Before your hunting plan for the upcoming rut phases is put to bed, consider this. How many times during the rut phases have you planned on sitting until noon or later on morning hunts and then aborted the hunt early due to a lack of deer sightings and boredom?
Plans often change when boredom sets in and if I stated that scenario has never happened to me, it would be a blatant lie. The very last time I aborted a sit until noon morning hunt was in 2011 and while untying my bow at the base of the tree, the buck I was pursuing briskly passed down the scrape lined runway I was hunting next to, at a mere 8-yard distance. Total chip shot had I stuck to my midday plan.
There is no doubt that sticking it out until midday or all day is a mentally tough practice of patience but when a hunting location is appropriate and the seasonal timing is correct, remaining on stand through midday or all day can reap huge rewards.
Here’s an interesting personal statistic, 20 of my 31 Michigan book bucks were taken from November 1 through the 14th and seven of those 20 were taken between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. which equates to about 35 percent while the other 13 were taken in the normal morning and evening hours. This gets real interesting when you take into consideration that less than 10 percent of my time spent on stand during the November 1 – 14 dates was during that 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. midday time frame. So 35 percent of those kills were during the hours I was on stand less than 10 percent of the time.
Most areas in Michigan and especially in the Lower Peninsula receive heavy hunting pressure when compared to other states and the large managed areas within ours. In such areas for a buck to survive to 3 ½ years or older he must have already changed his habits and movement routines from that of subordinate bucks, otherwise he would have already been a kill statistic.
It’s very naïve for any hunter to believe that mature buck behavior in managed areas is remotely similar to that of mature buck behavior in a heavily pressured area and all anyone has to do is watch any TV deer hunting show for 10 minutes to verify that fact. I just can’t watch them anymore as they are so far from reality.
Of course if a hunter hunts in a managed for big bucks area where there is minimal if any competition and where bucks are allowed to grow to a specific age or antler criteria before being targeted, then enclosure behavior studies might seem realistic to them. The only way to grasp and comprehend the reality of a heavily pressured area is to actually hunt in them as most of you reading this article likely do.
Michigan annually has over 320,000 bowhunters which is considerably more than any other state. A few years ago I took the Michigan P&Y entries from the 23rd Pope & Young Statistical Summary book and divided that number into the Michigan archery license sales as reported in Archery Business Magazine. Staggeringly, only one out of every 3,647 Michigan bowhunters entered a Pope & Young buck while in a couple states one out of every 150 bowhunters did and the average scores from those other states were 14 inches larger.
According to those statistics if 91 Michigan bowhunters hunted for 40 seasons each, only one of them would take a P&Y buck. Think about that the next time you watch TV and videos where so-called hunting experts pass on 125 to 140 inch bucks because they are too small and need another year. Sort of lets you know they are not hunting pressured properties or anything remotely similar to what the average Joe like you and I do.
Attempting to compete on heavily pressured land against the types of micromanaged properties most media personalities hunt on would be like competing in the Tour De France using a tricycle.
To most Michigan bowhunters the only way to somewhat regularly wrap a tag around a decent set of antlers is to have some insight into heavily pressured mature buck behavior; scout and hunt differently than your competition; have a spotless scent control regiment; and have a well thought out seasonal hunting plan.
General Deer Behavior in
a Heavily Pressured Area
General morning deer activity takes place between daybreak and 9 to 10 a.m. while most evening activity occurs during the last two hours of daylight. So why hunt during midday? Mature buck behavior in heavily pressured areas is the answer.
Bowhunting has been an integral part of my life for over 50 seasons and one of my top three self-taught lessons that has shaped my success when hunting pressured areas is hunting during midday when and where the circumstances are right.
Over the past twenty-five years, as my work schedule allows, whenever the seasonal timing, location and weather conditions are right I try to hunt a portion or all of the midday period from 11 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Options are mornings until at least noon, just the midday period from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., 11 a.m. until dark, or all day. Midday is one of the most talked about hunting methods, yet most seldom done.
Specific conditions and criteria are required for midday hunting to be productive. In pressured areas midday movements rarely take place in areas not offering adequate transition and perimeter security cover. That is why midday movements go largely unnoticed by hunters that hunt perimeters of short crop fields, open areas, and mature timber devoid of understudy.
The dramatic loss of foliage combined with pre-season scouting and early season hunting pressure causes a reduction in deer movement during mid-October, causing the October lull.
This drop in daytime activity continues until the pre-rut phase kicks in, at which time mature buck hormones surge and their daytime movements in search of early estrous does increase. When searching for estrous does mature bucks (3 ½ years and older) have learned they are less vulnerable moving during midday when hunters are typically not on stand and will only move during mornings and evenings when with or pursuing hot estrous does.
As does that have played the breeding game before approach their estrous cycles they leave their fawns. They often gravitate to active scrape areas to leave their come hither estrous pheromone odor. On many occasions I have witnessed lone does show up at active primary scrape areas, scent mark the licking branches, urinate in a scrape, and loiter in the area for as long as 20 minutes, leaving their tell-tale scent calling card for the next male visitor to take up chase.
In pressured areas mature buck routines during the rut phases are quite different from subordinate bucks. Generally, they bed before daylight either in one of their regular bedding locations or bed (stage) downwind from a heavy doe traffic area that offers security cover.
For those that stage, as the morning traffic flows through, they will check does for receptivity and pursue them if they are close to or in estrus. If she is already with a buck, whichever of the two is most dominant will end up with her. If nothing arouses his interest he will get up during midday and use the best available transition security cover to scent-check his core area. Bucks that bedded in a regular bed will do the same during midday.
Once mature bucks have scent checked the bedding areas they could access while transitioning through adequate security cover they will either bed in a regular bedding location or bed (stage) in security cover near a high traffic evening location and wait for the evening deer traffic to flow through in hopes of intercepting an estrous doe. Interestingly, they are usually bedded during the time that most other deer activity is taking place and the overwhelming majority of bowhunters are on stand.
My years of observations in pressured areas have concluded that when mature bucks move during midday in search of estrous does they are more relaxed than normal and have specific agendas with certain routes and destination points in mind. Unlike their usual attitude of extreme caution, they move steadily, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings.
Some Midday Bucks
• On Halloween morning in 1972 I took a 3 ½ year-old 8-point at around 11 a.m. as he was cruising through an active scrape area scent checking for previous morning doe activity.
• On November 4, 1976 I took a 3 ½ year-old 11-point at 11 a.m. It was also raining as he rapidly moved down a runway with nose to the ground in pursuit of a doe that had passed earlier that morning.
• On November 6, 1986 I took a 3 ½ year-old 8-point at 1:15 p.m. when he came in to the huge white oak I was in. There were several active scrapes beneath it but he just started eating acorns.
• On November 11, 1997, while hunting a primary scrape area, I took a 7 ½ year-old 14-point at 11:45 a.m. He came in shortly after a snow squall to probably re-work the scrapes had I let him. He came in as if nothing in the world mattered.
• On November 2, 2004 I took a 4 ½ year-old 10-point at 2:45 p.m. when he came in from upwind to scent check the active primary scrape area I was hunting. Instead of stepping into the somewhat open scrape area, he stayed within the perimeter cover of it while moving to the downwind side. Once downwind and standing directly below me, he stuck his nose in the air to scent check for previous activity. Once satisfied nothing of interest had passed through, his departure route offered a close quartering away opportunity.
• On November 11, 2004 I took a 3 ½ year-old 8-point while hunting an active primary scrape area. He had come through at 9 a.m. but stayed downwind in the dense security cover. He came back at 11:15 and had no qualms about walking right through the center of the small, somewhat open scrape area. Facing directly at me he worked an existing scrape and then moved to make a new scrape, offering a 15-yard broadside shot
• On November 18, 2005 I took a 3 ½ year-old 8-point at 3 p.m. He was following a doe at well over a hundred yards from my location and wouldn’t respond whatsoever to a grunt call so I ended up calling in the doe with a Quaker Boy Bleat-N-Heat followed by a fawn distress call. Of course his surged hormones were his demise as he came with her.
• On November 7, 2006 during a light rain I took a 3 ½ year-old 10-point at 2:45 p.m. as he was coming into a primary scrape area located a mere 50 yards from a well-used paved road.
• On November 13, 2011 I took a 3 ½ year-old 7-point at 10:35 a.m. as he was moving through transition cover between bedding areas. There were also scattered scrapes along the route.
Bowhunters that hunt heavily pressured areas in Michigan should make every effort to exploit this midday weakness and spend some time on stand when situations are right. Mature bucks in pressured areas are very nocturnal, even during the rut, and this midday movement pattern is often their only point of vulnerability.
Having taken 23 week-long trips to lightly hunted states I can unequivocally state that mature bucks of all ages in such areas follow similar daytime movement routines as the other deer, they move in the mornings and evenings. When there are no consequences for morning and evening movement behaviors, those behaviors remain unaltered, eliminating the need to hunt during midday. They still have midday movement patterns, but midday sits are not required for success.
Planning Midday Hunts
Like people, the hotter it is the more water deer require. While general deer activity declines during hot weather, if your hunting area is devoid of many water options, a water source will become a destination location for mature bucks if it offers adequate perimeter security cover. No matter the time of season, due to necessity during unseasonably hot weather conditions mature bucks in pressured areas will likely drink around daybreak, during midday (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.), and then right at dark.
During a post-season scouting venture I prepared a location near a large puddle alongside a bedding area that had no water. It was a dry summer and during a pre-season visit I noticed it drying up so I dug it two feet deeper in the middle. It held water into season and although I didn’t take a mature buck there, it worked to perfection as deer came in and drank during midday on all three hunts. The owner’s daughter married a bowhunter and I lost my permission after that season.
Fortunately most areas in Michigan offer many sources of water so unless you’re in a rare area that doesn’t, the rut phases are when to change gears and plan midday hunts.
The rut phases should be to bowhunters what the “playoffs” are to professional athletes. The surge of hormones associated with the shortening days and colder weather rouses mature bucks into more active routines, including some daytime movements in pursuit of estrous does.
Our pre-rut period typically begins around Halloween and from then on is the best time to be on stand during midday.
In selecting stand locations the first thing to consider is destination points. Without question my most productive locations for midday hunts have been at active primary scrape areas that offer perimeter and transition security cover. When prepared and hunted correctly they are the best locations during any time of day.
Active primary scrape areas (several scrapes congested in a small area) are generally made in high doe traffic locations such as perimeters of preferred crop fields, fruit trees (apples and pears), mast trees (white and red oaks), at pinch points of transition cover between bedding and feeding areas, and in a small zone where several terrain features may converge. But, if they do not offer perimeter and transition security cover from open areas they will be used almost exclusively after dark by mature bucks.
If no suitable scrape areas exist hunt isolated food sources such as mast or fruit trees located within cover, they attract does, and all buck movement during the rut phases revolves around doe activity.
Another location is a travel corridor between bedding areas that offers adequate transition security cover. Bucks will use these corridors during midday to get to the next bedding area to search for hot does.
Lastly and not least is within interiors of known bedding areas, but there are very stringent rules that should apply when hunting within them. They should be hunted during the rut phases only and are situations where all day hunts are advised. You should commit to being set up and quiet by at least an hour and a half prior to daybreak and not leaving until half hour after dark. Your early arrival should assure not spooking bucks moving in to bed just prior to daybreak and your late exit should be after deer have left.
If there are several hunters with equal authority and you decide to hunt a bedding area, they may want to as well, leave them alone. Interiors of bedding areas are not for party hunting, but rather for very specific and strategic solo hunting. So if that is the case, leave the bedding area alone.
The aforementioned locations (other than water) should also be left alone during the October lull so as not to alter doe traffic at them prior to the rut phases.
No matter the location if you plan a rut phase morning through midday hunt you should be on stand and quiet at least an hour and a half prior to first light. Your entry must also be such that you remain as undetected as possible by any deer in the immediate area.
Hunting during midday does not simply mean the more hours on stand the better, it means optimizing your time at your best high traffic spots that offer security cover during the right time of season.
As tough as it may seem, for one season try spending 20 percent of your time on stand hunting the overly boring, ho-hum midday shift at the right locations during the rut phases. If you’re hunting a pressured area and interested in taking good bucks for your area, midday is the highest percentage time to do it.
John has 31 bucks in the Michigan record book from 19 different properties and another 19 P&Y bucks from 13 different properties on his 23 out of state bowhunts. What separates John’s accomplishment of having 50 record book bucks from 32 different properties from any other hunter in the country is that he’s exclusively hunted on public and knock-on-doors for free permission properties.
John also co-authored three instructional bowhunting books, produced the 3 part DVD series “Bowhunting Pressured Whitetails” and has done many podcasts. To view the podcasts and for information on his books, DVDs or 2 day in-field/classroom Eberharts Whitetail Workshops, visit: www.deer-john.net