Strategies to win in November
If you’ve made it through October without having any success on a good whitetail buck, then a good yet scary opportunity lies ahead: the rut. This can be a great time of year to catch a buck on his feet that you wouldn’t have been able to earlier in the year. However, the challenging part is that buck activity is largely unpredictable, leaving hunters in feast or famine circumstances that can be very frustrating. So, how can you succeed when deer movement seems to be as hard to get a hold of as a shifty running back on the gridiron?
Let’s look at a few key strategies to up your odds and help you tackle the rut.
1) HUNT THE DOES
If bucks are chasing the does, it makes sense that if you want to find bucks, you must be where the does they are chasing are located. You simply can’t hunt your early season or mid-season stands and automatically expect success. Categorize areas on your properties as when they are best to hunt and stick to that throughout the season. Once you’ve identified areas that does frequent, you can easily home in on hunting them and thereby the bucks hounding them. However, if you’ve over-pressured does during the early part of the season, this can be tough. So it’s very important to practice low-impact hunting at all times and only hunt locations when conditions are ideal.
One such area is doe bedding areas. This can be tricky to hunt since you have a higher probability of spooking does, and therefore, the bucks you are after. With enough caution, however, these can be the hottest spots on a property. Hunting on a downwind edge of a thick doe bedding, and trails entering and exiting, can be killer. Bucks will cruise and scent check to see if any does are in estrous within the bedding area without even entering it. This allows them to cover a lot of ground and for you to capitalize on this movement being just on the edge. Does will also run to this cover to try to keep a chasing buck at bay. If you are set up within range of key trails entering this bedding area, you can often catch a buck pushing a doe into this cover.
Hunting deep in thick doe bedding can be another good option. This has to be carefully approached since there is a high likelihood of busting deer, and you will be close to their bedroom. These areas should be kept unhunted until the exact right time, the first few weeks of November. All-day sits are the best idea for hunting deep, and early entry before deer have returned from their nighttime activities is critical. Ideally, these spots are pre-prepped, and you know exactly how you will enter and exit. These are very strategic hunts and strikes, and having good intel a buck is active in these areas through sign, and trail camera intel will boost your odds. Make sure to take water and some low-scent snacks to get you through the day, as action can take place at any time. In fact, midday might be your best time, so stay vigilant and avoid napping.
Food source ambushes are another good place to catch a doe, and therefore, buck in tow. Food plots can be great for this as bucks may finally appear in daylight chasing or cruising the edges for receptive does. Downwind edges are key and should be preferred over being out in an open food plot too far, as again, bucks may enter but likely cruise edges as well. A good location that allows shooting to the food plot and downwind of parallel trails bucks may use to scent-check without entering the plot is ideal. Hopefully, you’ve constructed your plot with a pinch that encourages travel within shooting range. It is also a great idea to have a mock scrape somewhere within range to draw out a buck and get him to potentially stop where you can shoot.
Several years ago, a buck I nicknamed “Bent Brows” showed this typical behavior, and I received a slew of action shots from a remote trail camera during one 24 hour period. The problem was I was a whole state away. Over a dozen times that day, the lovesick buck came to the edge of the field (never entering it) to scent-check for receptive does. I never caught up to him that season, but it shows the power of this type of ambush location at this time of year.
2) HUNT TRANSITIONS
If you aren’t hunting doe bedding or right on top of the does, another good idea is to hunt where they frequently travel between destination sources like food and bedding, or one bedding area to another. In hilly terrain, a good saddle or bench can be a killer spot during the rut. Many times these are the easiest routes for deer to take from one area to another. If a buck is not on a hot doe, he will be searching, so at some point, he will probably cross or use these terrain features during his travel. If he is on a doe, she may likely use this at some point and drag him along. These can be good morning or evening spots but can require some patience and persistence. You may not see a good buck for days, but if he’s seeking or chasing does in your area, this is a good place to connect with him.
Another good transition is thick cover or narrow strips of land between larger tracts. The narrower, the better for these “pinches.” Yes, bucks do crazy things chasing does during the rut and may run across open fields, but most of the time deer will keep to cover over open areas. If you are in the only corridor leading from point A to point B, you will see the deer traveling by your location. The idea is to be at the narrowest part of the pinch or funnel, and the right tree deer have to walk past. Paying attention to wind is critical, and having several stand locations ready for varying winds is smart, as the perfect day might come without the exact wind you counted on when preparing your tree or blind. Pour over maps and try to find these funnels – the tighter, the better, and label them “R” for rut in your notes.
In big timber, look for open areas that border clearcuts. There is usually a corner of clearcut that may butt up to another, creating an “X” on an aerial map. These can be good locations to pinch down deer and usually have heavy traffic from one thick clearcut to another. Deer just don’t like to expose themselves in the open woods if they don’t have to. In agricultural areas, inside corners of fields can serve the same function, necking down trails from one woodlot to another and creating a natural funnel for deer movement. The bottom line is, you should be finding some terrain feature or change in cover that naturally pushes deer past one narrow point, where you will be waiting.
A saddle (as mentioned above) is a low area between high areas where it’s easiest for deer to cross in hilly terrain. Deer are just like humans, somewhat lazy. If they can find the easy way, they can and will. When I began hunting one of my properties in Ohio, there was an old stand in one particular area. It didn’t look like much, but I began hunting it anyway. This was my first introduction to hunting a saddle, and boy did I learn quickly. It seemed like any deer moving in the area tended to come near that stand, even though it was in open woods. Over the years, this has been a great rut location, as I’ve had many does bring bucks right by my stand, including a wide ten-point in 2014 that is now on my wall. My father narrowly missed a nice buck there the night before, sticking a sapling with his arrow, which he didn’t see. These spots are also hard to “wear out” since they are not destination stands and are harder to get busted, being just a crossing point where deer do not hang out. Since then, I have identified another good saddle on the other side of the property, and in 2020 this is exactly where I arrowed the biggest buck in the area, a 16-point.
You may have to coax a buck within range with a grunt or two depending on how narrow the saddle is (like with my 16-point), but it puts many deer within your grasp and is a great feature to try during the rut.
3) THE X FACTOR
During the rut, it’s about being at the right place at the right time, and lining up the odds in your favor by the above methods puts you in the best position possible. The bottom line is it’s all about finding the hot doe. If you’re not lucky enough to have that doe or two on your property, you must persist in changing areas to find her, or really, just persist in the above areas until one comes through. With biology changing by the day with estrous does, it can become a persistence game in the most high-odds, doe-frequenting spots you can access. If you can maintain this attitude, you may just be able to succeed at tackling the rut.