The GON Rut Map
GON’s Rut Map nails the peak of breeding and chasing by mature bucks across the state. For the rut, the author isn’t worried about hunting high where he can see a long way. He’s hunting tight.
Over the years, I’ve probably read more articles on hunting the rut than any other type of article. Heck, I’ve even written three or four. In almost every one of those articles, it talks about positioning yourself in a stand location where you can see a long way and cover the most ground. I have to tell you, that may not give you the best chance of killing a wall hanger where you are hunting. But before I go into why that may not optimize your chances for success, what exactly is the rut?
WRD’s State Deer Biologist Charlie Killmaster defines the rut as the peak of deer movement throughout the season just prior to breeding when the largest number of does come into heat at the same time. Charlie stated that the span of conception dates ranges from one to two months, and that about 40 percent of the does are bred in a week to a week and a half period. Charlie defines the rut into four stages: 1) Pre-rut, 2) Chasing, 3) Peak breeding, 4) Post-rut.
I have not had much success in hunting the actual active breeding period. In my 30 years of hunting, I think I may have only taken two or three mature bucks that were actively engaged or following a doe. I’ve had plenty of chances on smaller bucks following does, but when it comes to the upper age class of bucks, I rarely see them following a doe. I know a lot of people have killed their biggest bucks following does, but in the areas I hunt in central Georgia, it seems like the does go to the mature bucks, and they hole up in a thicket for a day or two. The bucks just don’t have to do much walking during that period.
When that buck is finished with his visit, he wants to find another doe, and this searching or chasing phase of the rut is where I’ve had my most success. This is when the mature bucks are the most vulnerable.
I have always had the mind set that if a buck walks during the daylight hours, I can kill him. Over the years, this concept hasn’t always proven to be completely accurate. It seems I can have success with 3 1/2- and 4 1/2-year-old bucks, but to kill a 5 1/2-year-old or older buck, I have to hunt the rut. I’m not ashamed to admit it, but I’m not a good enough hunter to consistently kill 5 1/2-year-old or older buck on the properties that I hunt. I don’t know many people who can.
Since 2011, I have been fortunate enough to kill the largest buck on my hunting club for three out of the last five years. That’s not shabby for a bowhunter on a club with mostly gun hunters. Of those three bucks, two of them were taken during the searching phase of the rut, and the other made the mistake of staying out too late and not getting back to his bed until after daylight. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come face to face with a mature buck and had the wind switch directions or have something else go wrong. I know that’s a common theme with hunting, but we bowhunters seem to get an extra dose of reality.
During the last five hunting seasons, I’ve hunted the rut exactly like I’ve hunted during the rest of the year. I have scouted for sign, looked for ambush points along travel routes and hunted close to good food sources. I may focus more on edges and funnels a little more during the rut, but I haven’t changed my tactics and have never really positioned myself where I can “cover some ground.” Almost all of my mature buck encounters have occurred in thickets and tight areas along travel routes, and they almost always involve a rub line.
I’ve only seen two “rut-crazed” bucks over my years of hunting, and these bucks are the ones that can show up anywhere at anytime. Those frothing-mad bucks didn’t seem to care where they were or what they were doing. They just wanted to find more does. But as much as I hunt, I would have liked to have seen more than two rut-crazed bucks. What I have seen a lot more of during the rut is mature bucks in tight spots at pinch points or along natural variances in terrain. The beauty of the rut is that these bucks can show up at any time of the day.
I found one great natural funnel on my hunting club in Laurens County that I love to hunt during the rut, especially in the middle of the day. This location is great for three reasons: 1) I would almost always have deer come by, and they would be in easy bow range. 2) With a north wind, I could hunt the stand repeatedly without spooking many deer. 3) I could park my truck only 30 yards from the stand, and it never affected deer movement. You don’t leave much scent when you only walk 30 yards to your stand. It was in this stand in 2014 when I had a good encounter with a really nice buck.
It was 12:05 p.m., and I had just gotten out a PB&J sandwich for a quick lunch break. I had only taken a couple of bites when I saw white bone bouncing through the brush. I quickly put my sandwich on my quiver that was attached to my climber and grabbed my bow. I didn’t have time to stand, but I did have my release hooked up and was tight on the string as I watched the buck approach in that confident buck trot they often use. I could see the buck had good mass as he stopped broadside at only 10 yards away. This mature buck was very close to the magical 125-inch mark that I was hoping for, but as he stood there, I could see his right side was noticeably bigger than his left side. That asymmetry would cause the buck to score lower than what I was hoping for. The buck gave me plenty of time to draw and shoot, but on that day, I let him pass. He was a fine buck, and I could never have imaged passing on a mature buck of that size, but I did. Had I taken that buck, he very well may have been the biggest buck killed on the entire club that year.
This is just one example of how hunting in a tight space, a natural edge or even a thick funnel can be a great tactic during the rut. Most of the time, the spots I choose to hunt are associated with a rub line, and if I can sit there long enough, I will see multiple bucks. In the location previously mentioned, I would often hunt another area in the morning and move to that spot just to hunt the middle of the day. During the rut, your time in the woods is what is important. Use every minute you can to stay in the woods. Take your lunch and water with you, and don’t use that as an excuse to leave your stand.
I was at work the other day trying to determine when I could take some days off to hunt during the rut and was talking with coworker West Wells, of Pineview. Since we both can’t take off at the same time, I wanted to coordinate with him to make sure we got our shifts covered. West wanted to hunt late November because those days are the best days when the mature bucks are on the move on his hunting properties. This worked out great for me since I like to hunt in early November.
According to GON’s rut map on page 17, West and I are dialed in and ready. West likes to cover some ground when hunting during the rut. Although this isn’t my preferred rut strategy, it does work very well for West. He’s killed his fair share of mature bucks over the years.
He feels confident that he can stretch his .300 Weatherby Magnum out to 400 yards and tries to hunt in areas where he can see that far. With an adequate food source and all things being equal, he told me that he would rather hunt a cotton field rather than a peanut field during the rut.
On the multiple tracts of land that West hunts in Pulaski and Wilcox counties, he says the deer feel more confident walking across a cotton field rather than a peanut field when moving from one block of timber to another. West also loves to hunt in the middle of the day during the rut and especially during a full moon. He told me something that I cannot agree with more.
“I hope to be able to put in enough time on the deer stand to get lucky,” said West.
You know the old saying, “I’d much rather be lucky than good.” Being lucky implies good things have happened, and when hunting during the rut, I’ll take success over being good any day of the week. The proof is in the pudding, or in this case, on the wall.
Whether hunting up close and personal or from a good distance away, the key to hunting the rut is staying in the woods. We all love to fellowship with friends, but during the rut, put in the extra time on stand and spend more time in the woods. There will be time for fellowshipping with friends when you are taking pictures holding up a rack in the back of the truck.
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