Photo by Donald M. Jones
Without question, most diehard deer hunters get fired up for the much-anticipated rut. But this brief period can be chaotic, somewhat unpredictable, and often difficult to hunt due to intense outside hunting pressure and other uncontrollable factors. This is exactly why you need to take advantage of the early season and exploit a mature buck’s routine long before things start to unravel and shake loose. The following high-impact tactics, strategies, and setups will help you take advantage of the pre-rut and kick-start your season.
1. Focus On Food
During late summer and early fall, a mature buck is guided by his stomach, not his hormones. Focus on current and preferred food sources. Glass known feeding sites and monitor those areas with game cameras. Try to determine how and when bucks are entering and exiting each food source, and pinpoint the locations of staging and bedding areas.
2. Customize Your Setups
Avoid hunting directly above or right along the edges of established feeding areas. If you’re lucky, you’ll get no more than a couple of hunts out of these setups before educating a veteran deer. Instead, set up on or near travel corridors and staging areas that can be safely entered, hunted, and exited without bumping deer. You also need to plan your entries and exits to coincide with morning and evening feeding times.
3. Set the Table
Strategically adding mineral licks (in states where it’s legal), constructing watering holes, and planting small, shade-tolerant ambush plots near big-buck bedding areas and staging zones can be lethal during the early pre-rut transition. These simple additions have the power to transform otherwise ordinary setups into a high-traffic killing zone. The trick is to choose placement sites that have sufficient cover to create a false sense of security among bucks that are ultra-cautious and hypersensitive.
4. Make Adjustments
As the early season progresses, changes in food sources and behavioral factors alter the daily routines and patterns of mature bucks. When this happens, you have to make adjustments to your setups and hunting strategies on the fly. The key is to avoid hunting the same setups over and over with little or no results.
5. Exploit the Senses
When bucks are traveling together in bachelor groups, a well-placed buck decoy (which should match the age-class and rack size of the bucks you’re targeting), coupled with non-threatening, social grunts, is highly effective. You might also drag a wick sprayed with buck urine to the decoy.
6. Hunt Scent-Free and Stay Invisible
Scent control during the warm pre-rut period can be very challenging. Wear lightweight clothing and rubber boots when walking to your stand, take periodic breaks, and stay hydrated. Once you arrive at your setup, change into your hunting clothing and thoroughly spray down with a quality scent-eliminating formula.