Although it is only October and we are still in the pre-rut phase, the preparation for executing the rut starts now. Most hunters understand that there are technically three different phases of the rut; the pre-rut, the rut, and the post-rut. And when it comes to whitetail hunting, this is a crucial time period to fully grasp and know inside and out. Doe and buck activity spike when the rutting season begins, however, the whitetail world does not have a timeline which often leads the rut to fall a little earlier or sometimes a little later. That is why it is important to take time to understand the characteristics of the rut to better enhance your chances of landing that monster buck on your trail cam.
The invite to begin the rut of whitetails normally begins on the shorter and cooler days of fall, however, it doesn’t happen overnight. Whitetail begin more activity during these crisp fall days but continue a steady buildup of rutting activity. Rutting activity includes actions such as; reopening scrapes and rub lines, feeding during daylight hours more frequently, and essentially, marking their territory in the best way possible to let the does know what buck exactly claims that area. With that said, this phase of the hunting season certainly provides an opportunity for hunters to take advantage of the mature buck’s activity.
Hunting the rut can be significantly different, and most hunters love that. There is no better feeling than walking to your tree stand and seeing a fresh rub, and a newly reopened scrape. It gives a hunter so much hope as they sit there patiently in the tree stand. However, sometimes waiting for that big buck can be daunting. Hours pass and you might wonder “am I ever going to see that buck? I just want to see a doe. I need to fill a tag!” So what do you do? Wait longer? Move your stand? Well… How about trying a new “old” tactic called stalking to enhance your chances of landing the monster you have been dreaming of during the rut.
For many modern hunters, the very idea of stalking a mature whitetail buck sounds ludicrous. Nevertheless, stalking has only become less popular due to more efficient, modern tactics such as stand hunting. Hunting from the stand seems so much more reasonable because you are not making noise, you can see for miles, and you always know what is coming. However, hunters often forget that it was not too long ago when stalking was really the only way to hunt. Although it is becoming more of a lost art with each passing season it can still be a productive means of filling your tag - if done correctly.
Don’t get me wrong, sitting in the stand or placing your ground blind is effective, and definitely has its place but there is something about trying to outsmart a big buck that has a different level of excitement. Although it has its own risks, and certainly does not work in every situation, it can often be a tool that is extremely successful. Therefore, we have developed 4 easy-to-follow tips to help you stalk the rut and land that big buck.
Tip #1: Understand Your Area
Stalking requires a good knowledge of the area you are hunting. Whether it is public land or private land, it is important to know where runs, bedding spots, hides, and deer trails could be. Never would you want to stalk an unfamiliar area, as scouting is crucial to success. Therefore, before attempting to stalk, take the time to understand the area as if it were your own house. You should be able to navigate through the woods with ease if you are wanting to stalk during the rut. Not only does this help anticipate where deer may be or where they may go, but it also helps recognize when something isn’t quite right, like when a new shrub may actually be a bedded buck’ antlers.
Tip #2: Slow is Good, but Slower is Better
When stalking, the goal is to be invisible. And since we are humans, we can’t be invisible, but we can learn to blend in with the environment around us. Now, this doesn’t just mean wearing awesome Realtree camo or dousing yourself with Scent Blocker, although that helps heavily. Rather, this means blending with the environment on with movement and sound. The biggest aspect of blending is moving slowly, and then, slowing down even more. Granted, you will never be able to eliminate all noise when moving through an area offered in dried twigs, downed leaves and browned grass but moving slowly will reduce your noise significantly. Remember shadows are your friend and you should avoid venturing into the open sun unless absolutely necessary.
Tip #3: Keep Your Head Still
Head movement can be a “make it or break it” factor when stalking a big buck or mature doe. However, you have to constantly be looking when stalking the rut. Therefore, keep your head still and attempt to only move your eyes. One of the biggest mistakes inexperienced hunters make is looking for a whole deer as if it were standing broadside in an open field. Instead, look for parts of the deer - deer stand with their entire body visible but by looking for an ear tip, antler tine or even a black nose is a sea of brown grass you can then find the rest of the deer. A good pair of binoculars on a chest harness can really increase your range of vision and usually be used with little noticeable movement.
Tip #4: Weather is Crucial to Executing the Rut
The rut may very well be THE best time for a stalk. Bucks are preoccupied with finding as many hot does as possible and bedding every one of them. This not only reduces their level of caution but also causes them to move through the woods in a lot less predictable manner. That is why stalking is excellent. You could sit in your best stand for days and never get a shot, but if you know your property, an afternoon stalking can take you to the deer rather than simply waiting for them to come to you. However, as previously stated, stalking is not for every hunter in every situation. The conditions need to be right to give you an advantage when stalking and one of the most crucial conditions is the weather. When debating on whether or not you should attempt stalking, remind yourself that bad weather is good weather for stalking. Days immediately following fresh snow are excellent. These snowy days are when the rain or wind is blowing somewhat, helping better cover your tracks and noise.
Overall, stalking can be effective only if it is used right. The big bucks are preoccupied with finding the next hot doe, so being extremely quiet and taking advantage of this “less-predictable” activity can often be rewarding. However, it is important to remember that when you are stalking try to stay by the shadows of the forest to break up your picture. It is crucial that you are blending in as best as possible. Often, I will remind myself to “look around, stop, rest and repeat.” Moving slowly and quietly, but always staying ready, is the key to landing that rut buck.
And don’t forget, if you ever need some assistance tracking all of the phases of the rut in your specific area, HuntWise’s RutCast feature is here to help. With real-time weather forecasting, RutCast takes into account rut intensity, temperature, front movements and more to help make this your best stalking yet.