love the rut because the promise of dumbed-down bucks means more folks will go out and buy whatever calls, lures, scents and decoys they’re peddling. Some of those hunters will end up hunting your area, and trust me, they’ll use whatever they bought. Whitetails that have walked the earth for more than 1 1/2 years have already encountered these tricks, and they’ll be wary. Let the others try out the latest and greatest gimmicks, and stick to a plan. Figure out where the deer want to be and get in there, stay quiet, and stay ready.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
On the note of getting in to where the deer want to be, rut hunting is all about the “where.” The simple explanation involves travel routes such as funnels and pinch-points; however, simply finding a good pinch-point isn’t enough. If it’s easy to find and looks obvious, you’ll have company. Public-land deer encounter hunters, or evidence of hunters, in obvious spots all season long. This pushes them into the cover and into places people don’t want to go—this rule holds true during the rut as well. This is why, when I hunt public land in November, I almost always wear knee-high rubber boots no matter how cold it gets. The reason? I’m going to have to cross water, whether that be a stream or a cranberry bog, to get to my spots. Out-work the average Joe and you’ll be much better off all season, but especially when the chase phase is cranking up.
PUNCH THE CLOCK
When you’re not hunting tightly managed ground, time in stand can be your biggest asset. The true secret to public-land success involves putting in more time than everyone else. This starts with scouting and goes all of the way through to the late-season. And, of course, during the rut. Every minute you spend in stand this time of year could yield an encounter, which means the more minutes you spend, the better your odds. Too many hunters spend a couple of hours in the morning or evening on stand and call it good enough, but the ultimate secret to killing mature bucks (in any situation) is making the time to do it right. It’s not easy, but it’s true.
The same old hackneyed whitetail advice holds true for public-land rut hunts—advice such as playing the wind and planning your routes. If you don’t have these basics downs, it’s going to be a rough one. If you do, and you decide that it’s time to sneak into the cover on a Tuesday morning to set up where others dare not tread, you’ll be much better off.
To tag out on public land, it’s almost always necessary to put in more time and work harder than your competition. That means getting in deeper and sitting longer, which can be tough but fruitful in November.