Hunting The Georgia Deer Rut
Here’s how 250 bucks were killed during the rut.
How do you kill a mature buck during the peak of the rut?
Techniques and theories for hunting the rut abound. Hunt all day because bucks are on the move, hunt high in a place you can see a long distance, hunt where the does are feeding because they’ll attract a buck. Those techniques might work; however, this year we wanted to take a look at hunting the rut from a different perspective.
Instead of predicting how hunters should hunt during the rut, we looked at how successful hunters were hunting, those who killed a mature buck during the rut last year.
Two valuable resources available only to GON readers have been dissected and then melded together to help answer the all-important riddle of how to kill a mature a buck during the peak of the rut.
The first resource is GON’s Rut Map, which appeared in last month’s issue. This map is based on years of scientific and anecdotal evidence of when bucks breed does, and it demonstrates how varied the timing of the rut can be in our diverse state.
Using the rut map as a guide, we then looked through the entry forms from last year’s Truck-Buck contest and found 250 mature bucks that were taken when, according to the map, the peak of the rut was occurring in a county.
Then we began to crunch the numbers from those 250 Truck-Buck entry forms. Each entry form is loaded with information. The hunters tell us about weather conditions when the buck was killed—wind, temperature, and whether it was clear, cloudy, foggy or raining. We also find out what type of habitat the hunter was set up in, and if scents or lures were being used. Another interesting bit of information from the entry forms is what we call buck behavior—was the buck actually chasing a doe, did the hunter witness a buck fight or a buck making a rub or scrape, were there rubs or scrapes in the area?
All of these tidbits of information from hunters who killed mature bucks during the peak of the rut last season are all pieces of the puzzle. When we look at them as a whole, they give us a picture of what actually worked last season for hunters who were successful during the peak of the rut.
Was the Buck Sighted Previously?
Hunting is not immune to an American trait of folks striving for efficiency and success. Hunters are constantly looking for an edge. Through scouting—like glassing fields or food plots during the preseason—or spy cameras that make it difficult for bucks on some tracts to take a step without getting their picture made, hunters have found an edge of knowing that a particular buck is out there before the hunting actually begins.
On the Truck-Buck entry form we ask if the hunters had seen the buck before. Interestingly, the results paint a picture different than the one we expected.
Despite all the scouting and the technology of cameras, a huge majority of mature bucks killed during the rut last season (82 percent) had never been seen before the hunt when the buck appeared and was shot.
Talk about a reason for optimism!
This result seems to back up the theory that during the rut a mature buck—even one you never knew was on the property—could appear.
Habitat Where Mature Bucks Were Taken During the Rut
Before we crunched the numbers, my money was on food plots, which now seem to show up time after time during the rut as the habitat where mature bucks are taken. But according to Truck-Buck entries from the rut last season, food plots ranked only third among productive habitats.
The habitat that produced more mature bucks during the rut last season than any other was pine/hardwood mixed forests. Second was bottomland hardwoods.
Interestingly, one theory about the rut often mentioned is to hunt where you can see long distances, but clearcuts and agricultural fields placed near the bottom as the least productive among the seven habitat choices. Also surprising is that upland hardwoods placed last. It would seem that hardwood ridges with acorns dropping in November would be a good place to find does, which would then attract the attention of a mature buck.
Time of Day
Hunters—or maybe it’s the mature bucks—are not taking the advice of the hunting experts that recommend hunting all day during the rut.
Of the 250 bucks entered in Truck-Buck last season that were killed during the peak of the rut, 194 (78 percent) were shot during either the first two or the last two hours of daylight. I’d guess that this has as much to do with when hunters like to sit in a stand as it does buck movement during the rut, but we can’t be sure. Of the 250 Truck-Buck entries killed during the rut peak last season, only four were taken between the hours of 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
This category includes buck sign that was in the area where a buck was killed, and also what a buck was observed doing during the hunt when it was killed. A telling number from this chart is how many bucks were actually chasing a doe when they were shot — 103 out of the 250 bucks killed during the peak of the rut (41 percent) were chasing. Since it’s the peak of the rut, some might think that number should actually be higher, but to me, when I consider how rare it is to actually see a mature buck chasing, it’s a very high number that points to how powerfully effective it can be to hunt during the rut peak.
Also noteworthy was that there was buck sign in the area for a significant number of the hunters—53 percent said there were rubs in the area, and 46 percent said there were scrapes nearby.
Only 13 hunters saw a buck making a rub during the hunt when they killed a mature buck, only nine saw a buck making a scrape, and only seven witnessed a buck fight. This appears to back up the theory that those are more pre-rut behaviors, and that during the actual peak a mature buck is more interested in chasing a doe.
Attractants Used During the Rut
It seems like many outdoorsmen these days love their deer-hunting gadgets. Based on the Truck-Buck entries from last-season’s rut, the grunt call was used successfully more than any other scent or call.
Grunt calls were used by 31 percent of the successful Truck-Buck hunters who killed a buck during the rut last season. Next on the list with 25 percent were bottled scents, like doe-in-heat or dominant-buck scents. Cover scents were just behind with 23 percent of the hunters using some type of cover scent during the hunt that produced a mature buck.
Toward the bottom of the list were rattling horns at just 9 percent. Tarsal glands and deer decoys were used by just 2 percent of the successful hunters.
Wondering which weather forecast to be looking for if you want to kill a mature buck during the peak of rut?
According to last season’s successful hunters, you just need to pick a clear, still, comfortable day, and that’s your ticket. Or maybe that’s just the type of weather deer hunters prefer!
Of the 250 bucks killed during the rut last season, 197 (56 percent) were killed on days with clear weather conditions. Thirty-seven (15 percent) were killed when it was overcast. That leaves only a combined 16 bucks (6 percent) that were killed when it was foggy, misting or during rain showers. Not a single buck was killed during a downpour.
Less wind equaled better results. Ninety-two percent of the bucks (230 out of 250) were killed when the wind was still or slight, which left only 13 bucks taken during moderate wind conditions and only seven bucks killed when the wind was described as strong. Moderate and average temperatures predominated last November, so it’s no surprise that most of the bucks were killed when temperatures were in the 40s, 50s, or 60s.
There’s a look at what actually worked for deer hunters in Georgia last season during the peak of rut. Truck-Buck entries are again filling our mailbox. That means soon we’ll have more data to look at on how Georgia bucks are killed.
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