Full Draw | Rule the Rut

Full Draw columnist Tom Nelson, host of Cabela's American Archer on the Outdoor Channel, offers advice on how to take advantage of the rut by using "rut stands." This article appears in the Fall 2016 edition of Michigan Out-of-Doors: subscribe by becoming a member of Michigan United Conservation Clubs today!

By Tom Nelson

TO THIS POINT, this afternoon’s bow hunt had been fun, to say the least. With the sun just beginning to disappear in the western sky, I had so far observed 3 different bucks and several does. This early November action had me rotating my head left, right and behind me, scanning my surroundings for the next whitetail that might appear. I was sitting in a ladder stand some 18 foot up a now leafless walnut tree that was situated in a brushy fence line. I felt somewhat exposed but so far none of the passing whitetails had spotted me, partly because each buck I had witnessed was pushing a doe or trailing the same. 

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This was my first time sitting in this particular ladder stand. It had been erected into place just prior to Labor Day weekend. I had spent the time to trim shooting lanes at the same time thus prepping this stand well in advance of bow season. With shooting light waning, I was beginning to think that the action was over for this stand inaugural hunt. 

Glancing to my right, I caught sight of white antlers coming over a rise in the hay field not 60 yards away. The rolling terrain had hidden the buck’s approach. 

Without taking my eyes off the approaching deer, I attached my release to my bowstring. Unlike the previous bucks I had seen this evening, this guy was by himself and walking down the fence line with a purpose. 

As he neared I drew my bow as he went under a few sparse branches. I held my breath hopeful he would not spot me drawing back. The buck was now a mere 15 yards away and broadside. I debated on voice grunting to stop him but he was so close I elected not to. As I began to settle my sight pin on his chest, the buck stopped and glared straight up at me. Too late! The Black Eagle arrows hit him perfectly and I watched as the big buck collapsed in the hay field. 

Some may say I was lucky. It was my first time sitting in this stand. I had not even set foot on this farm all fall.  I say luck had nothing to do with it. Whitetail bucks spend most of their lives in what is called their core areas. This is the area that bucks tend to spend the vast majority of their time in. Often core areas for bucks can be as little as 250 - 300 acres. Sure they wander out from these core areas occasionally, but for the most part this is where they feel safe and secure. In the fall when male hormones begin to increase, bucks begin to travel further, thus increasing their area to several times their normal core area. This is why we often have bucks suddenly disappear that we have observed all fall. The same can be said of bucks that show up that had never been captured on trail cameras or seen while scouting or hunting previously. Basically, these bucks have one thing on their minds come the rut and that is the urge to reproduce.

To a hunter, this urge to reproduce can be good and bad. The good part is that bucks tend to be less nocturnal, thus increasing their daylight activity. In my opinion, they also become less wary and are more apt to make a mistake that they normally would not. Such as following a doe into a food plot or bait pile during daylight hours.  Something he would normally never do. Bucks bed later if at all and spend most of their time cruising for receptive does. The down side of this rutting behavior is that bucks tend to forego any travel patterns. Bucks that once habitually visited this field or that, now is traveling with his nose to the ground some three miles away. Hunting scrape and rub lines becomes futile as bucks now become obsessed with chasing does.

So, how can you as a hunter take advantage of a rutting buck’s erratic behavior? Start hunting where the does are. Often times areas that tend to harbor does, but lack bucks, become hot spots come the rut. Does oftentimes will live within a core area that bucks are cautious to call home. Perhaps it is a spot too close to a home or barn. Maybe cover is just not suitable for a clever old buck. Whatever the reasons, come the rut. Bucks start seeking out these does, oftentimes in areas they would normally avoid.

I like to set up several what I call “rut stands” in the summer that I will not venture into until the rut begins. These stands are placed in areas that have a good population of does. Often they are situated near a food source such as a food plot, picked corn field, etc. However, many of my most proven rut stands are placed within somewhat thicker cover that does tend to seek out when bucks are relentlessly harassing them. This past fall I had a dandy buck chase a doe across a large grass field and into the small half acre thicket that I was hunting. Albeit I had the 140 class buck within 10 yards of me twice as he pushed the doe around in circles, I never had an unobstructed shot. With one last lunge he pushed he out into the open field and off they went out of my life forever.

The key to having a productive rut stand is to not educate the local does to its locale. Thus the reason do not hunt these stand location until the rut is clearly underway. I am a firm believer in the fact that your first sit in any stand is your best chance to fill a tag. Deer are unaware and uneducated to any earlier human presence. Save back a couple potential hunting spots until the rut. Have them in place or at least prepped well in advance. Leave them undisturbed until you climb into them come the rut. 

Adhere to these simple rules and there is a good chance your rut stand will pay you back in tenderloins.

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