One Halloween weekend, Indiana hunter Shawn Brinkman attached a drag line to his boot, soaked it with hot-doe pee and slipped toward a stand on a ridge where in the previous days and weeks he had accumulated trail-camera pictures of nine different bucks. Brinkman had a good feeling about this spot.
He’d been sitting for only a few minutes when a buck followed the scent line to within 30 yards of his stand. It was an old, big-bodied deer – a 10-point with bases like Red Bull cans. “Hmm, never seen him before,” Brinkman thought as he drew his bow and drilled the animal with a perfect shot.
“I’m always amazed at how a mature buck you never see or get pictures of will just show up out of the blue one day,” says Brinkman, a seasoned hunter with some great Indiana bucks on his wall. “You never know what you’ll see when you hunt the rut, so always be on the lookout and ready.”
When Bucks Travel
Most bucks expand their ranges and daily movements as the rut approaches, increasing the odds that a “new” buck will show up unexpectedly underneath your stand. A buck’s rut excursions for the first estrous does begin about three weeks before peak breeding in any given area, which means the last week of October in most places. That’s why Halloween is always a great week to hunt in Eastern and Midwestern states.
Interestingly, buck excursions begin like clockwork every year. For four consecutive years, researcher Bryan Kinkel monitored the movements of bucks on one of his favorite hunting properties in Tennessee, where the peak breeding date is typically November 18. The first of the new rutting bucks showed up on his trail cams on the same day, October 31, for four years in a row. How’s that for some good odds?
How Far Do They Go?
At the Caesar Kleberg Research Institute in Texas, scientists fitted 33 bucks with GPS collars and monitored their movements for four months, from early season through the post-rut. Their data revealed that on average, bucks moved less than 3 miles per day in early fall, 5 miles a day later on in the pre-rut (late October most places) and up to 6 or more miles per day during the peak of the rut.
The scientists involved in the study did note that there was a great deal of variation among individual bucks. Some bucks took doe-hunting excursions of 8 miles or more during peak rut, while others stayed closer to home and moved only a couple of miles. Every one of the 33 bucks they analyzed made at least one excursion out of their core area during the hottest phase of the rut.
In a fascinating study, Oklahoma researchers fitted bucks with GPS collars and monitored their movements using a technique called “fractal dimension,” which describes the complexity or linearity of the travel paths used by deer.
The scientists found that in early fall and again during the post-rut, bucks tend to stick relatively close to small core areas and have confined and complex travel patterns – the result of many short-distance travels in which the deer circle and change directions frequently as they move from feed to bed. But during the seeking days of the rut in early and mid-November, many of those same bucks branched out into longer and more linear movements. The researchers surmised that by traveling longer distances in straighter lines, bucks maximize their chances of coming into contact with estrous does.
Your Rut-Hunting Plan
Cool data, all of it, but how does it translate for the rut hunter? The main thing to remember is that many, if not all bucks, will cover two or three times the terrain they traveled back in September and early October. As the bucks come and go, they probably won’t be on your hunting property every day, but they’ll drift through from time to time.
Around Halloween, once bucks begin to lengthen their daily movements and roam more during daylight hours, expand your hunt area too, if you can. Spread out, scout and hang some more treestands in likely ambush spots back in the woods, on ridges and in creek bottoms. Then sit in those stands every day that you can through the middle of November. You’ll see deer on the move, including some bucks you’ve never seen before nor have pictures of.
Hunt all day, or as many hours as you can hack it. The more time you spend in the woods, the more likely the chances of a big-buck encounter. You never know what time of day a shooter will show. It couldn’t hurt to lay a doe-scent trail in to your post each morning or afternoon; a buck moving on a long, linear travel pattern might cut it and come to investigate.