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101 Best Deer Hunting Tips For the Rut

The simplest quick-hitting rut-hunting tips that you’ll get this season
whitetail rut
A rutting buck dogs a doe. John Hafner

It’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned in more than 30 years of studying and hunting whitetail deer across North America: Don’t overthink it. You don’t need a grand plan to kill a buck, especially when the rut is on in November. Just go out and have fun, hunt every hour that you can, and use these time-proven pointers to your advantage. I’ve hunted the whitetail rut for decades all around the country for my show (BigDeerTV) and for various articles and writing assignments. Below are the best hunting tips I’ve learned and developed through the years.

Best Tips for Hunting the Rut

1) Check the record books, and you’ll see that more giant bucks have been shot November 7 to 12 than any other days. Make sure to plan some all-day sits during this window.

hunter with deer
Mike Hanback with a great Montana buck that he rattled in during the rut. Michael Hanback

2) A bunch of antler-mangled saplings or cedar branches are sign of an aggressive buck—the kind of beast you want to hunt because he’s apt to move in daylight.

3) “In many areas, the first scrapes pop up in old logging roads, slip along and scout those first.” – Jim Crumley, Virginia bowhunter and creator of Trebark camouflage.

4) “Big trees with scarring from years of rubbing are signposts. Our observations suggest older bucks deposit pheromones on these rubs, and that plays an important role in the dominance ladder of a herd. All deer, does and bucks, interact with signposts—they smell and rub them—but only mature bucks make them. They act as communal scent wicks and are located in areas with high deer traffic.” –Dr. Grant Woods, Missouri biologist and hunter

5) November 10 a few years ago, Illinois: The wind was blowing 20 miles per hour. “I wasn’t going out,” says bowhunter Gary Sulcer, “but I did.” He’d been in the woods only minutes when a doe tipped by with a bruiser on her heels. Gary’s arrow was true; the main-frame, 8-pointer scored 160. Lesson: You only have so many days to hunt the rut, go when you can, no matter the conditions.

buck on the ground with hunter
Illinois bowhunter Gary Sulcer with a 160 Illinois 8-pointer. Michael Hanback

6) “We didn’t have any trail camera photos of that buck, and I had never seen him,” says Gary Sulcer. “But I knew there was a big one in the area, he was rubbing trees as big around as your thigh.”

7) Killer bow setup: Tree stand on an edge where pines or cedars meet hardwoods. Bucks rub, scrape, and prowl for does on these break lines.

8) Best scrapes to watch: In brushy cover with doe trails nearby.

9) Watch active scrapes 50 to 75 yards from dense bedding cover. You might catch a mature buck milling around scrapes closest to his sanctuary at first or last light.

trail camera picture
A trail camera set up in a bottom captured this scraping buck. Michael Hanback

10) In hill country, look for scrapes dug 70 yards or so below a brushy hilltop. Bucks like to bed on a ridge or bench, watching for does and scent-checking scrapes below.

11) University of Georgia research: Multiple bucks hit one set of scrapes while other scrapes 100 yards away go dormant. Scout, move to, and hunt the hottest sign.

buck rubs on trees
It’s always smart to hunt the hottest sign whether it’s a scrape or rub line. Michael Hanback

12) Set up too close to scrapes, and deer will see, smell, or sense your presence. Back off 100 yards or so, even when bowhunting, and watch for a buck circling into scrapes.

13) Wear rubber gloves and clip a mangled licking branch (which holds the forehead and saliva scent of several bucks and does) from atop an active scrape and wire it over a mock scrape near your stand.

Read Next: Best Deer Hunting Gear

14) Best rut stand #2: Downwind of the “X” where two trampled doe trails cross.

15) “Set tree stands between 17 and 20 feet. When a buck comes by at 20 to 30 yards, you’ll see plenty of lungs, the perfect shooting angle.” – Terry Drury, Midwest bowhunter and outdoor TV personality.

16) Best rut stand #3: Thirty yards back in the woods off the corner of a field, along a main trail. Does will come from several directions, converge in the corner, and make their way back into the timber. Bucks prowl a corner where they can see and scent-check many does.

17) In Indiana one November, bowhunter Brent Ireland got a single cam picture of a double-drop giant. He hung a stand on the ridge near his camera and killed the 199-inch buck two days later. Lesson: Get one image of a monster on his feet in daylight, move in, and hunt him.

18) Set trail cameras on different sets of scrapes, and you’ll get images of most of the bucks on your land, both the locals and the passers-through.

19) A doe that flits around with her tail erect is ready to breed or almost ready. A buck or bucks will be close.

20) Best rut stand #4: Hogback ridge flanked by crops and CRP, swamp or similar thick cover on the other side.

21) One humid Texas morning, we rattled up 15 bucks. Guide Clay told me, “With moisture thick in the air, horns have a high-pitched tinkling, bucks like that.”

22) Science out of Texas: Halloween to Nov. 8 and Thanksgiving to Dec. 8 are the best times to rattle up mature bucks.

23) Rattling bags and boxes work, but nothing beats the real thing. A solid set of 140-inch antlers are the bomb, with just the right tone and volume.

24) After rattling at a buck a good ways off, don’t let your guard down, even if he shows little interest. Sometimes a buck will walk 50 more yards, get curious and circle back to check you out.

25) Best time to rattle: Sunrise to 10 a.m. I don’t carry horns in the afternoon.

26) Hold one rattling antler tight to your body and bang and grind on it with the other antler to cut down on hand movement.

27) “If your arms and hands aren’t tired after a rattling sequence, you’re not doing it hard enough.” – Texas rattling expert Gary Roberson

28) Screw a rubber-coated hook ($2 at Home Depot) into a tree close to your stand. Hang rattling horns within easy reach.

29) A shooter trots by 100 yards out—try a quick burst of rattling to stop him.

30) Research from Texas shows ground rattlers don’t see half the bucks that come in. Elevate and rattle from high ground, or a tree stand or tripod, to spot more bucks.

31) Best-sounding grunt call for my money: Ridge Runner from Quaker Boy.

Read Next: Best Deer Calls

32) When a buck hears your rattles or grunts and is interested, he begins to hunt you. Set up with thick cover to your sides and behind you. Make a buck commit close as he searches for the “deer” he hears.

whitetail buck walking in the snow
Keep in mind that when a buck is lured to horn rattling, he is hunting you. Michael Hanback

33) A stud chasing or tending a doe makes loud, weird sounds. Blow “urrrp, urrrp” or “urrrg, urrrg” on your grunter to mimic it.

34) Blowing a sequence of 10 to 12 grunts on your call is most realistic.

35) When a buck rolls in out of nowhere, don’t reach for your call. Bleat or grunt loudly with your voice—”baaahhh” or “eckkkkk”—he’ll stop.

36) Remember to draw your bow or aim your muzzleloader before you grunt or bleat to stop a buck. Obvious, but it’s easy to forget when a big-racked bruiser is close!

37) “The grunt-snort-wheeze is the most aggressive rut call. It can bring in a dominant deer, but it can also scare off young bucks.”—Georgia biologist Dr. Karl Miller

38) Good rattling/grunting setup: Wind in your face and rock bluff or stream at your back. A buck can’t circle downwind and bust you.

39) A deer’s eyes are oriented to pick up predator movement on or just below the horizon. You can get away with a bit more movement in a tree stand, but still, be careful.

40) Favorite muzzleloader setup: Sitting on a hillside, looking across to an adjacent hillside where I can cover 2 or 3 thickets. Bucks move all day from one cover to the next checking for does.

41) Best rut stand #5: A creek or shallow river crossing pocked with fresh tracks in brushy woods. The waterway dictates and funnels most all deer movement through the area.

42) Deep, splayed tracks 2.5 to 3.5 inches long in the mud were likely made by a buck, though the size of his rack is anybody’s guess.

43) Position a stand or blind so the sun rises or sets behind you. You’ll have an extra 10 minutes of shooting light at dawn and dusk. To hide better overall, understand deer vision and what colors deer can see.

dead whitetail buck with hunter
Mike Hanback with an awesome 160-plus Saskatchewan buck. Michael Hanback

44) “On land that has been managed for years, 5- and 6-year-old bucks can’t compete with the aggressive 3- and 4-year-olds anymore, or don’t want to. Some old giants travel across the fences and take up residence where there’s less competition for does. If that happens to be where you hunt, great.” –Iowa bowhunter Don Kisky

45) Best tip for hunting public land: Hang a tree stand in thick, secluded cover and sit in it all day. You might catch a buck rutting a doe on natural movement, or another hunter might inadvertently drive a 10-pointer to you. Either way, you win.

46) Multi-year data from a property in South Carolina showed that 95 percent of the 3.5-year-old and older bucks harvested were killed within 100 yards of a well-defined sanctuary, such as a pine stand, brushy clear-cut, or cedar thicket.

47) Around Nov. 10, break out the hot-doe scent like Tink’s #69.

48) Reach up and hang scent wicks 6 feet or higher so the wind and thermals swirl and carry the scent.

49) Texas study: Bucks split time equally at scrapes juiced with doe or buck urine. Might as well dump both into a real or mock scrape you’re watching.

50) “The weekend of Nov. 8 to 10 should be excellent this year, especially if it’s cool. I think your best shot to see a mature buck is 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Hunt your best food source.” – Mark Drury, Iowa expert and TV personality

51) Douse a doe decoy with estrus scent and set her in a clearing where a buck can see her and approach comfortably from downwind.

whitetail with hunter in Montana
Missoula, Montana bowhunter Kevin Robinson with a November buck. Michael Hanback

52) In an abundance of caution to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease, 12 states prohibit the use of natural deer urine and permit only synthetic scents. Check your regulations. Don’t worry, synthetics smell like deer and work fine.

53) Cut tarsal glands off a doe or buck your buddy shot, and hang them near your stand both as an attractant and cover scent. Black hocks from a buck that has rutted for weeks reek the best.

54) Did you know? You can store deer hocks in a bag in the freezer and use them again next November.

55) Watch a doe trail trodden to dirt or mud long enough, and a good buck will prowl by.

56) Full moon week Nov. 12: Expect bucks to move 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Hunt all day if you can hack it.

57) If 10 hours on stand are too much, sleep in, sneak to your spot at 9 a.m., and hunt out the rest of the day. A North Carolina State University study found that during a full moon, deer don’t move much in the morning, but the midday hours and early afternoon are good.

58) Good post for a mid- to late-November afternoon: 70 to 100 yards back in timber and along the thickest, nastiest ditch that leads out to crops.

59) Don’t waste precious rut-hunting time. If you sit in a spot for three days but don’t see much, move.

60) Dilemma: Pass or shoot the first buck that chases a doe past your stand because a bigger buck might be coming? Advice: If you’re happy with the first rack, take him.

61) Studies of GPS-collared deer from Maryland to Texas show that most all bucks make “doe excursions” out of their core area during peak rut. Some bucks might wander 5 to 8 miles or more, while others move 2 miles or less.

62) Oklahoma study: When bucks embark on doe excursions, they move in linear patterns. By traveling for miles in straight lines, they maximize their chances of contacting hot does. Set several stands along a linear creek bottom or ridge to intercept a buck.

63) When gun season opens, monitor where people park their trucks and enter the woods. Hunt a secluded spot that others overlook. It might be 2 miles deep in the woods, or 200 yards off a back road.

64) You’re still-hunting and a doe jumps out of a ditch. Find the nearest rest and ready your rifle, a buck is apt to roll up out of there next.

65) Wyoming, Nov. 18 a few years ago: It was 70 degrees and windy, and bucks rutted all day. I shot a 150-incher dogging a doe at 3 p.m. Lesson: Hunt hard, the pull of peak rut overrides the weather.

66) If you plan to hunt afternoons after work this season, do it Nov. 19 to 24. North Carolina State University researchers found that deer movement can be excellent the last hour of daylight during the last-quarter phase of the moon.

67) Post-rut hunting is better than you think! Research from Maryland shows that 20 to 40 percent of mature bucks continue to make doe excursions into December. Keep grinding until you get one.

68) One December in Kansas, my friend Jim Riley saw three bucks hassling a small doe. The next day he went back and saw five bucks dogging her, and he shot the biggest 8-pointer. Lesson: Find the last hot doe and stick with her.

69) Killer gun stand: Narrow weed strip between two blocks of woods. Bucks run the “point-to-point” for does.

70) First week of December, lay a doe-in-heat trail into your stand. It can actually work better now to bring in a buck because there are fewer receptive does misting the woods.

71) Studies of hunter behavior consistently show that most people hunt only a half-mile or so from a road, field or another easy area. For more elbow room and fun, hike deeper.

72) Aging a buck before peak rut: Check stomach girth; the older a buck gets, the bigger his belly gets. If his stomach sags lower than the bottom of his brisket, the buck is 4.5 years old or older.

73) Aging a buck after peak rut: Forget girth because a buck can lose 25 percent of his body weight chasing and breeding does. Glass a buck’s tarsal glands. As a buck matures, his hocks appear bigger and blacker.

74) A ditch on a ridge; a fence corner 20 yards back in the woods off a bean field; a tiny creek bend or crossing… Little “inner terrains” funnel the movements of bucks as they prowl from one doe unit to the next. Hang a stand downwind of one.

75) Expert bowhunter Kevin Robinson kills big deer in the suburbs of Missoula, Montana, but never in October. “Not hunting early for four or five weeks is hard to do, but I know how good the hunting will be as the rut comes on,” Kevin says. In November, Kevin sets tree stands low in mountain draws, often fairly close to houses, roads, and developments. “Bucks that live up in the hills start moving down and looking for does, and it’s game on.”

76) When bowhunting, always pack an extra release in your backpack (you’ll thank me later). – Alex Robinson

alex robinson with whitetail buck
The author with the biggest buck of his bowhunting career. Alex Robinson

77) Deer are most likely to “jump the string” at 30 to 35 yards. Hold slightly lower when shooting deer at these ranges. —A.R.

78) Keep shooting your bow through the entire hunting season. During the late-season, when the temps are frigid and you’re wearing an extra layer or two of clothes, it makes sense to turn down your draw weight a bit. Just be sure to re-zero. —A.R.

79) If you’re going to bump deer while hanging a new set, follow Mike Hunsucker’s tip and use a four-wheeler and other loud equipment to make the disturbance. Deer will likely not blow out of the area when they hear loud equipment. —A.R.

80) Always wear a safety harness in your treestand. But even better, pair it with a lifeline so you are always strapped in. Most treestand accidents occur when hunters are getting into or out of the stand. —A.R.

81) Upgrade that old riflescope for better shooting at first and last light. There are now a ton of great and affordable riflescopes for deer hunters that offer much better performance than grandaddy’s old scope. —A.R.

82) Days with consistent wind (direction and speed) give the hunter the advantage. Shifting and variable winds give the deer the advantage. —A.R.

83) Don’t get hung up on “the best caliber for deer“. Bullet selection and shot placement are far more important than the cartridge you decide to shoot. —A.R.

84) When hunting public land, your first job is to get away from all other hunters. This could mean trekking deep into the backcountry or finding an overlooked spot near the road. Regardless, find the place where other hunters aren’t and you’ll find deer. —A.R.

85) If you hunt from a box blind, you should make sure to have a good shooting bag. Long range competition shooters use them religiously. You should too, because they will help make 100- and 200-yard shots easy. —A.R.

86) Once you hit that target buck, watch how he reacts. Carefully track his path of escape and his body language. Use an digital mapping app to mark the last place you saw him. Then, wait. That advice your grandpa gave you about waiting one hour before going to look for blood is still true today. —A.R.

87) If the blood trail doesn’t look good, consider calling in a tracking dog. This new, free app pairs hunters with tracking dog owners. —A.R.

88) During the lockdown phase of the rut, consider hunting where you can see into old overgrown fields. Deer feel protected in this kind of cover, but hunters can still see them moving through it. —A.R.

89) Don’t fight the heavy acorn crop (if there is one in your area). Just get in the woods with the deer and hunt the acorns. —A.R.

90) If you’re going to hang a stand in a bedding area, consider doing it at night when you know the deer are out feeding and chasing. Just be careful hanging that stand in the dark. —A.R.

91) Don’t get discouraged by “nocturnal bucks”. Expert deer hunters agree that even that “nocturnal buck” will be moving somewhere during daylight hours. You just have to find out where. —A.R.

92) A good way to hunt a nocturnal buck is to try to back track him from the area you got trail camera photos of him at night. Move cameras around to likely bedding areas (thick cover) until you are able to capture daytime photos of him (or see him from your stand during the day). —A.R.

93) Some of the best deer shooting advice came from my dad, a lifelong Northwoods hunter. It goes something like this: “Keep shooting until the buck is down or you can’t see him anymore.” —A.R.

94) Always keep your scope dialed to the lowest power during the rut. It’s possible that buck could come charging in at 25 yards, and if you have your scope dialed to 12X, it will be difficult to get on him quickly. —A.R.

95) Everyone likes to talk about accessing a stand without bumping deer, but few people actually do it. That’s because it takes real effort to figure out how (and when) to get into setups without spooking deer. But, it’s worth the effort. —A.R.

96) Cellular trail cameras are worth their weight in gold. Upgrade your cams if they are legal in your area, you might be surprised how affordable the new cell cams are. —A.R.

97) Listen carefully and that approaching buck will give himself away. Rutting bucks have a marching cadence that sounds different than a doe or squirrel. Once you hear it, turn toward that direction and get ready. —A.R.

98) Visualize the different buck-approach scenarios that could play out. Think about how you’ll react during each scenario. Think of specific details (like how you’ll move your feet). And listen to archery coach John Dudley on other ways to beat buck fever. —A.R.

99) Remember that big bucks like to search for does while walking into the wind. We all want to hunt downwind, but sometimes hunting a steady cross wind is more productive. —A.R.

100) Don’t overthink moon phases or barometric pressure or even weather. If you have a day to hunt during the heat of the rut, just go hunting. —A.R.

wisconsin deer hunt
The author and his dad after a successful deer hunt in Wisconsin—a state that had 670,000 hunters in 2020. Alex Robinson

101) Keep deer hunting fun. When it seems like every one of your hunting buddies has tagged out and every social media influencer has killed a booner, just remember you get to keep hunting while they’re at home posting online. Every day in the woods is a good one (as long as you have the right perspective). —A.R.