A key part of hunting the rut involves trying to intercept bucks as they travel far and wide in search of does. The odds of actually doing so increase if you set up where deer are most likely to travel, and hunt when they’re most likely to be in the area. These three stand set-ups can be employed across much of the whitetail’s range. Try them this month on the land you hunt.
The Big Woods Funnel
As the sun rises, deer move back from open fields and food plots [A] into the cover of the big woods. Does head for secluded bedding areas [B], but bucks spend most of the day traveling from one doe group to another, searching for a hot female. Experience has taught them not only where the does like to hang out, but the safest and most efficient way to travel between bedding areas. There’s no shortage of cover in the big woods, so topography takes on great importance. Study topo maps and look not just for places where deer want to go, but for places where they have to go. The steeper a ridge [C], the less likely deer are to climb it, opting instead to travel parallel to it. Deer are great swimmers, but they’ll more often follow the edge of water [D] than cross it. Furthermore, logistical and legal constraints make timber cutting difficult or impossible along waterways and lake/pond margins, so they’re often choked with the extra-thick cover deer prefer to travel in during daylight. Be prepared to sit this stand [E] all day long.
The Afternoon Plot
During the rut, bucks constantly search for does, and you should do the same. In the afternoon they’ll be converging on concentrated food sources, like food plots [A]. While a young buck might burst into the open chasing does during the peak of the rut, a mature buck will hold back and observe the proceedings. Over the course of the four-plus hunting seasons he’s spent in the woods, he’s learned that all he has to do is stroll downwind of the plot. Here, in the safety and concealment of the adjacent woodlot, he can scent-check every doe in the field without exposing himself to potential danger [B]. In order to put yourself in position for a shot at the mature buck, back off the field, far enough to be downwind of not only the plot, but also the buck trail [C]. How far away you set up will depend on local conditions and what you’re hunting with. Also look for some type of obstacle or constriction, like a field corner, fence line, stone wall [D], or sudden change in topography that might funnel a buck past your stand.
The farm country landscape is radically different from that of the big woods. Dense daytime bedding cover typically exists only in small patches surrounded by open pastures or crop fields [A]. But just like their woodland brethren, cropland bucks are intently seeking does; and while they may seem foolhardy at times, they still seek cover where they can travel during daylight and feel comfortable. In agricultural areas, this usually means windrows [B], stream corridors or other small strips of timber connecting larger blocks, especially between bedding and feeding areas. Brushy hedgerows that lack good stand trees can still be hunted from ground blinds. It’s a good idea to get your blinds in well ahead of when you plan to hunt so deer can get accustomed to them. It also helps to brush them in as much as possible. Be particularly mindful of the wind when setting up, and later when approaching your blind. Also, try not to walk on or across trails the deer will be using to pass your ambush site.
Scents and Scent control
For the most part, deer dictate where we have to go in order to kill them. Food plots and spin feeders notwithstanding, there are rare exceptions that can force deer to go where we want them to. One in particular is the mock scrape. Here’s how to make-and hunt-a mock scrape the right way.
How to Make It
You can make deer move a little bit out of their way, but not a lot. Make your mock scrape in a place where a deer is already inclined to go, like a deer trail, woods road or field edge.
Find or fashion an overhanging limb. Research has shown that more than 90 percent of active scrapes have an overhanging “licking” branch, and that the mere presence of an overhanging branch 3 to 6 feet high will sometimes induce scraping. Bucks also seem to show an affinity for moist soil, most likely because it intensifies and prolongs a scent.
Using a stick-not your feet and certainly not your hands-scrape away the leaves and duff, just as a buck would, exposing bare soil [A].
Apply a urine-based scent in the scrape. Begin in the pre-rut with buck urine, which represents a challenge to local bucks. As you get closer to peak rut, switch to estrous doe urine to simulate a hot doe in the vicinity. You can apply scent directly; however, hanging a dripper over the scrape [B] allows you to keep the scrape “fresh” without having to make frequent visits.
You should also apply scent to the licking branch [C]. Gels will last longer than liquids. You’re better off going with a glandular-based scent on the branch than urine, though the latter will work in a pinch.
How to Hunt It
Scraping might start a month or more before peak rut, but the highest use occurs in the two weeks leading up to peak breeding. That’s when you should be hunting. Also, most scrape visits occur at night, so set up close to a bedding area and concentrate your efforts around twilight.
Set up on the downwind side and don’t overhunt. Limit yourself to two or three times a week, and never hunt a mock scrape on consecutive days.
Deer hunters often go to great lengths to conceal themselves from the wary eyes of whitetails. But when you consider that their sense of smell may be as much as 10,000 times as sensitive as ours, it makes sense to put much more emphasis on scent control.
Kill Your Stink
Human body odor begins as the waste product of bacteria that feed on organic matter and thrive in a warm, moist environment. Wash away the bacteria and their odorous by-products and you eliminate the problem-at least temporarily. Use scent-free soaps that don’t contain non-cleaning additives like moisturizers, perfumes, proteins, oils or vitamins, and that leave no residue. Pay particular attention to your head, crotch and armpits.
Unfortunately, in the time it takes to walk from your vehicle to your stand, bacteria are already on the rise. Spraying and/or wiping yourself with scent-suppressing solutions prevents and eliminates odors by molecular conversion as the products oxidize, bond with and further neutralize bacteria.
You can also create an environment that is unfavorable to bacterial growth by wearing the right base layer, which will draw or wick moisture and bacteria away from the body. There, odor-causing bacteria are destroyed chemically by anti-microbial solutions topically attached to the fabric, or by silver particles added through ionization.
Your body emits odor-causing acids that soaps and base layers can’t touch. For those, you need an outer layer that traps and/or absorbs odor. Carbon-impregnated clothing has long been used for this. Cinch wrist and ankle cuffs and waist and neck openings.
Speaking of clothing, wash it regularly with the same scent- and additive-free soap you use on your body, and spray it frequently with scent-suppression solutions. Wash and/or spray the rest of your gear regularly. Transport and store it in scent-free and airtight containers.
Go Easy on the Rattling Antlers Argument
Dan Perez of Whitetail Properties buys, sells and manages land specifically for whitetail hunting. Through Whitetail Properties TV, he also educates viewers about owning, managing and hunting recreational ground. Perez takes a very conservative approach when it comes to rattling. “I want to get their attention, tease them and give them a general direction, but not let them pin me down,” he says. “Most times deer are going to approach you from downwind when you’re rattling. You’ve probably been busted more times than you realize because you never saw the deer.” And that can have negative consequences, particularly if you’ve invested time, money and effort into managing your property. “Not only do the deer not come in, but they’ll leave your land.” That’s why Perez rattles sparingly. “On a five-hour sit, I might rattle two or three times, and no more than two minutes each time,” he says. He also stresses patience. “I’ve had a lot of times when I could see a deer from a long way off. It might look up, then go right back to what it was doing, whether it’s feeding or bedding. Then, forty-five minutes or an hour later, it turns my way and saunters over. It’s almost as if it’s coming to smell what went on earlier.” He’s also very careful about finishing early. “I perform my last sequence no less than an hour before I leave the stand. If I rattle too close to the time I leave the stand, there’s a good chance of getting caught while walking out of the woods.” Rattle Like Hell Argument Judd Cooney’s name should be familiar to just about anyone who has picked up a hunting magazine in the last 40 or so years. He’s been writing about whitetail hunting at least that long, and doing it a fair bit longer. He also operates Iowa Trophy Whitetail Outfitters, and he’s a big proponent of rattling. “I rattle from the first day of the season to the last,” Cooney says, “because you never know what’s going to come in, and it doesn’t hurt anything. It’s deer noises, a method of communication designed to attract other deer.” He reasons that it also increases the perimeter of your hunting area because you’re drawing in deer that are well out of sight but still within hearing range. Cooney says the biggest mistake hunters make is getting discouraged and giving up too soon. When the time is right—like during the peak rut—he recommends rattling every 20 to 30 minutes. “And stick with it. It’s a lot more common to get a response the third or fourth time you rattle,” he says. Cooney’s early-season rattling is softer and subtler, but when the rut kicks in, he gets more aggressive. He also recommends using large antlers when imitating a real fight. “A big buck’s not going to come in to the sound of smaller bucks sparring. You want to sound like a couple of decent bucks fighting. That’s what brings in those muy grande bucks. Make them think there are some interlopers on their turf.”
Some folks think using a decoy is a simple matter of sticking it within gun or bow range. Not so. Always keep scent in mind when handling the deke. Make sure other deer can see it, and keep it upwind of your stand. Never leave it out overnight, and do not use a decoy on public land. When a buck approaches another buck, or a buck decoy, it typically does so head-on. Conversely, it is more likely to approach a doe from the rear. To better position a buck for a shot and prevent it from looking directly at you, pose a buck decoy broadside or quartering toward you and a doe decoy broadside or quartering away from your stand. Either will work alone, but you can more than double their effectiveness by combining them. A buck seeking out does might approach a doe decoy that represents a potential mate. Similarly, it might draw near a buck decoy that mimics a potential rival. But jealousy seems to be a more powerful motivator. Place your stand in a tree on the field’s edge [A]. Position a buck decoy behind a doe facing toward the stand [B], and you end up with an irresistible and deadly combo.