Are You Stuck in a Deer Hunting Rut?

After a lifetime of pursuing whitetails across the country, the biggest problem the author has seen is deer hunters refusing to face up to reality and make changes.

Are You Stuck in a Deer Hunting Rut?

This bowhunter (second from the left) changed gears and tried a new treestand during the 2019 rut in Wisconsin. After spending the first few days of his one-week vacation with almost no action in stands that were hot during previous years, his commitment to trying something different was rewarded with several close encounters. He passed on a couple yearling bucks, then arrowed this fat 4x4 for the freezer.

In my 60-plus years on this earth, I’ve learned a few things, the most poignant of which have been learned in the school of hard knocks. One thing I’ve learned is life is a series of ups and downs. Whether it be personal relationships, a career or your health — no matter what it might be — you will go through good times and bad. Hasn’t it been the same for you?

Most people can’t, or won’t, imagine that things will ever change. But they will. This lack of imagination causes people to make foolish decisions. They get into a rut, and when change comes, they aren’t ready to step outside their comfort zone.

Many deer hunters are that way. They’ve hunted the same property the same way for many years — decades even — and when the hunting begins to degrade, rather than make changes they keep hunting the same place, from the same stands, in the same way they’ve always done it and then make excuses rather than proactively doing something about it.

After a lifetime of pursuing whitetails across the country, the biggest problem I’ve seen is deer hunters refusing to face up to reality and make changes. These changes are obvious to an outsider, but might seem more subtle to them since they have been hunting the same place for many years, and the changes have crept up on them slowly and quietly, like a cat stalking a mouse in an open field.

Time to Move On

A prime example is a ranch I hunted for almost decade in southwestern Kansas. This ranch ran cattle along a cottonwood bottom surrounded by sagebrush-covered foothills. On one end was a sanctuary area owned by the local municipal government, while on the other a large agricultural ranch with limited hunting had all the food and cover the local deer needed to thrive. During the rut, bucks chased does all over this bottomland, and I arrowed some dandies here. Over time, things began to change. The rancher was an outfitter, and he started taking too many hunters and killing too many bucks. His habitat degraded, and when he got into a spat with the neighbors, they erected barriers that blocked easy access for the deer to travel between the two ranches.

Much as I hated to, it was time to move on. A man I met while hunting here has become a good friend and he still hunts the ranch, mainly because it’s comfortable and he gets a screaming deal. But he hasn’t seen many good bucks the past few years (some years none at all), so complaining won’t fix it. I figure if I’ve hunted the same place for three seasons running and have not had an opportunity at a “shooter,” it’s time to move on.

Another common mistake I see often is continually hunting the same stand sites year after year after year, without giving it a second thought. “Where you hunting tomorrow?” is often answered with, “Gonna hunt Grandpa’s stand, the one he killed that monster out of back when Bush No. 1 was president. That’s a great spot in this weather.” But the truth is, it was a great spot that one day way back when, but nobody has seen much there in the past several seasons. So why go back? Things have obviously changed. Perhaps the forested area has matured and the deer don’t hang there like they used to. Maybe a neighbor has recently started planting killer food plots, or maybe even started using corn feeders, and the deer have begun spending most of their time closer to the property line where the neighbors now hunt regularly.

My point is, things change, and to be successful you have to be willing to change, too.

Generally speaking, here are some reasons why once good stand locations become mediocre. The worst is overhunting the same stand, day after day. One reason many guided hunts aren’t great is because the outfitters often rotate different hunters to the same stands over the course of the season. You may think you’re hunting a new spot, but in reality, it’s been compromised long before you ever showed up. There’s scientific data to back this up, showing that mature bucks know when a stand is hunted too much and avoid the area like the plague. Studies have also shown that mature bucks are five times as likely to use a bait site in summer as they are in November. The same is true of food plots. Another study showed that as a stand is hunted more and more, bucks tend to skirt the stand site as they travel through the area.

Also, the environmental conditions may have changed. If a stand site is good when there is corn planted in a nearby field, but this year the crop failed, or they’ve planted something less attractive, maybe the deer have moved on looking for another cornfield. A small natural water source may have dried up. Or this year, all of a sudden, the field is overrun with cattle. Whatever the reason may be, when conditions change, you have to change, too.

Consider the whitetail rut, which depending on where you live, could be in full-swing right now. We dream about this window all year. Don’t waste it by doing the same old thing when the signs all point to trying something different. The same is true for late-season whitetail hunts where food is the primary factor determining deer travel. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “Change is the only constant in life.”

How do you handle changing hunting conditions? Drop me a note at editor@grandviewoutdoors.com and let me know because I’d love to hear about it.  

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