As season changes, it’s time to make some rut adjustments

Frantz Archery Success

It’s easy to notice when autumn tightens its grip on the landscape. Leaves turn and tumble downward. Days are shorter. Nights are colder. Obvious change is on the horizon for whitetails too, as a decrease in photoperiod daylight sparks a primal urge to mate, kicking the rut into high gear.

Several factors come into play when trying to pinpoint the heart of the rut, but it generally takes place in early- to mid-November, with a seeking phase beginning the last full week in October. Chasing often intensifies roughly a week later, with a lockdown phase when bucks take does to seclusion for actual tending following shortly thereafter, as soon as the does’ estrous cycles indicate they are ready to be bred.

The timeframe between the first and last doe coming into estrous can span several weeks, and it can be a rather chaotic but exciting time to be in the deer woods. Bucks cover a lot of ground, jumping from doe to doe in a relentless drive to procreate. Bowhunters typically cash in, too, harvesting more bucks during the first two weeks of November than any other week in October.

Just like the changes transpiring in the fall woodlot, some changes in bowhunting strategy to meet the conditions can really boost the odds for success. Subtle early season tactics can transition to more aggressive strategies to intercept rutting bucks during their most vulnerable point – when their minds drift from casual day-to-day survival to a narrower focus of sensual pursuit for genetic preservation.

For starters, simply being in the woods longer during daylight hours can make a huge difference. Earlier in the season, hunters might focus on the early morning hours, hoping to catch deer coming back to bed for the day, or target the evening hours when deer go out to feed.

However, late-morning, mid-day, and early afternoon hours should not be neglected during the rut, as bucks will cruise all day long, nudging does and checking the wind. An all-day sit in a reliable location can really pay off, but it’s also OK to adapt to what the conditions dictate throughout the day.

Try to focus on natural travel zones, such as high hillside benches or ridges in the morning when thermals rise, natural tight pinch points and funnels crossing between larger tracts of doe bedding cover around mid-day, and low-lying feed zones during the evening hours, which catch dropping thermals and also tend to be doe hotspots.

The bucks will be keying in on the ladies, and if you can focus your time and effort on finding the does without spooking them, you’ll often spot a buck (or several) not far behind.

Early in the seek and chase phase is a great time to employ scent tactics by making mock scrapes with buck urine and/or doe in estrous scent in the soil and a preorbital gland lure hung overhead. Most of the bucks are interested in breeding by this point, even if the does aren’t quite ready.

Bucks will expel the mounting frustration of their testosterone by thrashing saplings and leaf litter. Adding this scent to the mix is a good way to pique curiosity, antagonize bucks, and get them to check back on the area often — hopefully when you’re in the stand.

It’s also a good time to get a little vocal. If you see a buck cruising out of range, it can sometimes be called in with a few contact burps on the grunt tube, or even a doe bleat from a mouth or can-style call. Rattling also can be effective at times, but experience indicates to do so sparingly.

Once the tending or lockdown phase kicks in, it can be quite difficult to call or lure a buck off a doe. I’ve seen bucks stand over does for hours (even days) when they are close to breeding, but it all depends on the temperament of the buck. Sometimes you can entice them with buck grunts to come over and check you out briefly, but they always seem to circle back to the doe and try to lead them off into seclusion.

Setting up in extremely thick tracts of cover off the beaten path is a good strategy during this time, as that’s exactly where the bucks will try to take the ladies when it all comes down to business. They don’t want other bucks intruding, and if you happen to be in the sweet spot when the candle lights are lit, you’ll often be treated to either a show or a shot.

You can sometimes even get away with a stalk if you spot a buck holding over a doe out of bow range and the doe remains unaware of your presence. The buck often will be oblivious, so if there’s good enough screening cover and the wind is right to avoid getting picked off by the doe, maybe roll the dice and consider making your move as a last resort.

Timing is everything in bowhunting – and while it makes sense to be conservative early in the season, the rut is the perfect time to be aggressive. Hunters willing to change their tactics to match changing deer behavior will have a better chance of harvesting a distracted buck when its naturally wary mind is focused on more pressing circumstances.

Categories: Bloggers on Hunting, Pennsylvania – Tyler Frantz, Whitetail Deer

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