Don’t overlook the narrow window of opportunity when bucks go bonkers chasing does and sex crazed monsters wander from hideaways in search of a mate. Peak rut occurs in Michigan every year during November when cool temperatures, fallen leaves and the lunar cycle kicks deer activity into super high gear. Actually the ritual is ignited when days become shorter and the amount of sunlight passing through the deer’s eye jump starts hormones and does come into heat and rut crazed bucks absolutely go nuts. You have seen the craziness when bucks that are normally hiding in thick cover are suddenly wandering in plain sight during broad daylight. What about those crazy critters you spot in wide open fields that are running flat out, dashing after prospective does from one section to the next?
Peak rut is when love sick bucks challenge corn pickers, attack cement deer statues, get smacked by trains and vehicles on the expressway and in some cases chase humans, dogs and farm animals. It is the time of year when hormones reach their peak and bucks go on a breeding rampage.
One look at a rutting buck and he is easy to identify because of his stature, muscles are bulging, neck is swollen, eyes are often red and scent glades are stained black. Rutting bucks have a walk that signals they are looking for a mate, a strut or stiff legged gate that shows off their eagerness to please a doe or fight other bucks.
While some hunters prefer hunting pre-rut I’m totally in love with hunting the rut. I want every buck in the world on his feet, out dancin’ and prancin’, and preferably so love crazed they are stupid. Truth is peak rut when breeding activity has reached fever pitch all time high is when bucks are very vulnerable. Full blown rut can make harvesting the buck of your dreams a cake walk. Provided you follow some simple rules.
First, I must admit Michigan is filled with a bunch of numbskulled idiots that don’t understand whitetail deer rutting activity. Why do so many archers get all fired up about the October 1 opener when chances of anchoring a decent buck is almost non-existent? When cold weather arrives, leaves are down and the bucks are running like crazy many hunters are not around.
I’ve learned decades ago to not begin buck hunting until November 1 and hunt every day until the gun opener. After the orange army hits Michigan’s great outdoors all bets are off for seeing rutting activity and enjoying a hunt unobstructed by other hunters. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of rutting activity during gun season but often it is more subdued, hidden from plain sight, often conducted under the cover of darkness because deer know humans are afield. My suggestion is to spend as much time in the woods as possible during rutting season.
If you are a treestand hunter using bait to draw deer your chances of taking a mature buck go tube city during the rut. Here’s why. Ever noticed how big bucks are never taken over bait when the rut is in full swing? Well, I can tell you why. During the rut does lead buck around like they have a ring in their nose. Wherever the hot doe goes bucks follow and adult does do most of their breeding in secluded locations. Oh sure there are always bucks tending does in open fields but my point is few are tended near bait. I learned years ago bucks in rut would seldom come to my sweet spots that were baited to draw deer. It is my opinion based on years in Michigan’s deer woods that whitetail doe do not want to be bred in baiting areas. I think they prefer to not have sex at the community center where other doe, fawn and younger bucks congregate. If they did all your pals would have stories about big bucks they harvested while tending does over bait. Come to think of it, taking a dandy buck tending a doe around bait never happens. Get my point?
My suggestion is to leave your bait spot and use rut hunting tactics to locate and harvest more bucks, forget bait during the rut. Try to set up over trails bucks use. Carry a grunt call or doe bleat and use them to attract bucks. Sometimes you need to scout new areas in an effort to locate bucks that are henned-up with a hot doe in surrounding areas.
Never go scouting without a weapon. Don’t make the silly mistake of traveling on new turf in search of an ideal treestand site and blow out the biggest buck you will ever see. Learn to go scouting by stealthfully stalking through new turf. Sure your goal is to locate new hunting grounds but learn how to stalk/scout and if the opportunity arrives sneak into range of the buck of your dreams. Sometimes you need to adjust your thinking about how to hunt a particular buck and use different hunting tactics to score.
I’ll never forget the tall tined buck that roamed grass fields, cornfields and ditches in Clinton County. He was impossible to hunt because there were no trees on his home turf. Come peak rut I’d stalk the edge of standing corn, sneak through the ditches and grass in search of the high tined four years old. Trees along the fencerows were all rubbed, the edge of the corn was highlighted by big scrapes and the tiny woodlot nearby was covered with fresh tracks, rubs and scrapes big as my dinner table.
I was slipping up the edge of the woodlot when I heard noise in the standing corn. That’s when I knocked a bolt and gave two short grunts. Immediately the sound stopped and started again as the mega deer walked directly toward me. I could hear his antlers bumping the stalks and see the tops wiggle as he finally stepped into plain view, stepped out of the corn and lowered his head and smashed his tall rack into a sapling and began rubbing. I could see the muscles in his neck were swollen through the Scorpion scope as he turned broadside and I touched the trigger on the crossbow. He jolted forward, mule kicked and dashed full throttle through the woodlot before he finally came crashing to the ground after the Spitfire sliced his lungs.
More than likely the big bucks downfall was it was full rut time and he heard me rustling in the woodlot leaves and he came to investigate. The grunt call convinced the love sick buck another buck was in the area and his first move was to rub and display his dominance. But instead of a warm welcome from a hot doe he was greeted by a lung piercing New Archery Products Spitfire broadhead.
I love watching two similar size bucks when they encounter each other. They get all bent out of shape, swagger in a semi-circle around each other, lower ears in a mule-like intimidating manner and puff up their hair to appear larger. Often the encounter is brief because one buck turns chicken and hightails out of the country. But sometimes the intimidation escalates and bucks lock antlers in a battle to the death. Most serious fights between bucks are short lived but extremely violent. I’ll never forget a battle between two huge bucks on Judge Begole’s farm in Shiawassee County. The two equally matched monster bucks locked antlers and began pushing back and forth while violently twisting their heads to gain advantage over each other. Stomping hooves and bulldozer pushing sent clods of dirt flying through the air as they slammed their massive racks together like two train cars crashing, shoved each other back and forth like Suma wrestlers with noses close to the ground and antlers digging into the soft earth. At one point the sound of the clashing antlers was so loud it sounded like the pair was very close and from the surrounding woods several deer suddenly appeared to watch the titans clash. The duo fought for at least 30 minutes, until both deer were breathing heavily, sides heaving and finally one buck was tossed on his side and a quick antler spear in his chest sent him packing.
I walked into the harvested bean field where the fight took place. The ground was all tore up and I could see where antlers ripped the earth and hoof prints were at a weird angle indicating the animals were pushing each other sideways. The area the fight took place was about the size of an average yard and the ground was covered with hoof prints with hooves that were spread wide open. I have seen similar locations where dirt and leaves are disturbed where two bucks have done battle.
If you can catch two bucks fighting you can slip into easy range. The trick is to move quickly the direction the sound is coming from. With fond memories I recall a hunt in Isabella County when the sound of antlers crashing sent me running. When I came over a ridge I found two dandy 8-point bucks locked in battle. I stalked within twenty yards and came to full draw, but each time I tried to release the arrow the battling duo would switch ends and I didn’t have a clear shot. Finally the battling pair pushed each other within 10 yards and slightly downwind of me and someone got a whiff of my sweaty body after the sprint to the location and the match ended with both deer blasting through the cedar swamp the opposite direction. I clearly remember standing in the battle zone, earth ripped to shreds from pointed hooves, bow in hand, heart pumping, astonished to see such an easy opportunity to kill a big buck go sour in the blink of an eye.
On another occasion the sound of clashing antlers sent me sprinting through standing corn and tall ditch grass in search of the fighting bucks. They sounded close; I knocked an arrow, and then noticed some movement in an oak tree nearby only to discover I charged directly into another hunter that was rattling antlers. I felt embarrassed.
My point is this; during full blown rut bucks are at the peak of their game. Rutting activity has them moving in search of partners 24-7. It is a short window of opportunity Michigan hunters need to utilize to their advantage. A time when bucks are over-active, chasing, rubbing, scraping, fighting and presenting hunting opportunities like no other time the entire year.
Tending begins when a buck scent checks a doe and he raises his head, slightly opens his mouth and allows his sensory organs to test her readiness. If she smells right he pursues her using a short-step trot with nose close to the ground Smart old bucks will allow younger bucks to chase does all over God’s creation until they are fully in rut and ready to breed. The actual breeding process takes place over a couple days as receptive does signal their readiness by lamb wiggling their tail. Bucks pick up on the signal, slip their nose under the tail, lick the vaginal area and eventually slide their head and neck up the side of the doe and put pressure on her back in readiness to mount. Bucks mount a doe several times and the actual tending ritual takes place in a relatively small location about the size of your living room.
Perhaps my deadliest hunting strategy during the rut is to locate and stalk tending bucks. Sometimes I drive country roads in locations where I have permission to hunt and locate breeding pairs. Other times I slip through the countryside looking for bucks standing over does. Spot and stalk deer hunting is very exciting, requires advanced woodsmanship skills, agility, flexibility, cat-like prowling skills and nerves of steel as you slip into easy range of a high scoring monster buck. For this brand of hunting you need to concentrate on a direct frontal approach, keep body movement to a minimum, hold your weapon low to the ground, move without making noise and using trees, tall grass, ditches, brush and more to block your slow approach.
Keep in mind that 90 percent of the time you will get busted by the doe that notices you and blows out of Dodge with the love sick buck in tow. The trick is to use cover to conceal your approach, move at a snail’s pace, make certain you are completely camouflaged, including face, hands and especially your weapon. If you think scoring on a big buck is exciting by ambushing him from a treestand I want to warn you the adrenalin rush you get while stalking is 10 times more addicting. Few thrills in life are more exciting than slinking through the forest like a lioness on the prowl, slowly using cat-like skills to move ever closer to a big game animal until you are close enough to see the blood pumping through the veins on his neck, see his eyes blink. Now you are the true predator, the ultimate hunter.
What about you? Do you have plans to hunt peak rut this year?
I hope you get serious about buck hunting around Halloween and chase deer until the gun opener. I guarantee the experience will be an eye opener and you will look forward to rut time every year.