Around October 20, old gnarly whitetail bucks are hit with a big jolt of testosterone. They morph from lazy pigs, interested only in eating and lying around, to rubbing, scraping fiends. It’s time to home in on their sign, but don’t go overboard. The peak of the rut is still a good two or three weeks away in most places. While the big boys are getting feistier, they continue to follow the bed-to-feed patterns the does are on. We worked it all-rubs, scrapes, trails, feed and bedding cover-into these six super pre-rut setups. Tweak them to match your land for a crack at a giant.
Stand 1: Pincher Setup
You could hunt this stand from the bow opener until the season closes and not go wrong. With good grain and hay to the south and big blocks of bedding timber and brush to the east and west, a bunch of deer will always live in the area. It’s a particularly good setup for bucks in the seeking phase and the days leading into the full-blown rut because both resident and vagabond bucks will run from one timber block to the next in frenzied pursuit of hot does. The edge of the alfalfa field and the river will pinch lots of deer through the point where the top stand is located.
A southeast or southwest wind that carries your scent across the river is best for either a morning or evening sit. One afternoon you might try it on a northeast wind, though a few deer coming to the feed from the west might bust you. The stand is hung tight enough to the riverbank so that most deer will appear off to either side and not come in behind you. Access is good from the north. As you ford the river, the water will wash trace scent off your boots. Hide behind the bank, ease up, check for deer and scamper to the stand when the coast is clear.
**Stand 2: ****Crossing Point **
On an afternoon when the wind turns out of the north, hop over to this classic point-to-point crossing. While most deer will be working along the river, at least one good buck will probably circle out of the bedding cover to the east. All those rubs and scrapes along the edge of the overgrown field are fresh. If the deer decides to walk through the chest-high weeds into the next little point of timber toward the river, he’ll likely do so at this crossing-where he’ll be exposed for only 70 yards or so. Never access this stand from the east or south, as it is too close to the bedding area and you’d have to clump through too many woods and cross too many trails and scrape lines. Around 1 p.m., walk along the edge of the alfalfa from the southwest, cut northeast along the weeds and climb into your perch before the deer start moving.
[pagebreak] Stand 3: ****Ridgeline Set
Several bucks will be rubbing and scraping on this ridge. Since the sign is concentrated midway between the feed and bedding cover, you can hunt the setup either morning or afternoon on a west or north wind and stand a fighting chance of seeing a big deer. Note how the stand is hung 100 yards off the main sign and downwind of a faint trail where some bucks seem to be circling and wind-checking the scrapes. It’s possible to walk in from the east or south and climb into the perch without the risk of spooking deer. If you see a big-racked hoss walking down the main doe trail or scrape line two or three days in a row, you can always move in tighter for an ambush.
**Stand 4:**** Cold-front Stand **
A good hunter stays one step ahead of a buck. This stand is hung in the creek bottom on the lee side of the ridge for the two or three afternoons following a cold front. When the northwest wind howls on the high-pressure backside of the front, few deer will walk and feed up on the ridges or out in the alfalfa field. But a lot of animals (quite possibly including a monster) will move down around this sheltered corn plot where there’s hardly ever any human intrusion. Be there waiting for them. The logging rooad to the south provides great access to this stand.
Stand 5: Fence-line Hide
With a northwest to east wind, this stand would be a good bet on any October day. A lot of deer will walk the fence line between the grain and the bedding cover to the west. The last falling acorns of the year and the fresh scrapes make the setup even hotter. Again, you might bust a good buck here in either the morning or afternoon. There’s great access from the south along the old train tracks.
**Stand 6: ****Recon Stand **
Some days it’s better to look than to hunt. On an afternoon when the wind direction ranges from the northwest to the northeast, sneak in from the south and climb into this observatory perch. This spot provides the best overall view of the area, so you might sit two or three evenings in a row to determine whether most of the deer activity is along the river, near the weed field or on the ridge that dumps into the alfalfa to the east. Then you’ll know which stand to hunt for the next few days. And there’s always the chance a buck will slip up the fence line and give you a shot. You might even spot a giant buck nudging a doe along the northwestern or southeastern side of the grain where you don’t have any stands. If so, hustle over there and hang another stand for a quick-strike ambush the next day.