Rut Tactics That Produce Bucks
Stories and strategies from last year's Truck-Buck entrants
From drag rags and rattling antlers to stand placement and climbing high, there are a myriad of strategies when it comes to hunting the rut. Who should you listen to? If it were me, I’d be real curious how the guys who killed good ones last year put their heavy-racked, rut-crazed bucks in the dirt.
This month, in recognition of the rut, we interviewed six 2009 Truck-Buck entrants. All of them killed mature bucks on dates that matched up with the peak of the rut, according to GON’s Rut Map (October issue). All six hunters shared factors they felt attributed to them killing their bucks.
Colquitt Co.: While Chester Stanaland, of Meigs, was watching a 4-acre sorghum patch on Nov. 22, a doe ran out with a buck behind her.
“He was skint back, and she was, too,” said Chester.
The doe was headed for a thick briar patch and a shot just wasn’t looking possible. Fortunately, Chester said a male fox had urinated in the plot about 30 minutes before the deer arrived on the scene.
“When that doe got to that spot, she slammed on brakes,” said Chester. “When he stopped, he was right beside her on the opposite side. No shot. He’s nudging her, licking her on the back of the head around the ears. He took a step up on the grain-sorghum row, and that mound gave me an extra 6 to 7 inches. I was able to put the bullet in his neck.”
Chester’s Week 11 South buck netted 144 1/8 inches. Chester said having a fresh stand to hunt during the rut led to the buck’s demise.
“We don’t spend a lot of time on the same stand. We’re trying to keep scent out,” said Chester. “I have one stand back on the river that’s on a 90-acre thicket. I won’t hunt that stand until November. I stay out of that area, because six of the ones hanging on my wall have come off that one stand. They can sense you’re there.”
Chester says he’ll often hunt a different stand in the morning than he does the afternoon. Some of his stands are on food plots, but he likes hunting in pines on trails leading to a food source. Wherever he hunts, he’s cautious about scent control.
“I use Scent-A-Way. I wash my clothes with it, and I spray my feet and britches down,” said Chester.
“And that buck can smell your hat quicker than anything else. That’s where you sweat the most. I don’t wear my hat more than once or twice. I keep two or three hats around, and I try to keep them washed.”
Chester likes wide-open spaces during the rut, simply because bucks are often running. Chester wants as much room for a shot opportunity as possible. Along with being scent free, he’s quiet about getting to his stands.
“I always try to keep my trails where I’m walking clean so I’m not brushing up against anything, especially if you think the deer are going to use that same trail. I also like to have it where if the does are in there, I can slip out at dark, and they’ll never know I’m there.”
Chester will do some rattling during the rut and says his best response has been on cold, frosty mornings.
Coweta Co.: Jonathan Merrell, of Newnan, has had access to 50 acres of family land for six years. The land is mostly 20-year-old pines bordered by an oak ridge on one side and a thick clearcut on the other.
“There was a real big trail running parallel with that clearcut. I guess they felt safe there,” said Jonathan. “There were some big rubs and scrapes as big as the hood of your truck. I said, ‘This is a big deer. There’s no way this is a 120-class 8-pointer.’ Two weeks before I shot the deer, I got a picture of him.”
Jonathan leaves three cameras out throughout the season to see what kind of bucks are using the property. Obviously, when he discovered the picture of his buck, he was stoked.
“After that it was on. I was in the woods every chance I got,” said Jonathan.
Jonathan was in a climber 30 yards off the clearcut and 250 yards from the oak ridge on the morning of Nov. 15.
“He came down the trail about 8:15,” said Jonathan. “He had to have been looking for does because he was in a trot… cruising. I whistled, he stopped, and I laid it down on him.”
Jonathan’s Week 10 North buck scored 142 2/8. With acorns on one side of the land and the clearcut on the other, Jonathan’s small tract sets up as a classic travel corridor.
“It’s just basically pines. All you really see is does in the early season, but once the rut kicks in, deer start to move back and forth,” said Jonathan. “They will come all kinds of ways. They’ll come out of the clearcut and circle around. They’ll come from behind me and go into the clearcut. They’re going every which way.”
As is the case with any travel route during the rut, Jonathan said he’s got to be at the right place at the right time. He does, however, try to slow the bucks down just a touch as they cruise or chase does between the food and bedding areas.
“I had a little small food plot in a small natural clearing in the woods. It’s maybe 30 (yards) by 30,” said Jonathan. “I don’t have the equipment, so I’ll just get out there with my 4-wheeler and cut it up — maybe cut a donut or two — just to soften the soil. I’ll throw that Throw & Gro out and get a hard rake and just rake it back over.”
Jonathan said he buys the Throw & Gro at Wal-Mart. His green plot does attract deer and will have them feeding for a minute or two before continuing along their travel route.
Dooly Co.: John Clements, of Fitzgerald, had been saving his rejection notices to hunt Flint River WMA. After being selected in 2009, his patience was rewarded with a magical morning on public land. On the morning of Nov. 21, John saw 15 deer from the stand. Eight of those deer were bucks, and seven of them were shooters.
“Thirty minutes before (I killed him) I heard grunting over and over again. I’ve never heard a deer grunt that many times,” said John.
“It was about 8 o’clock, and I had just stood up and turned around, and I saw a doe. That 10-pointer was just standing there 10 yards behind her.”
John’s buck, which netted 127 3/8 inches, won the 2009 Public-Land Wild-Card South
“What I look for in the rut is a place I can see,” said John.
He was certainly happy with his spot at Flint River WMA.
“I was sitting on the edge of the perfect kind of clearcut,” said John. “It was just broomsedge growing up, and it wasn’t thick with briars where you couldn’t see anything out there. I could see literally 300 yards across the clearcut.”
Behind the stand, John could see 100 yards down a hill to the edge of a swamp bottom full of acorns. He could also see 200 yards down a woods road.
“I was in some big pines,” said John. “I hunt out of a Tree Lounge, and I could barely get it on that tree.”
John’s comfortable Tree Lounge helps him sit longer, an important key to seeing a good buck in the rut.
“A lot of people don’t like Tree Lounges because they’re a pain to climb,” said John. “They’re heavy, but once I get set up in there… I’m just comfortable. The more comfortable you are, the longer you can sit, and the more chance you have at killing a deer.”
John hunts most all day during the rut, and he likes to get high. He was 50 feet up when he took his buck.
“Plus, it was just the magical time. I was finally there, off work hunting during the perfect time,” said John.
Evans Co.: Robbie Jernigan’s 160 5/8-inch non-typical buck was in full-blown rut when he killed it. Robbie, of Claxton, was hunting an open cypress bottom on a little creek run. Robbie said the area traditionally funnels deer from their bedding thickets to a soybean field across a highway.
“I hadn’t been back there in almost two weeks. I let it cool off (before the rut got going),” said Robbie. “It’s more important to let a stand cool off in the pre-rut than it is during the week or two of the rut. I had the opportunity to let that place rest (in the pre-rut).”
Robbie takes the first two weeks of November off and pegs his favorite days from Nov. 6-15. At that time, he’s hunting his best rut stands very hard.
“I grunted and rattled before I saw him,” said Robbie.
Robbie’s rattling antlers are from a 125-inch 8-pointer. He cut off the brow tines, and he rattles very loudly and aggressively with them during the rut.
“I wasn’t there 20 minutes, and I saw some does working their way to me down the creek,” said Robbie. “These were all mature does.”
About that time Robbie heard a grunt 75 to 100 yards away.
“The five does came through there like they didn’t care where they were at. They were having a good ol time going toward the highway toward the soybean field,” said Robbie. “They worked past me, and I kept looking for the buck. He followed the thickest part of the branch he could.
“He knew exactly how to step through all that stuff. He had a little different path that was thicker. He still had the does under control. Every once in a while you’d hear him grunt. He was keeping up with them, but that’s exactly what got him killed.”
The buck placed No. 5 in Week 9 South. Robbie credits his success to his knowledge of the property. This natural funnel commonly led these deer from their bedroom to the soybeans and has always been a good place for a buck.
“It didn’t happen the first few years. It took years to get the locations picked out,” said Robbie.
His knowledge of the property is what keeps him out of the woods until the time is right.
“I know the areas, and I don’t have to do much pre-scouting. If you have to go in to do some scouting, get in and get out,” said Robbie.
Once you scout, Robbie recommends staying out until the rut is about to get started.
“Just wait for that period and the bucks that are worth killing are going to let their guard down that week. That’s what that big buck did last year,” said Robbie.
If you saw a good buck in a spot last year, you may want to stay out until the time is right.
Lumpkin Co.: Jackie Funderburk, of Dahlonega, pulled the trigger on his Week 11 Truck-Buck last year and had no clue it was as big as it was.
“I was hunting a ridge, and he came around the side of the hill about 7:30 (a.m.),” said Jackie. “He was coming up an open hollow by himself.”
Jackie was sitting in a climber on a ridge top where he’d spent plenty of mornings hunting.
“I have been hunting that land so long I know where everything is at over there, where the bucks use every year,” said Jackie. “We usually kill an 8-pointer off that ridge every year. That was just an open hardwood hollow he come up through, and I was sitting up there on the ridge top in open woods.”
Jackie believes the buck was heading to bed down in a laurel thicket 100 yards from his stand.
“He was going away from me, and I missed the first shot,” said Jackie. “Then he turned and came toward me. I reckon he thought I was out in front of him.”
The second shot connected.
“I sat in the tree another hour and a half after I shot him,” said Jackie. I said, ‘Well I killed a pretty good one.’ That boy of mine came over there and said, ‘That’s a 140.’ He went 140 before he dried out.”
The buck netted 135 1/8 inches at the Truck-Buck scoring event and finished fourth in Week 11 North. Jackie said he’s planning to get another buck entered this year.
“I like to hunt where I can see a couple of hundred yards but still be around a thicket,” said Jackie. “Usually when they’re chasing, they’re coming out of one thicket going to another or going from one hollow to another one. You can catch them when you can see.”
Jackie has had good luck using a drag rag soaked in Tink’s doe-in-heat liquid.
“Take a rag and drag it behind you. I like to tie a string to my belt,” Jackie said. “I’ve had them come up there smelling of it. I’ve had them tracking me down, you know.”
Taliaferro Co.: Jeff Phillips, of Cumming, has killed his share of Truck-Bucks over the years. In fact, he killed two last year from the same spot.
“I’ve hunted that location since 1983, and there’s been some other big deer killed right there,” said Jeff. “It’s a travel corridor where a little creek bottom meets a big creek bottom. There’s a ridge that comes down and peters out against the creek, so it’s a funnel. There’s thicket all along one side and swamp behind you. All out in front of me is an acorn flat.”
Situated in a ground blind, Jeff watched a doe run through the funnel and into the open hardwoods on the morning of Nov. 3.
“It took about 10 minutes, and the buck came out on the same trail she was on. He was picking up acorns,” said Jeff. “He would not commit to coming out of the thick stuff. I had him in and out of thick stuff for 10 minutes. Once I determined he was a shooter, it still took him three minutes to expose his shoulder. He was not going to come out in the opening. He finally stepped into a spot where I could see his front half, and he was about 110 yards out, and I dropped him.”
Jeff’s first 2009 Truck-Buck netted 138 1/8 inches. Buck No. 2, which netted 119 3/8, was taken on Nov. 14.
“I hadn’t used any scent other than vanilla in several years, and on a lark I bought a bottle of Golden Estrus,” said Jeff. “I put out a drag rag and drug it down there and hung it about 60 yards in front of the stand.”
Fifteen minutes after first light the hunt got interesting as a doe came running into the funnel.
“I heard the buck running. He growled. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard a buck roar,” said Jeff. “He was right on that trail, and he walked up and stuck his nose on that Golden Estrus rag. He stopped and stood there with his nose against the drag rag and licked it. There’s no question. I’ll be using it this year.”
After it walked into bow range, Jeff took the nice buck. Jeff’s no stranger to killing big bucks. His best from the tract is a 173-inch non-typical killed in 2007.
“Donald Thompson, my mentor, said to hunt the travel corridors and find a place where you can cut some ground, where you have a decent open area where you can make a shot,” said Jeff. “There’s got to be thick around. Watch a buck when he’s chasing a doe, and he’ll herd her to an opening.
“Outside of the rut I’m usually in thick, thick, thick stuff, but when the rut comes in I find a place I can cut some ground. How many times have you been in a thicket and had a buck chasing a doe and you can’t get a shot?”
Enter Truck-Buck: If you kill a good buck, enter it in Truck-Buck. Take the time to write a good story, sharing why you were succesful. Your hunt strategies might be printed in GON one day.
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