Make Better Decisions to Rule The Whitetail Rut


It’s simple to say, “Be in the right stand at the right time,” but deciding when to hunt stands and understanding at the peak time can help you put a mature buck on the ground.

Timing is all about playing the odds. Every hunter wants to be in the stand that offers the highest odds of producing a kill. Nailing that timing offers a huge advantage. Here’s how you can pull it off.

Antlers exiting the timber caught my attention, and I raised my bino to study the approaching buck. Slipping through the tall grass was the Wisconsin public-land buck I was hoping to kill. The fact that he was ignoring another hunter’s rattling attempts and beelining toward my stand only made what was unfolding that much sweeter.

This was one of those seemingly rare occasions when everything was playing out as I’d hoped. With the buck on a trail that entered the pocket of brush and trees where my stand was positioned, it was relatively easy to determine where the shot opportunity would occur.

Coming to full draw, I focused on where the deer’s shoulder would emerge. The buck entered my shooting lane and paused to sniff the scent I’d poured on the trail before climbing into my stand. With the buck preoccupied, I took my time selecting the exact spot I wanted the Rage Xtreme-tipped Easton arrow to impact. I smoothly squeezed off the shot and watched the arrow vanish into that spot. The buck folded before he made it back across the swamp grass.

Timing is all about playing the odds. Every hunter wants to be in the stand that offers the highest odds of producing a kill. Nailing that timing offers a huge advantage. Here’s how you can pull it off.

Every Stand Has a Peak
The first concept to grasp about timing hunts is that every stand has a window of opportunity when it offers the highest odds of killing a buck. Hunt the stand too early and you risk blowing it up before it’s prime. Wait too long and you might miss that opportunity.

Does that mean you shouldn’t hunt stands until very near and during the breeding phase. Not necessarily. Some stands are peaking at that time, but a lot of others are already on the downside or haven’t peaked yet.

Here are some general guidelines to determine when each stand location might be at its peak:

— During early and late season, it’s all about food and water. Stands covering these essentials or the trails leading between them and Mr. Big’s bedding areas are good bets. In either case, you should have intel that a buck is using those locations before going in.

— The October lull is often a risky time to hunt. However, setting up as close as you can to a buck’s bedding area without getting busted can pay off. Just don’t risk it unless you either have other bucks you can hunt if things go south or you can’t hunt the property later. Family group bedding areas also can pay off, particularly when you’re targeting the dominant family group in the area. The healthiest, prime-aged does tend to come into estrus earliest, and odds are good they’ll belong to the dominant family group.

— The peak scrape phase is the time to set up on those serious scrapes around bedding areas, dotting the edges of remote food sources and/or in cover areas where deer feel the safest.

— During the chase phase of the rut, does that aren’t ready to breed tend to head for the thickest cover they can find. Hunting scrapes, bedding areas and funnels separating any combination of prime food, water and bedding areas can all pay off. Hunting near food sources can also be a good bet.

— The peak breeding phase offers the same prime stands as the chase phase, minus scrapes and escape cover. Both are past their prime by now.

— During early post rut, mature bucks are still looking for those last remaining receptive does. Though all the peak breeding phase stands can still work, scrapes around doe bedding areas get hot again and provide perhaps the best location for morning and midday action.

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Weather Factor
Timing hunts with the weather is every bit as important as matching the stands to their peak phase. Weather has the tendency to shut deer down or get them moving. In this case, we’ll focus on what gets bucks moving.

No matter the phase of season, a 10 degree or more temp drop is a great thing, particularly if accompanied by otherwise good weather conditions. What a person should really look for in the 10-day forecast is a series of days with relatively stable temps, only to have the bottom drop out. The first otherwise good weather morning and afternoon following that temp drop offer the best hunting.

During all but late season, when that cold front is accompanied by high winds and/or a storm, wait for the “bad” weather to end and get into the woods as soon as it does. It’s under those conditions that bucks that have been getting out of bed after dark and returning before first light are often inspired to move earlier and stay out later.

Storms and cold weather during late season often motivate deer to move more in search of food, and bucks often feed early and stay out longer during the nastiest of conditions.

Speaking of the need to feed, no matter what the temp trend is, the morning and afternoon after a prolonged storm has ended can also be dynamite. The nasty weather has locked the deer down in their beds and they’re hungry. The calm before a strong storm can produce the same results.

So keep an eye on the weather, and get after those bucks that flirt with shooting light by timing your hunts when weather pushes them to move.

Matching stands with the phase of the season and hunting the best and/ or highest impact stands when the weather inspires more movement is truly a killer approach. It keeps your hunting pressure targeted to locations when they offer the highest odds for success on any given day.

Still, never discount intel. When sightings or scout cams are telling you that a buck is ripe for the killing, pay attention. It doesn’t matter if the location where you’re getting his daylight picture isn’t supposed to get hot for a couple more weeks, is already past its prime or that weather conditions say that he shouldn’t be moving all those days he got his pic taken.
Bucks don’t always follow the rules.

The best we can hope for is to uncover their tendencies. When Mr. Big tells you it’s time to kill him, forget about what he’s supposed to be doing and go after him.

— Steve Bartylla is a longtime D&DH contributor and a private-land deer management specialist from Wisconsin.