Humans are creatures of habit, and “habit” is another way to say “rut.” Consistency might serve you well in your family life or work life, but it can be a big disadvantage in the deer woods. In other words, the rut is a good thing for bucks, but getting into a rut is a bad thing for the hunter.
Dad gave me this bit of wisdom, “Killing a buck is a matter of being in the right place at the right time.” He was right, and we’ve all heard that. Unfortunately, I learned a wrong lesson from it. Once I killed my first buck, I figured I had the right place. And I thought the right time would take care of itself. The secret was to get to the right place, and stay there until a buck shows up.
That kind of thinking led me straight into a rut, a rut that was reinforced the year Dad and his three hunting sons all shot bucks before noon. I had found the right place, and decided the right time was the morning of opening day. Boy, was I wrong!
It took me a while to learn “right place, right time” is not so simple. The right place will change from year to year. And the right time could be any time, not just opening morning. That’s why the most successful hunting is an annual learning curve that ends not when the hunter kills a buck, but when he finally gives up the pursuit.
Sometimes change is subtle, sometimes it’s dramatic, but change is always constant. Big changes might include new roads cut into the property, timber harvests, or land ownership. Sometimes big changes on an adjacent property might subtly affect the property you’re hunting.
Do you have that perfect place that has worked year after year? That certain tree where you’ll fire the shot that leads to putting your tag on a buck? Think about this. That buck will walk by a thousand trees before he gets to you. Almost any of those trees could be the right place. The question you must answer is this—Why will he walk by any given tree? And is there a better place to “de-vitalize” him? Occasionally, the right place and right time are serendipitous—something expected happens. But usually, the right place and the right time come together when the hunter considers food sources, hunting pressure, weather, and many other factors.
Are deer feeding on acorns, or browsing on twigs and dead leaves? If acorns are abundant, they’ll probably be feeding near bedding areas, so where are those bedding areas? What’s the temperature? Is a cold wind blowing? If it’s unseasonably cold, the deer may be on the sunny side of the hill, or hunkered down where the wind doesn’t reach them, or hiding in a secluded place out of the wind. Is there a lot of hunting pressure? If so, they’ll minimize movement until they’re pushed by choosing food sources next to cover.
Will a buck’s path be an escape route? Many years ago, hunting escape routes was often the reason we were successful, but that strategy is less productive now. These days, deer don’t necessarily move in the first hour of the season like they once did when lots of hunters were in the woods, bumping them off their natural patterns. With fewer hunters, deer tend to move in more natural, less hurried ways. Your challenge is to learn where they’re apt to move, and why?
Will his path be a route between a feeding and a bedding area? If so, you need to discover where he’s bedding and where he eats.
Will his path be a route he uses to scent-check for those last few does in estrus? If so, you need to know where the girls are bedding and feeding.
Will bucks be recovering from near-total exhaustion after the rut? If they’re bedding much and moving little, you could stay on a stand for days and never see a deer. Are conditions good for still-hunting? What route will you choose to take advantage of the wind and the terrain? Can you intersect travel corridors deer use?
If you’re in a rut, thinking about these things will get you out, and into shooting range of a buck, this year and almost every year.
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He is a field contributor to Deer and Deer Hunting magazine, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.