Outdoor Life Online Editor

If you’re reading this column, you’re either a lucky soul (you’ve still got a tag and you still get to hunt) or a sad sack (you haven’t got your buck yet, and your buddies are riding you pretty hard about it). It depends on how you spin it. Whatever your outlook, we’re here with some tips to help you fill out that tag.

Watch the Wind
During the rut, you never really know from which direction a buck might come. So sometimes you cheat and hunt a stand on a couple of different winds, and that works out okay. But now there is only one good wind and no margin for error. In the evenings, deer move straight from their beds to a cornfield or other food source. Your scent can’t blow back toward bedding cover and it can’t swirl out into a field where does come out. Set up downwind of a trail or funnel so your scent will blow back into a dead zone in the timber where no deer are likely to walk. If just one doe winds you and starts blowing, you won’t see a buck that evening.

Slip In
With deer stressed and wired, low- impact access to your stand is critical. You’ve got to slip into and out of a spot without a single deer seeing you. If you can’t use something like a ditch or creek bank to cover your moves, don’t risk it. If you bump one doe you’ll spook a bunch of deer. They’ll blow out of the area and they’ll probably change their pattern.

Stay Upwind
Anticipate a buck to show upwind of where most does will. Bucks like to stay upwind because it enables them to see and smell what’s in front of them. Also, at this time of year you’re better off hunting along a trail closer to a bedding area than hunting right on top of a food source.

Signs of a Bruiser
Go back and scout a ridge or draw where you found big rubs and scrapes in November. Find a single set of huge tracks mixed with a bunch of doe tracks, and you can figure a good buck is still working the area.

Track Them Down
If you cut a big, smoking track in soft snow, follow it. When the buck’s stride shortens, indicating that he is slowing down, stop and glass carefully. Check as far as you can in front and 100 yards off to each side of the trail. Spot him first and you win.

Find a Buck’s Hideout
Look for a buck hiding in a little spot that you and other hunters might have overlooked. Check a small swamp beside a road, a 10-acre tangle of brush behind your neighbor’s house, a thicket miles from the nearest access point…you get the idea.