Stack the Deck for Pre-Rut Whitetails

5 proven pre-rut tactics for winning the whitetails game this October.

Stack the Deck for Pre-Rut Whitetails

The author uncovered a pattern on this buck in the pre-rut and stuck with it to finally get a shot as the deer investigated a misting of Golden Estrus placed in a shooting lane.

For decades I focused, strategized and set aside time for November bowhunting. The rut was the Holy Grail of all hunting for me. Whether after high school or college classes (and sometimes I skipped a few), I spent every available hour in the November whitetail woods, and fields.  In my teens, I even threatened to skip a family trip to Hawaii because my thoughtless parents scheduled it during the November rut. The atrocity of it all! Looking back, I’m glad I went on the trip. It’s the only time I’ve been to the Pacific paradise, and I’m more convinced than ever that October has extra benefits over the wild November rut ride.

There are a handful of obvious reasons to backtrack into the last half of October for a bowhunt. One reason, particularly for the northern bowhunting crowd: weather. Typically, in early November, the weather can go from fall-like to a full-on winter overnight. Wouldn’t you rather sit in a treestand in 50-degree temps as opposed to 25 with wind-chills in the single digits being pelted by snow?

Reason two: fewer hunters out and about also mean bucks may be a bit less cautious. In prime whitetail country, it’s not surprising to drive down a county road in November and see trucks parked at every farm pull off with a nearby patch of woods. With 100-acre properties dotting farmland, the odds of a November whitetail running into another bowhunter is as likely as you running into a cousin at a family reunion.

Do you need more reasons to consider changing your hunting vacation days at the last minute? By the time you finish reading the following, you could already be on your way to the human resource office at your employer to change your November leave to October.

 

Nocturnal No More

The main reason to consider bowhunting during October, specifically the last half of the month, is a hormone issue. Bucks suddenly have a torment of testosterone, and it peaks in late October. This surge could be based on photoperiod or shortening length of daylight hours, but researchers also believe it is a circadian rhythm. However, the spigot is turned on, and it leads to bucks being ready for action at least two or more weeks before does want anything to do with these chemically unbalanced suitors. With urges spiking and unwilling participants, bucks are edgier, and it leads to more travel. For you, it equals more meeting opportunities during shooting light.

How much more time will you have to target a testosterone-peaked whitetail buck is based on many variables. Hunting pressure, deer density, age of the deer and its own personality all come into play. Most deer movement revolves around dawn and dusk, but rest assured that, in most instances, bucks begin adding several minutes a day to their extended daylight travels in mid-October. They dawdle more at food sources as they pound calories and pester doe groups. They tally extra minutes freshening scrapes and rubbing on trees. These and other curiosity time consumers add to more shooting-light opportunities. Although early October can be hit and miss on bucks as they transition from summer to fall, once the testosterone flows, trail cameras will begin recording an uptick during the last half of the month.

Pre-rut bucks are trying to burn off extra energy and sexual buildup through any means possible. Rubbing helps them blow off steam as they experience a 50 percent increase in neck size during the pre-rut.
Pre-rut bucks are trying to burn off extra energy and sexual buildup through any means possible. Rubbing helps them blow off steam as they experience a 50 percent increase in neck size during the pre-rut.

Homeboy Ties

Despite the testosterone cocktail mounting more intoxicating behavior, whitetail bucks still stick relatively close to home. Geographic areas and personalities come into play again on whether your buck will be a “homey.” Still, most of the research shows that in the October pre-rut atmosphere, most bucks expend extra energy near home.

One Maryland study, noted in the book “Whitetail Advantage,” reveals that up until mid-October, only 13% of bucks move from their home range. That begins to uptick into the first week of November, with 40% possibly taking a leave of absence. But during the peak breeding weeks of November, the number spikes to nearly 60% that make an exodus from the homeland.

The crucial factor in this dispersion is estrus. In the pre-rut, bucks realize does are still not ready for breeding, so they monitor what’s in their home range. When that first doe comes into heat, you generally see it with clusters of bucks chasing that single, good-smelling doe. Soon after, buck personalities can change some deer into nomadic wanderers, occasional drifters or some simply keep their “momma-boy” status and stay at home. When there are only two to three weeks of breeding opportunity per year, and each doe is available only a day or two for breeding, it compels bucks to travel.

 

Food Groupies

Fine restaurants and good food attract you, and high-quality nutrition attracts whitetails in a similar manner. September/October is likely the peak of buffet season for whitetails. Fall food plots such as brassicas are maturing, agricultural crops are in the last stage before harvest, and a variety of browse still exists before killing frosts repeat daily.

Hunting a property annually gives you insight on where deer will congregate for a fall meal, and a conversation with a local farmer will point you in the right direction if it’s your first time on a farm. Regardless, you must determine trending food to locate these food groupies. Doe groups will focus on a particular food source, and bucks are sure to follow. Why? That’s outlined above. They are driven by testosterone to find the first doe coming into estrus, and food sources gather vast amounts of whitetail does for a mass inspection in minimal time. It’s no different than your search for the opposite sex. Would you go to a bar or club setting to search, or hang out at the library? Bucks go to the club setting.

There’s also another important reason nutrition sources should be on your watch list. Bucks are spending their last minutes before the rut overindulging. They know what’s ahead. They sense the looming marathon breeding season. Their pre-pre-rut goal is to add a minimum of 20% of extra body weight. Some research suggests the optimum binging result is to add 25% to be in top breeding shape. They must add at least that amount since it’s the amount they’ll burn off rutting.

The main reason to consider bowhunting October, specifically the last half of the month, is a hormone issue. Bucks suddenly have a torment of testosterone and it peaks in late October with increased movement.
The main reason to consider bowhunting October, specifically the last half of the month, is a hormone issue. Bucks suddenly have a torment of testosterone and it peaks in late October with increased movement.

X Marks the Spot

Sometimes food observation may not be as evident as checking trail cameras on the edge of your fall plot. Your hunting area may be characterized more by browse and mast than crops. You can still zero in on deer with trail camera help, but firsthand observations tend to reveal some of the best intelligence at this point in the fall. Look for rubs and scrapes.

Depending on the deer density in the area, you may be overwhelmed with these two types of deer sign. The reason again leads back to a tank full of testosterone. Bucks are trying to burn off extra energy, and sexual buildup through any means possible. Rubbing particularly helps them blow off steam as they experience a 50% increase in neck size. Bucks begin rubbing to remove velvet in September but continue through the fall with activity ramping up as testosterone increases. The same is true of scrapes. They lay down scrapes to establish territorial markers, document visitation and for does to advertise, among other unknown factors.

According to National Deer Association information in their annual report, mature bucks scratch out 85% more scrapes and 50% more rubs than their yearling brethren. It’s this cluster and pattern that you should be more focused on than a single scrape or rub.  It can be a game of chance to sit by a scrape (more than 80 percent are visited at night) and even more of an odds long shot to sit by a rub, but don’t ignore them as they show travel routes.

Use your hunting app, such has HuntStand, and you can plot these patterns, look down from above via satellite images, and possibly link travel corridors between bedding and feeding locations. A favorite stand of mine in the Flint Hills of Kansas sits between a steep ridge and a brushy waterway that leads to a food plot. Along the edge, between the two geography transition zones, are dozens of rubs and scrapes, fresh and old, indicating a distinct pattern of travel over the decades.

 

Call Me Sometime

Hunting along trails decorated with freshly pawed scrapes and shimmering, new rubs hedges your bet on meeting up with a pre-rut whitetail. Even if a buck doesn’t point his nose in your direction, you can now call him into shooting range. This period opens the highest success to call deer. The restlessness and searching intensity sparks deer to investigate the sounds of fellow deer. Grunts, aggressive and tending, bleats and the sound of clashing antlers have the potential to lure deer into range as they seek out their first tryst. Calls frequently get ignored during the peak of breeding by bucks busy chasing does or intensely hunting for the next lady friend. How many times have you called to a buck trotting through dried leaves in November only to have him not hear your calls due to the racket created by his hasty travel?

Calls combined with decoys create a deadly pre-rut ambush combo. Cruising bucks expect to see a deer when they reroute to investigate sounds of the season during the pre-rut.
Calls combined with decoys create a deadly pre-rut ambush combo. Cruising bucks expect to see a deer when they reroute to investigate sounds of the season during the pre-rut.

Calls, combined with decoys, create a deadly pre-rut ambush as bucks expect to see a deer when they reroute to investigate sounds of the season. Immature buck decoys have traditionally been used the most as bucks project dominance in their home range. Remember to study the evolutionary meet-and-greet behavior of rutting bucks. They always pass each other in a parallel fashion to display their stature with raised body hair. Set up your decoy in a broadside fashion for the best shot angle.

Increasing in popularity is the use of doe decoys equipped with tail wagers. These seductive beauties stand as if they are ready for breeding and project possible willingness with the occasional flick of their tail. Bucks tend to approach from downwind and from the rear, so set your seductress up accordingly. Adding a scent wick of high-quality doe estrus to the site adds another sensory certainty for realism.

Hunting season tends to be a blur for me. However, my buddy, Greg, assured me an all-night drive to Kansas was warranted to take advantage of a pre-rut pattern he witnessed with a hit-list buck. Four days later, I was grinning like a kid at a pizza party over the targeted buck. The buck’s pattern stayed consistent, and when he stopped at a community scrape, I had pre-ranged with my Sig Sauer BDX rangefinder, he paused a moment too long. When my hunting schedule allows, I always try to take advantage of dependable aspects of the October pre-rut.

  

Sidebar: Make the Woods Smell Better

The pre-rut is the kickoff to using scents to attract and stop bucks for close-range shots. As additional restrictions follow the spread of chronic wasting disease, you may run into states or provinces that do not allow you to use real deer urine in your pre-rut, scent ambush. Don’t toss out that strategy yet as scent manufacturers have already been fine-tuning synthetic scents for matched performance with the real deal. In fact, testing by companies such as Wildlife Research Center, show that artificial scents often outperform the real deal. Attraction qualities can be higher, and best of all, the scent doesn’t break down as quickly as the real stuff.

Most bowhunters disperse scents via wicks or drippers. Having either over a mock or real scrape makes sense to keep an area artificially advertised as a hotspot to continue attracting bucks. It also pays to keep extra wicks in your hunting pack for impromptu scent stopping points when the winds may call for deer to change travel directions away from your scrape. Scents trapped in a pressurized canister also provide impromptu dispersion. I rarely climb into a stand without misting scent on nose-level vegetation in shooting lanes. It works to make a buck hit the brakes and point its eyes away from my motion to draw a bow. And if you use a decoy, it only adds another element of reality to the ruse. Learn more about Wildlife Research Center scents at www.wildlife.com.

 

Sidebar: One Call to Do It All

Do you already feel like a circus clown when it comes to how much whitetail gear you juggle? Minimize some of that with a combo call during a pre-rut bowhunt. An all-in-one call should include the most essential conversation makers like grunts, doe bleats and fawn bawls. A good example is the Rocky Mountain Hunting Calls (RMHC) Dialect Deer Grunt. In addition to realistic grunts, the call can change sounds by using one finger to slide the tone selector to the appropriate setting to recreate your intended conversation starter. An extendable sound modulation tube gives you additional flexibility in making aggressive, timid, mature or young deer calls.

An all-in-one call should include the most important conversation makers like grunts, doe bleats and fawn bawls. A good example is the Rocky Mountain Hunting Calls Dialect Deer Grunt.
An all-in-one call should include the most important conversation makers like grunts, doe bleats and fawn bawls. A good example is the Rocky Mountain Hunting Calls Dialect Deer Grunt.

I usually rely on shed antlers for rattling (ones that aren’t chalky white), but let’s be honest again: that backpack is brimming. Consider a more compact rattling system like the Deer Rattle Cage from RMHC. It’s square shape slides into your pack way easier than tined antlers. It’s easy to operate and sends a realistic message of bucks rumbling in the forest without fear of mashing an antler into your hand. Learn more about Rocky Mountain Hunting Calls at www.buglingbull.com.

Photos by Mark Kayser

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.


Discussion

Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.