During the rut, deer have one thing on their minds. Hunters should too—bagging a buck.
The best time during deer season to take a trophy buck is to start hunting the rut. In some states, hunters schedule their vacations around the rut. However, here in the South the rut is not as predictable, but there are signs that indicate the rut is in progress.
The rut can mean different things to researchers and hunters. To researchers and biologists, the rut is the actual breeding that takes place with a buck and a doe. To a deer hunter, the rut means much more.
Hunters consider the rut the rubbing, scraping, and chasing of does by bucks.
Bucks, especially mature ones, do not throw caution to the wind. They don’t run around acting like a crazy teenager in love. However, bucks are up moving around even during daylight hours. The buck’s main goal is to find a receptive doe for mating.
Here in the Cotton State, the rut has been the topic of many discussions and debates. Wildlife biologists continue to learn more about whitetail deer behavior we call the rut. Understanding some of the processes will help hunters log a notch or two on their buck tags.
If You Want Bucks, Find the Does
During the rut, bucks are going to be in close proximity to the does. As does come into estrus, their scent trail changes. Bucks can pick up on this change and will follow a doe just about anywhere she leads.
“During the rut, if the does are around, a buck won’t be too far off.” – Chris Smith of Ashland, Ala.
Bucks will travel around checking downwind trails for estrus does. When the doe is ready to breed, the buck will stay close by for at least a couple of days.
“I look for doe bedding areas,” says Chris Smith of Ashland, Ala. “During the rut, if the does are around, a buck won’t be too far off.”
Smith says he will try to find a travel route the does may be using from a feeding area back to where they will bed down. Areas between a cutover or other thick brush and a food source are prime locations for doe travel routes. Bucks can push the does around more during the rut. A doe will try to avoid the buck until she is ready to breed.
Scrapes can be a good indicator of a doe travel area. Many hunters will find a scrape line left by a buck. Generally, these pawed out dirt spots are areas where the buck has discovered the scent of a doe. Scrapes along field edges or open areas are less likely to have a visit by buck or doe in the daytime.
Hunters will want to locate a scrape line inside a woodlot or cutover area. The does are more likely to travel along these routes during the day since they are in cover. Stand placement should be several yards downwind of a scrape-line.
The buck will travel on the downwind side of the scrapes to detect if any doe has visited one or more of the scrapes.
Does will go about their normal routine inside their home range. They will feed and rest in the area unless disturbed by some outside force, usually hunters. Does will tolerate some intrusion as long as food and cover are close by.
Stand Hangouts for Love
Depending on the terrain and vegetation, a doe’s home range is usually only a few hundred acres. Hunters can narrow down specific spots based on deer activity, game cam photos, and scrapes. Before going in an area blind to place a stand, the hunter needs to pay close attention to wind direction.
“Put your stand in an area where you can slip in and get out without spooking the deer,” – Chris Smith of Ashland, AL
Also, an alternate route in or out by the hunter should be considered.
“Put your stand in an area where you can slip in and get out without spooking the deer,” Smith advises. “If the wind shifts while you’re on a stand, you might want to go out in a different direction.”
While does may permit some bumping by a hunter, a mature buck will usually not. Hunters must stay scent-free and use a stealth-like approach to and from their stand. Wise hunters may hang two or more stands in a hot doe area and only hunt when the wind is right.
Smith says he may approach a stand from a different direction than on the previous hunt. He will always use the wind to his favor when possible.
Smells of Success
Some women may use just enough perfume to catch a guy’s attention. One whiff and heads will turn to the direction of the sweet aroma. Estrus does will leave their scent and a buck will have no trouble locating his lady friend.
Pure doe urine is available commercially from several companies. Many of the deer lure companies have been bottling doe pee and other deer lures for a number of years. Some deer hunters believe in using premium doe estrus urine to create mock scrapes. This can be an effective method for luring a buck into shooting range.
“I don’t spare any doe urine during the rut,” comments Smith. “You want that buck to think there are hot does in the area.”
Sometimes with fresh, new scrape in his hunting area, Smith will add some doe urine. The buck will smell that a new doe has come to his scrape. One thing to remember is that bucks are not monogamous, they will breed with several receptive does.
Another tip Smith offers up is that all does will not come into estrus at the same time. One factor that stretches out the rut in Alabama is the skew on the doe-to-buck ratio. Also, if a doe is not bred the first time she is in estrus, she will cycle in again about 28 days later.
In most parts of the state, a buck will not have any trouble getting a date with a doe. And when he finds one ready, he will be lovesick.