As bowhunter Alan Foster stepped from the house in the predawn darkness to check the direction of the morning’s wind, a sly grin crept across his face. Southeast. Perfect! Al had a special stand that he had been saving for the right time and the right wind. Today, November 14, was it.
If the name Alan Foster sounds familiar, it should. Al wrote numerous articles for North American Whitetail in the late ’80s and early 90s. He had a knack for consistently harvesting mature whitetail bucks during the heat of the rut. I am lucky, in that I worked with Al for twenty years starting in my late teens. I was able to glean a wealth of knowledge from him on a daily basis as I learned the ropes of becoming a trophy whitetail hunter. The one thing that he often burned into my mind was the tremendous advantage that post-season scouting gave to a hunter seeking mature whitetail bucks. During this time of year, the sign from an entire hunting season will be laid out waiting to be absorbed by the open mind of a hungry trophy hunter. It was on one of these late winter forays into the local whitetail haunts that Al came upon the magical stand site that he would hunt from on this morning.
Positioned in a double white oak tree at the head of a gully leading up from the river bottom below, the stand overlooked an area devoid of deer sign. Prominent bedding areas could be found a short distance away in several directions as could multiple feeding locations. Many of the nearby ridge tops served as scrape lines for rutting bucks. Although many of these other spots could lead to a successful hunt on the right day, experience had taught Al that as the rut heated up, he would be better served to move away from the sign and to hunt a travel route favored by rutting bucks as they moved from one doe area to another. The stand Al occupied on this day fit the bill to a T. The gully and river behind his stand served to funnel the traveling deer right in front of his location in a rather narrow travel corridor.
The morning hunt proved to be full of deer activity. Sandwiched between sightings of a handful of younger bucks as well as does and yearlings, a mature buck showed up at around 8 a.m. but kept his distance and eventually moved out of sight. Al knew this was a special animal but all he could do was watch him walk away through binoculars.
The second nice buck of the morning showed around 10 a.m. and bedded with an apparent hot doe only 50-60 yards from Als stand. An hour later the big 8-point stood and followed his lady friend to the west, away from Al and in the same direction the first buck had gone earlier. Al seized the opportunity to sneak out and head home for a quick lunch. An hour later he was back perched in the oak with visions of the morning’s bucks firmly embedded in his mind.
For most of the afternoon, a lone button buck feeding and meandering around his stand entertained Al. More than likely this was the fawn of the doe he had spotted with the 8-point earlier in the day. Eventually, the youngster wandered off and once again Al sat alone to wonder what the last hour of his hunt would offer. His question was soon answered when the sound of deer approaching from the west broke the stillness of the evening. Glancing around one trunk of the oak, Al was greeted by the doe he had seen earlier, but something was different. She had traded boyfriends. The big buck Al had first spotted at 8 o’clock that morning was now in tow. If things went as planned, the doe would lead the buck right in front of the waiting hunter. Those of us who have hunted mature bucks very long know that things seldom go as planned, however. High water in the river had forced Al to take an alternate route to his stand. In doing so he had to cross the trail which passed in front of his post. Being a stickler for scent control, Al had sprayed his boots with fox urine before he crossed the trail. The scent had not escaped the doe. Like a hound trying to unravel a trail, the doe worked the area over as she sought an explanation for the odor. The buck froze only 15 yards from the stand, ready to bound off at any moment. Unable to move, Al glanced at his watch to find he had approximately 30 minutes of shooting light remaining. For an eternity the doe worked within 5 yards of his stand as the buck would occasionally move only his head. Al knew there was only one hope. The doe had to continue on her course past the stand. If the deer turned to retreat in the direction they had come there would be no shot. Likewise, if they veered around the other side of the stand he would have no chance to pivot into a shooting position with the close proximity and alert state of the animals.
Finally, the buck took a single quick bound as if to leave, only to stop and start thrashing a tree with his majestic rack. Apparently, this had a calming effect on the doe as she soon continued on her course past the stand. The buck quickly followed and as he passed at 10 yards Al pulled up the custom recurve and drove a Black Diamond broadhead through his chest. The pair bound off a short distance with the buck piling up within 70 yards. Al sat down to calm his nerves and checked his watch. It had been 20 minutes since the deer had first appeared. For 20 minutes Al had stood like a statue waiting for his chance as the mature buck stood at 15 yards ready to bound out of his life.
As stillness once again came over the woods, another deer approached from the west. The 8point that Al had seen with the doe earlier in the morning was back on the scene. With another buck tag in his pocket, Al watched him pass at point-blank range. He knew the caliber of the buck he had on the ground and there was no need for the 8-point to play second fiddle. He would live another day.
Upon recovery, the buck was all that Al had thought he was. With a field-dressed weight well over 200 pounds, the 12-pointer grossed over 160 Pope & Young inches. It was the third good buck Al had taken from this stand, all during the heat of the rut.
As an interesting side note, Al had circled the date of November 14 on our calendar at work several months prior as he told me this was the date he would kill his buck. When he stepped out to check the wind direction that morning and found it favorable for this stand he had a good feeling about the hunt to come. Then shortly after settling into his stand, he dropped his stocking cap. When he looked down expecting to see it lying on the ground he instead found it caught in the only branch between the stand and the ground. The branch was just below his stand where the cap could easily be retrieved without climbing down. At this point, Al knew it was going to be his day.
It is without question that the rut accounts for more mature whitetail bucks than any other time of the season. A friend of mine sums up the rut this way: “Any tree in the woods can produce a trophy buck during the rut if you are there on the right day”, he says. His thought definitely has merit. Consider that every fall millions of hunters take to the woods as millions of trophy bucks are running wild sowing their oats and it is inevitable that some of those animals are bound to fall.
In spite of the higher activity levels of whitetails during the rut, many hunters have trouble killing good bucks on a consistent basis during this time. I believe a major reason for this is that many hunters are hung up over sign. (Pun intended) That is, they insist on hanging their stands over or near an area that is littered with a lot of deer sign. At some periods of the season, this approach definitely has merit. During the early season when deer are traveling over a smaller area and the late season when deer are concentrated around a food source are two examples.
The rut is totally different game, however, and if you prefer consistently hitting the jackpot to playing a crap game with several million other deer hunters, a change of plans is in order. To ante-up, let’s take a close look at the habits of a mature buck during the period of time when the rut is heating up.
A mature buck has played the rut game before. He knows what is at stake and he knows there are a lot of hunters that would like nothing more than to cash in his chips. Even so, the hormones raging through his veins cause him to actively, yet cautiously, seek to spread his genes. Years of residing in the same area have taught him where the does like to spend their time as well as where most of the local hunters will position themselves throughout his range. Armed with this knowledge, a mature buck will seek romance sometimes even in daylight hours.
The first step for a hunter looking to consistently tag the older bucks in his hunting area is to learn these same two bits of information- where do the does like to bed and where do the local hunters generally like to hunt. The latter will tell you locations the older bucks will be avoiding. The former will tell you where they will eventually show up.
Hunting doe bedding areas may seem the logical answer to consistent trips to the taxidermist, however, such an approach has its drawbacks. To begin, these doe bedding areas will offer advantages to the deer utilizing them. This is exactly why they choose to bed there. They generally can be safely accessed by the deer and also offer them the opportunity to be forewarned of potential dangers. While it may be entirely possible to experience a good hunt or two from such a location, it won’t take long before the area gets burned out and no longer serves as a doe bedding area and thus the destination of rutting bucks.
When Al Foster described the stand location he was hunting at the beginning of this article he told me that it would be next to impossible to discover this location in October or early November. Typical of these areas, it did not receive enough daily deer traffic to make it noticeable. During the postseason when Al found it, the traffic from the previous season had left just enough sign to alert Al to the area’s potential.
As I stated earlier, you should consider local hunting pressure and habits just as a mature buck would. In a sense put yourself in a big bucks’ hooves. You may desperately want to check out the doe hot spot across the way but you don’t dare travel the well-beaten deer path that is often guarded by waiting hunters. You learned that lesson with a close call during the fall when you carried your first rack.
The one thing we all know about mature bucks is their penchant for using their noses to detect danger. A rutting buck may be more active and more visible than at any other time of the year but they are never pushovers. You can count on them to use their nose as much as possible every time they move about. This must be kept in mind at all times when placing a stand, accessing it, and hunting from it. The best stand site in the woods is useless with the wrong wind. If you don’t accept this you best set your deer hunting sights a little lower than on the mature buck. The question becomes one of how we can take advantage of this habit to get a mature buck within range of our chosen weapon.
If you are one of those hunters who have trouble getting the big bucks in close for a shot during the rut, why not try this tactic of hunting travel corridors between doe bedding areas? Forget the big rubs and scrapes that everyone else is obsessed with. Think like a buck.
There is a video on this website under the “Hunting Tips and Tactics” category titled “#1 Location for a Rut Stand”