There is no shortage of online "experts" who claim to know exactly what you need to do to kill a mature buck during the whitetail rut. I don't claim to be an expert but I'd argue that I know more than most and between my experience and those I've had the pleasure to share a tree stand or deer camp with, I'd say the list below is pretty solid. So with the whitetail rut in full swing most places across the country, here are 10 killer strategies you should consider to help you seal the deal on a nice buck this year.
1. Hunt Fresh/hot Sign
Deer, especially bucks, leave lots of sign that tells you where they’ve been and where they are active. Scrapes are a good example of this, but not just any scrape you come across. Make sure there is an overhanging limb that’s been chewed & twisted. It increases the chance that it’s being used by a buck as bucks tend to use the licking branch far more than does. Scrapes and rubs can change weekly and even daily so look for FRESH sign (freshly exposed dirt, fresh rub with leaking sap, etc.)
2. Get Comfortable
Look, things happen fast and at unpredictable times during the rut so make sure you're comfortable in the stand in preparation for longer hunts. Make sure your stand and harness are comfortable before finding yourself stuck in a back aching position for 6+ hrs. Make sure you have the appropriate clothing for the weather and the ability to adapt as needed. Nothing ruins a long sit during the rut worse than being cold, wet or generally uncomfortable because you weren't prepared.
3. Come Prepared
Speaking of being prepared, you’re likely going to sit all day or extra long periods so come prepared to keep yourself occupied when stretches of boredom set in. Bring a good book to help keep the mind active while keeping your ears open. Bring a phone charger to keep your mobile device charged so you can check in with family or loved ones. Perhaps most importantly, make sure to bring good snacks and appropriate fluids to hydrate yourself and keep the hunger pains away!
4. Hunt Does
Rutting bucks focus on one thing this time of year - Breeding does. If you know where does are, that’s where you need to be. Does will spend their time between bedding and feeding areas. If you know these sites and can determine the downwind area of them, that is where bucks will be cruising! They will work these areas down wind of areas they know does frequent trying to pick up their scent. You can use this to you advantage to position yourself between the does and bucks on the prowl.
5. Find the Funnels
Deer are creatures, like humans, that prefer the path of least resistance when possible. This is especially true for bucks looking to cover a lot of ground each day. Funnels allow deer to move from one point to another efficiently and safely. Think of wooded ridges connecting two hill tops or a finger of trees between agriculture fields. These are place that bucks will use to negotiate geographic features in terrain and maintain cover while searching for does. They are a great place to look for sign, especially well worn trails.
6. Be Vocal
Bucks respond far more to calling and rattling during the rut than any other time of the year. Don’t be afraid to try and call a buck in by mimicking a fight or using a doe bleat. Calls can lure in bucks from hundreds of yards away as can scents, which is covered next. But, if there is ever a time during the year when rattling and using deer calls is effective, it's during the whitetail rut.
7. Use Scents
Bucks are using their noses to find breeding does so using estrous attractants can be extremely effective. Place in areas near your stand, drag along on your way to your stand and make mock scrapes. There are a plethora of products out there for this, so do you research and determine what you think will work best for you and your hunting situation or style. Keep in mind state laws with regard to attractants and how they are derived as many have outlawed the use of those derived from natural deer urine in an effort better control the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease.
8. Be Flexible and Mobile
As you hunt an area and sit for long periods you will figure out what’s working and what’s not. Don’t be stubborn and unwilling to move or adjust a setup. As the action moves throughout the rut, you’ll have to adapt to be in the right place at the right time. Does will shift to pressure from bucks and the deer in general will shift as a result of hunting pressure. Be open to adjusting your set up as needed.
9. Just HUNT!
You can kill them from the couch or the bar, so just get in the woods! I think most of us would agree that we'd rather be lucky than good any day of the week. No? Just me? Alright, well so be it. But I can tell you most of my encounters with bucks during the rut have come on day where I just got into the woods with no real plan. Get out there and just HUNT!
10. Have a good whiskey ready to Celebrate
This wouldn't be a good Whiskey & Whitetails article if we didn't mention whiskey, right. Well, what’s better than bagging a buck during the rut? Sitting around with friends and family and celebrating it with a good whiskey. That’s what we’re all about at whiskey and whitetails, celebrating and cultivating that camaraderie so synonymous with hunting and whiskey communities. So, make sure you have a bottle of your favorite whiskey to celebrate after you hunt and take care of your meat!
Good luck out there the rest of this season and stay tuned for more articles. Also don't forget to go check out our YouTube channel where we have videos on Whiskey and Whitetail topics just like this!