How to Hunt Whitetails This Weekend: The Rut is Still On, Hang in There

As predicted last week, this week finds us in the throws of the biological rut. Whitetails all over the country are taking care of business to ensure the survival of the species. That said, as far as deer sightings go, reports from the field range from "dead quiet" to "smoking hot." No surprises here. Experienced rut watchers will recognize this as a typical mid-November rut; the best of times and the worst.

The Best
If you are in the woods now you've hit it right. As the accompanying trail cam video clearly indicates, there is plenty of breeding going on in the field as you read this. The peak of the whitetail breeding season typically stretches out over a few weeks in the middle of November and in case you haven't checked, that is now! This is the time we all want to be in the woods, and for good reason. Mature bucks abandon their nocturnal ways, and are moving from doe group to doe group searching for estrus does.

Some good bucks have been taken this week. Reports are streaming in of chasing bucks and mature bucks moving in daylight hours. Spotlighters are reporting mature bucks standing in open fields standing guard over bedded does. Scouting cams are picking up some mature buck activity (most with does) but not nearly as much isolated buck activity as a few weeks ago. You have to be out there.

The Worst
The does are hiding out in remote, out-of-the-way locations and most of the bucks are with them. And this is exactly what is so frustrating about hunting the rut. The breeding period of the rut takes bucks out of circulation at least until they get the job done. Bucks have located receptive does and are hanging tight with them. Bucks and does stay together for 2-3 days until breeding is complete. This can tie up 2-3 or even more bucks for a couple of days during prime time. Some refer to it as "lock down." We simply call it the reality of the rut. Hit a breeding party or a buck on a doe and you are in for the time of your life. Miss it and you are in for a lot of quiet sits.

Right now we are getting more "all quiet" reports than "rut on" reports. Our scouting camera shots are off dramatically and our stand sightings have taken a dive. This has nothing to do with deer breeding and everything to do with deer movement. We hunt in a deer-dense area. Bucks don't have to do a whole lot of searching before they find what they are looking for and they typically don't cover much ground once they get together with a willing doe. That leads to less marching about and more standing around in the thick stuff and waiting. Open CPR fields are favorite hide outs for mating pairs.

If there are mature bucks in your area, you can bet they won't be getting much sleep. They will be up, but not necessarily about. They won't be feeding much and if they are lucky enough to have an estrus doe, they will breed her numerous times during estrus, which typically lasts 24 hours unless she remains unbred. They just won't be all that visible.

One thing is for sure: The rut is on and a few quiet days does not mean it is over. This is one of the most common mistakes hunters make. They call "rut over" because they didn't get the same activity they had the weekend before -- in some cases the day before. Seems like we all remember the spectacular sits of the rut; how quickly we forget the quiet ones. If you really look at it objectively and keep careful records like we and our deer watchers have for over 25 years, you will discover that the biological rut is indeed a hit-and-miss affair. In typical big woods deer country, you'll probably have three quiet sits for every good one. Of course, if you happen to be in the only travel corridor connecting two deer concentrations in broken up farm country that can change in a hurry. It may be a hit-and-miss affair, but we wouldn't miss it for the world.

Hunt Hard and Hunt Long
The buck you are looking for can show up at any time at any place. If he goes to food it's because does drag him there. If he's back in the thick stuff, it's because that's where the does are. Once the buck finishes with a doe (or she with him) he'll move on to his next conquest. He knows where the does hang out and he'll be on his way. That's where you can catch him working the oak ridges or necked down funnels. He may come through at daybreak, or at 12:00 high. It all depends on the doe he is with and the doe he is after.

This is the time to hunt the most deer-dense areas the property you are hunting. It is still necessary to hunt carefully, and to keep the wind out of these areas on your approach and exit, but this is the time to definitely move in on them (carefully). A buck doe breeding party may cover no more than a half acre in two days so you might need to be in there with them. It all depends on the lay of the land and where the different doe groups hang on your property.

Nothing is exact when it comes to hunting the rut. The only sure thing is that it can happen at any time and you need to be there when it happens.