Everyone wants to hunt the peak rut. This is when most hunters take their vacation days. And without any doubt, it’s a good time to be in the woods. Big deer are visible and running wild. That’s great, right? Well, yes and no.
First, hunters often mistake this period as the very best time to kill a buck. If you’re hunting just any deer, that’s true, because overall daylight movement increases. But it’s virtually impossible to pattern deer during the rut. This makes it the worst time to target a specific deer.
Secondly, some hunters don’t score because the bucks are running wild and crazy. They see a lot of deer, even mature bucks. But killing them? That’s another story entirely.
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Thirdly, it’s important to fully understand what is happening during this window. While not all mature bucks and does lock down simultaneously, the peak rut is when the bulk of does enter estrus. When bucks and does pair off, they generally do so for 24-48 hours, and move very little during that timeframe. That said, estrus does are staggered throughout the rut, and once a doe is no longer receptive, bucks are back on their feet to find the next one.
So, how do we remedy these challenges? By upping the odds. Here are 15 ways to increase your chances of filling that peak-rut buck tag this season.No. 1: Follow The 3-Day Rule. During the rut, bucks cover more ground and move much more during daylight than any other time of the season. This makes it important to stay true to your best rut stands, and wind allowing, hunt these for consecutive days. Don’t agree? Let’s look at it from a mathematical or physics standpoint.
When two objects are in motion, it becomes much harder for these to cross paths than when just one object is in motion, right? The same holds true for a hunter and shooter buck. During the rut, that deer is likely doing something different each day, moving from one doe group to the next. So, if you’re constantly bouncing from one stand to the next, that puts both objects in motion.
That said, if there’s a high likelihood a buck could pass through a given area at some point, your odds greatly increase by sitting in that spot and being patient for the target deer (or another shooter buck) to come cruising through. That’s why I prefer to stick to my best rut stands, and hunt these for several consecutive days during the peak rut. There are times I will make exceptions, but more on that later.No. 2: Use HuntStand for Help. There are many tools out there that claim to be awesome aids for the rut. But there’s simply no better scouting tool than HuntStand Pro. It’s packed with features that benefit deer hunters, especially during the peak rut.
First off, its ability to forecast and monitor wind directions is great. This tool doesn’t just tell you what the wind is doing—it shows you. That’s very beneficial.
HuntStand is also ideal for locating overlooked pockets of cover bucks might be pushing estrus does to. These areas are typically avoided by most hunters, because they don’t look good (to deer or deer hunters). But, as previously mentioned, that’s exactly why deer go there during the rut.
HuntStand is also made to find funnels and pinch points. Use the aerial, hybrid, and topo map layers to find these potential hotspots. The 3D layer is also good for this.
In addition, the app has dozens of other benefits, too. Keeping all these neatly tucked away right there in your phone maximizes your rut-hunting efficiency.No. 3: Monitor The Barometer. According to many expert hunters, deer activity tends to increase when the barometric pressure is at or above 30. Keep an eye on the weather. If the pressure is spiking, and the rut is rocking, it’s certainly a great time to be in a tree.No. 4: Find Isolated Pockets. Bucks like to push does to weird places. They do this to get them away from the bulk of the deer herd. That’s why hunters commonly see mature bucks with estrus does in oddball places. These locations have lower deer densities and traffic, and that’s exactly why mature bucks push does to such places—privacy. Just about any off-the-wall spot could serve as such, but brush piles, sinkholes, small woodlots, and other weird places most hunters wouldn’t normally hunt, can be such spots.No. 5: Locate The Does. The rut is all about the does. And the does are all about bedding and food. Generally, while does have large home ranges, they tend to stick to their specific bedding areas. Bucks know where these locations are. During the rut, they travel from one to the next in search of receptive females. Hunting between these areas can prove fruitful.
No. 6: Find The Fresh Stuff. Never hunt over rut sign during the peak rut solely to hunt over rut sign. That’s a plan destined for failure. Bucks all but avoid rub lines and scrapes during the peak rut. They have better things to do. But you can still use really fresh rubs, and scrapes, to show bucks are in the area. That gives you a starting point when scouting and hunting on the fly.No. 7: Focus On Mornings. Most bucks stay out all night looking for love. Often, if a buck isn’t already paired off with a doe, I think the rising sun sometimes catches them off guard, whereas they’d generally already be back to bed outside of the rut. This situation, paired with cool morning temperatures, makes mornings much better than afternoons this time of year.
No. 8: Sit All Day. Now is the time to park your but in a treestand or ground blind and hunt from daylight to dark. No questions. Just do it. Pack a lunch and sit. If you need to climb down around midday to stretch your legs at the bottom of the tree, that’s fine. But climb right back up. Oftentimes, bucks lose their does and start cruising again during the middle hours of the day.No. 9: Camp On Funnels. Rutting bucks often take the paths of least resistance. They conserve energy by doing this. Some of the best peak-rut stands are funnels and pinch points. Because of this, any terrain or topographical feature that forces deer to travel through a tight area should be a good spot, especially if it connects two areas that see high volumes of doe activity.
No. 10: Get Loud With It. I rarely use calls throughout deer season. But when I do, this is the timeframe. While I prefer not to blind call, I always call to passing bucks that are out of range and not heading toward my location. Sometimes, I’ll hold off if I think there’s a chance they could circle downwind. But it’s almost always worth the risk of that happening. If you don’t try, you may never see that deer again anyway, especially if it’s a passerby you’ve never seen on camera.
No. 11: Clash Some Headgear. Just as I like to get aggressive with the grunt tube, I clash the antlers, too. This is an incredible time for fake fights. Young and old bucks alike often come running in to check out what’s going on.No. 12: Place A Decoy. Some bucks refuse to fully commit to calling unless they have a visual to pair with it. That’s where a decoy comes into play. Again, just as with calling, I rarely use decoys. But when I do, I go all out and sync it up with my calling sequences. Match the audible scenario to the visual one. For example, if purely grunting, use one buck decoy. If rattling a lot, perhaps use two face-to-face.
No. 13: Stink It Up. Another thing a hunter can do is use scents. Both real and synthetic products are viable. If legal where you hunt, these too can serve to add realism to calling, rattling, and decoying. It can also work on its own. Often, a smart tactic can be using a drag line that leads to your stand. Or maybe it’s hanging scent wicks in your shooting lanes. Regardless of how these are used, scents can, at the very least, stop cruising deer for shot opportunities.No. 14: Make A Move. As mentioned earlier, wind direction allowing, I like to hunt a specific stand for several consecutive days. This increases the chances of crossing paths with a cruising buck. That said, if I see a compelling reason to make a change, I will.
For example, if I spot a buck off in the distance, I might move to a stand that’s closer to it. Or, if I keep seeing deer pass through an area out of range, I might move closer to that spot. Listen to your gut when it’s telling you to make a change. Instincts are developed from experience.
No. 15: Stay On Point. Make sure you’re paying attention. You never know when a deer is going to walk by. A giant could pass through at any time, even on the slowest of days. Keep your eyes off the cell phone and constantly scan for deer movement. It’s tiring, but can make the difference in whether you see a passing deer, or not.
Bonus: 7 Peak Rut Hunting Mistakes. Don’t want to make a big peak-rut blunder? Here are seven mistakes to avoid this season:
Some of the biggest rut hunting mistakes hunters make during the peak rut center on bad stand placement. Like any time of deer season, rut stand placement mistakes can cost you. Even the smallest, most seemingly microscopic change can mean the difference in filling a tag and watching a buck walk by.
As alluded to above, don’t hunt over scrapes. Approximately 85 percent of scraping takes place at night. That’s not a statistic that works in favor of hunters. Furthermore, bucks tend to abandon scrapes during the peak rut. The best times to hunt over, or near, scrapes include the end of the pre-rut and early rut.
Unless you’re hunting a very old deer that seems to not be participating in the rut, don’t focus on buck bedding. Instead, spend more time around doe bedding. You’ll see more shooters that way.
Don’t sit in too thick of cover, especially if you’re gun hunting. What’s the point of having a rifle if you can’t benefit from its range? The only time I advise hunting thicker areas with a gun is if it’s a proven spot where you have high odds of seeing a big deer.
Don’t hunt the wrong doe family groups. If you’ve seen a buck in a particular area for a couple of days in a row, but then it vanishes, it probably moved on to another doe group. There’s no way to predict what doe group a given buck will be with at any given time, but focusing on the wrong one certainly decreases your odds of success.
Don’t forget about food. Does are still on bed-to-feed patterns. That’s where the girls will be. And bucks will be where the does are. Finally, don’t expect bucks to act overly dumb. Younger deer can seem to lose their minds during the rut. But mature bucks are still somewhat aware, and even calculative in how they behave. That means you must keep playing the chess game, rather than just throwing caution to the wind.
Good luck this fall, and I hope you tag the biggest buck of your life. The peak rut can be frustrating, but also magical.