Whitetail rut or not, it’s time to hunt

Mid-November is upon us and that means that pretty much everywhere in New York state the whitetail rut is in one stage or another.

We hunters rack our brains trying to figure out when and where bucks will be moving, trying to analyze different stages of the rut. We do this to the point that it’s become a science, and when things don’t work out we sometimes get frustrated and don’t know where to turn.

I enjoy all the hype that is centered around the rut as much as the next hunter. I watch moon phases and weather patterns, especially a falling barometer. Regardless of what’s going on, however, if my calendar is clear, which it typically is during November, I’m going hunting regardless of any of this, except for a torrential downpour. Your best asset during the rut, or at any part of the hunting season, is time in the woods.

Making the most of whatever time you have is paramount, and the whitetail rut may be signified by bucks. But it’s really all about the does. The estrus cycle of the white-tailed doe is what drives bucks to do what they do. When I and the folks I hunt with go out in the woods in November, we’re thinking about does.

We hunt the Adirondacks and make deer drives, therefore early in the season we are just hitting our spots and making mental notes about what we find. Sure, we’ll take some bucks if they come along (and they have the past few years), but we’re really just covering ground and stretching our legs.

By the third weekend of the Northern Zone season, which is early November, we’ve usually got a pretty good idea of what’s going on. Those drives where we were kicking does out regularly are the places in which we’ll return. These are usually places with good food sources, along with water and cover nearby.

We know that if the doe groups stay on those food sources and aren’t pushed around too much, they’ll be there until the onset of winter. We’ll be there, too, looking for the bucks that are coming to join them.

This strategy has paid off handsomely for us for generations, dating back to the days of our fathers and uncles hunting together. This was before the market was flooded with deer calls, scents, treestands and ozone machines. It applies in the hill country as well as the agricultural lands. If the girls are around, the boys will be, too.

We really get excited when we start seeing rubs and scrapes around areas that we know are holding does. This year it started happening in late October, and we began seeing a number of small bucks following does right around Halloween.

Although the rut appears to be off to an early start, we’re confident that things will be active right up to around Thanksgiving. That’s typically the case for us and many other hunters as well. So get out there and enjoy the true heart of deer season. It only comes once a year.

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