My career, and some distinct good fortune, has allowed me to hunt nearly every day of every rut since 1990. That’s about 9,000 hours in a treestand. Despite what many hunters envision, I’ve learned there are only a handful of good rut days each season. It’s still deer hunting. Yet if you have control over your hunting area, a few strategic preseason moves can ensure that you’re in the best possible situation to kill a buck when that magic moment occurs.
1. Build Micro-Plots
In simple terms, the best places to hunt during the rut are near bedding areas in the mornings and feeding areas in the evenings. One stand site embodies both: the micro-plot. These 1-acre or smaller food plots located in cover, near bedding areas, have become my favorite rut-hunting locations regardless of time of day. They are the last places deer will linger after daybreak and the first spots they’ll go to stretch their legs in the evening. Creating a couple of them can revolutionize your hunting.
Making them is pretty easy too. You need a decent natural opening, like the end of a ridgetop farm field. Ideally, it’s between a bedding area and a decent-size feeding area. Remove large brush as needed with a chainsaw, because you’ll need a few hours of sunlight per day for the plot to grow. Spray the remaining vegetation with glyphosate and give it a few weeks to turn brown and crispy. Rake a makeshift firebreak around the perimeter and burn off the dead vegetation. Then you can broadcast pelleted lime, fertilizer, and seed (I usually plant clover and oats or brassica blends) and pray for rain. That’s all there is to it.
2. Establish Redirects
Funnels are always a great option during the rut, especially for bowhunting. When nature doesn’t cooperate, it’s fairly easy to make your own. During their travels, deer will usually follow the path of least resistance. You can steer a hot trail a few yards closer to your stand by simply dropping a few trees across it or mowing a spur lane that swings deer into range.
My friend Larry Zach has created a whitetail masterpiece on his 240-acre southern Iowa farm. One of his keys to consistent success is his creative use of trails. Zach creates lanes to direct deer traffic, and then sows oats or winter wheat into them. He then sets stands strategically along their length.
Read Next: Whitetail Deer Management Over the Years
3. Manage Does—Smartly
Some hunters have taken the message of “shoot more does and have a better rut” and run with it to the point of counterproductivity. In an area with too many deer, keeping the numbers in check—and bucks and does in balance—is indeed important to the overall health of the herd.
Yet, on the average 200-acre farm, simply shooting a bunch of does right before the rut probably isn’t helping your season. Does have home ranges in the fall, same as bucks, and the individual females on your property will be the same ones coming into estrus and enticing bucks in the weeks to come. It’s usually smart to fill your doe tags early or late in the season—but leave the girls alone in the days ahead of the big show.
Winke’s Favorite Rut Days
DAY 1: happens the last week of October, when the final cold front of the month moves through.
DAY 2: is usually during the first few days of November, when the first doe in your area comes into estrus and launches the forest into chaos.
DAY 3: is when several does are in estrus at the same time. It generally happens around November 7 in the Midwest.
DAY 4: is any day after the first three, when a hot doe passes your stand. The only way to take advantage of it is to be there when it happens. If your property is set up to maximize your chances, you may not have to sit for long.