Spoiler alert: There’s a right way and a wrong way to hunt the whitetail rut. The wrong way is to be careless, overlooking deer behavior and sign, and venturing recklessly into the woods in hopes of arrowing a buck. The right way, according to Jeff Danker, host of BuckVentures Outdoors, is to spend a lot of time hunting from November 5 to 20, set up with the wind in your face, and hunt an area with does, deer sign and natural travel corridors such as a funnel, pinch point or creek bed.
Danker, 49, is from Oklahoma and has been bowhunting since he was 14. He said hunting the rut is a blast.
About the Rut
The whitetail breeding season, or rut, happens in three phases: the pre-rut, the rut and the post-rut. In most of the country, the timing of those phases generally looks like this:
- The pre-rut is from about October 23 to November 5. During this time, bucks create a lot of rubs and scrapes. They’re also on their feet actively searching for, following and investigating does. They typically travel alone and cover a lot of ground looking for a doe in heat, so it’s a great time to lure them into bow range with rattling, calling and decoys.
- The rut is approximately November 5 to 20. At this time, many antlerless deer are in estrus, so hunters tend to see a lot of chasing. At the end of this time window, bucks start “locking down” with a hot doe, following her everywhere she goes because she is receptive to breeding.
- The post-rut takes place in late November through mid-December. Some does and female fawns that weren’t bred during the primary rut (November 5 to 20) will come into heat again 28 days later, creating the “secondary rut.” Deer activity typically slows down right after the primary rut, but the secondary rut can provide an uptick in action because there are fewer does to breed, and that creates more competition between dominant bucks.
Check your state agency’s website to find data regarding peak rut periods because the dates can vary between regions. Once you know which stage of the rut whitetails are in, you can hunt it correctly. Use these strategies to make the most of the exciting yet unpredictable time.
Strategies for Hunting the Rut
1. Sit as Much as Possible
Bowhunting from dawn until dusk is beneficial during the rut because anything can happen at any time. All-day sits can be difficult to endure, but the payoff could be a shot at a buck at lunchtime, Danker said.
2. Find the Does
The best way to approach the rut is to find and hunt the does. “Wherever your does are, that’s where you need to be,” Danker said. Since bucks are looking for does, so should you. Danker likes to hunt doe bedding areas in the morning, as bucks often check these areas to find a hot doe.
3. Be an Aggressive Caller
Danker said all bowhunters should use three important tools during the rut: a grunt call, a rattle bag or rattling antlers, and a snort-wheeze call. These calls can lure deer to within range and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Danker tries to use his calls right after daylight when bucks are frustrated after searching for does all night. A snort-wheeze with a lot of emotion is “like calling a deer’s mama fat,” he said. “Aggressive deer can’t handle that and might come charging.”
4. Pick a Good Location
Bucks move more in daylight during the rut, so it’s best to set up somewhere that forces them through a specific area such as a funnel, saddle or other pinch point. That will increase your odds of ambushing a traveling buck. Keep in mind that buck activity won’t be constant, even during the rut. You’ll have quiet periods, perhaps a few consecutive hours, with few or no deer sightings. Don’t give up too soon. That said, sometimes a single hot doe can concentrate all buck activity in a small zone, so if your area is dead for several hours, it’s best to move.
5. Avoid Spooking Deer
Always move slowly, use scent-elimination products, hunt the wind, travel under the cover of darkness whenever possible, and carefully plan your entry and exit strategy to avoid spooking deer. If a whitetail sees you walking to or from your stand, Danker recommends deliberately spooking it so it runs off quickly instead of blowing and alerting distant deer.
6. Use Your Brain
Successful hunters pay attention to the details, including the wind, terrain, deer sign, deer movements and time of year. Strategy shouldn’t go out the window during the rut.
7. Always Play the Wind
Danker disagrees with the old-school mindset to ignore wind direction during the rut. He says it’s the fundamental principle of hunting smart. Old deer aren’t stupid, even if they’re distracted. Human odor signals a threat to a deer. If a whitetail catches your scent, it will almost always flee. Check the wind often and adjust accordingly if it changes significantly.
The rut is an exhilarating time to be in the woods. Approach each hunt carefully, but be aggressive and adaptive in the moment — and always follow the action. The success of your hunt depends on it.
Visit www.bowhuntersunited.com for more how-to bowhunting information.