It is that time of the year if you are a deer hunter: The rut is getting under way with bucks making scrapes, rubbing trees and cruising through the woods looking for the first does to come into heat. The rut is the mating season of deer and the best time of the year to put a tag on a monster buck. Big bucks that normally would not venture into the open during daylight hours will leave the security of their home area and actively search for does ready to breed. Although the bucks will be a little crazy from all the testosterone running through their veins and may let their guard down, giving hunters an opportunity, they are not stupid. Bucks, especially older mature bucks, will still be very wary and hunters must still take extra care to avoid alerting deer to their presence.
At this time in the rut, the first does are just starting to come into heat. Bucks are on the move seeking out these receptive does using their nose to check trails, feeding areas and bedding areas for the aroma of estrus does. Moving from one area to another, bucks may cover several miles a day checking on the breeding condition of various doe groups in their area. If you can hunt all day, you have a good chance of seeing a buck at any time throughout the day - even bucks that move primarily at night most of the year may be out at any time if there is a receptive doe in the area.
Good locations to set up a stand for these cruising bucks are along natural terrain features that create funnels and choke points that have dense cover for concealment as the bucks crisscross trails searching for the scent of a doe ready to mate. Trails exiting feeding areas are good bets for morning stands as the bucks travel areas the does have been through the night looking for hot does. Likewise, in the evening trails, leaving bedding areas are good stand locations for bucks cruising in to check on the condition of bedded does and follow them to nighttime feeding areas.
Edges of thickets, clear cuts, grown up orchards and other spots with thick underbrush are other good places for a stand; bucks like to travel these areas for the protection offered by the cover and the availability of food as they wonder these thickets looking for does. Bucks make scrapes, rub trees around thickets and will often bed down in thickets where the dense undergrowth provides concealment and protection.
Scrapes are pawed out places in the ground that bucks make to announce their presence to does and other bucks. They will urinate over the tarsal glands on their back legs onto the spot and leave more scent on a licking branch above the scrape that they chew on to leave scent while making the scrape. Stands downwind of scrapes are another great ambush spot, especially scrapes that border thickets and dense cover. Early in the rut, bucks may visit scrapes a few times a day but as the rut progresses and the bucks are with does most of the time, they may not visit but once every few days. For that reason, these stands can be hit or miss depending on how far along in the rut the deer are and how many receptive does are in the area.
The rut normally begins in this area about the second week of November, give or take a week, when the first does come into estrus. Before actual breeding and at the beginning of the rut is when bucks are most visible and vulnerable to hunters. Bucks will be covering ground trying to find the first hot does and fighting with other bucks to establish dominance in the area. Bucks are so caught up in attempting to find a mate they will throw caution to the wind and investigate anything that smells like a hot female, this is when all the doe in heat and estrus doe scents on the market come into play. Many of the lures are taken from does during the rut and are designed to attract bucks seeking does but you also must take care to use cover scent or scent absorbing clothing to suppress human odor.
Even though a buck is attracted to the estrus doe lure, if they smell any human odor, they will sneak away before you ever get a look at them.
The duration of the rut is usually two to three weeks and the peak usually coincides with the opening week of the rifle season but the week prior has always been my favorite time to be in a treestand with a bow in my hand hoping for a shot at a big one.
Even if you don't bowhunt it is a good time to scout and get familiar with your hunting area, check out locations of rubs and scrapes, food sources and deer activity in your area. Take some time to watch trails and feeding areas to see what size bucks are in the area.
This is certainly the most exciting time to be in the woods with a bow waiting to put an arrow in a nice buck. However, it is just the beginning of the rut and even if that big buck passes out of bow range, next week rifle season begins and who knows, that big boy just may make the mistake of crossing paths with you again only this time you have a rifle in your hands.