November 01, 2013If your goal is to see more and bigger bucks you need to understand the best time to accomplish these goals is right now. The truth is savvy deer hunters are not necessarily better hunters, they may not have superior hunting skills but they understand the key to success hinges on timing. Forget early October although it is always great to be outdoors when the weather is ideal and late November through December is when deer are super wary, much more difficult to see and the conditions can be brutal. If you want to see maximum number of bucks, experience deer hunting at its best and score on a brute, then listen up.
Right now the leaves have fallen, cold weather has finally arrived, rutting activity is in full swing and Michigan bucks are going bonkers. This is the best time to see maximum number of bucks when on stand and score on a monster rack. But are you fully prepared for the buck hunt of a lifetime? Do you understand the mating ritual and how it affects buck activity and most importantly hunting tactics that work during the rut? The following anecdote best describes the point I want to make.
The November night was cold and frost covered the forest floor as I made a lot of noise stepping on the crunchy leaves in the pre-dawn darkness on the way to my stand. Daylight broke and a doe and a pair of fawns filtered through but they kept looking back over their shoulder, as if something was following them. That's when all hell broke loose as a yearling doe scampered past with a young 8-point buck chasing her with his nose close to the ground, neck extended and prancing like a high stepping show horse. I readied the crossbow but passed on the yearling buck just in time to see a larger buck headed directly at me. This buck had tall tines and a huge body. Just as my heart got pumping the hot doe circled back, ran directly under my stand with the little buck in hot pursuit. She charged past the bigger buck and he stepped into her path lowered his antlers and crashed head long into battle with the smaller buck. The duo locked up for only a few seconds but during that time leaves were flying, dirt was tossed 6 feet in the air, branches were snapping and the pair of bucks sounded like elk fighting in the freshly fallen bed of crunchy leaves.
The little buck disengaged antlers, side stepped the big boy, and quickly circled his rival and sprinted to catch up with the hot doe. The bigger buck charged with antlers lowered but stopped on an oak ridge, stood erect, watched the fleeing pair and eventually disappeared in the direction of the other deer.
At lightning speed the silent forest turned into a tornado of deer activity and exciting hunting action that sends your heart pounding. Then, just as quickly as it started the action was over and I was left standing tip toed in my stand, finger on the safety, peering into the distant forest. For a few fleeing minutes I could hear the deep voice grunts of the adult buck, see bits and pieces of his tall white rack and his white tail as he vanished into the underbrush.
During the mating season a buck will make an average of 150 rubs and as many scrapes. Hot scrapes are often identified by overhanging branches where bucks deposit scents and rake their antlers through the needles, branches or leaves. Kenny Darwin photo
My heart beat returned to normal as I sat back down but continued to watch for the distant flash of white antlers dancing through the forest. Skies turned blue and the morning sun transformed into a kaleidoscope of yellow and orange light filtering through the trees. Squirrels emerged from dens and began plowing through the thick leaves in search of acorns when I heard distant branches breaking resembling rutting activity. That's when I decided to bail out of my treestand and creep to a large fallen tree about 100 yards closer to the sound of distant deer.
I moved slow, stopped if I broke any branches, slunk at a snail's pace to the fallen tree. It offered perfect cover and acted like a huge shield to block my movements as I slipped in the direction of the sounds. When I peered over the hill I caught the movement of a deer walking directly at me. It was the smaller buck and he had the big boy following him with ears laid back and antlers close to the ground. The larger buck continued to posture when the little buck dashed past me and ran out of sight. The big buck was out of range as he stopped and watched the little buck dash over the hill. The huge bodied buck turned and walked away. I desperately tried to get him to come my way by making buck grunts, but he ignored me. So I raked the leaves with a stick, grunted loudly and finally got his attention. I'm certain he thought the smaller buck was returning to challenge him for the doe and the mature buck slowly walked towards me. I shouldered the Ten Point crossbow and waited until the dandy buck offered a broadside shot at about 20 yards. I had a perfect opening between two trees and when he stepping into the shooting lane I touched the trigger. The big buck mule-kicked when the New Archery Products 3 blade Spitfire broadhead sliced his vitals, then he bolted, ran a few jumps, stopped and looked directly back at me like he was perfectly fine. Guess he thought the sound of the crossbow was another buck and he stood defiantly until his lower unit ran out of fluid and he got wobbly legged and fell sideways.
I hustled to my fallen prize and when I knelt to admire the beautiful rack I could hear a deer headed directly at me. Over the oak ridge appeared the smaller 8 point, he noticed the white belly of the fallen buck, stopped, glanced to my right and slowly circled. He was in easy crossbow range as he slipped through the forest, circumventing my location and soon was headed in the direction of the hot doe. Wow! What an exciting hunt!
Truth is when bucks go bonkers during the rut the hunting action can be downright crazy. Rutting activity lasts for only a few short days, then when peak rut subsides the bucks become very difficult to locate and often downright impossible to see. Michigan's gun season can be a big loser because many times peak rut has ended and bucks are in a resting mode. However, there is some interesting scientific data indicating a full moon will place peak rut in Michigan around November 17; which is ideal for gun hunters.
There are several deadly tactics that will up your odds for success when bucks are in a love sick mode. First, spend time afield. It amazes me how many Michigan hunters get all fired up about bow opener when chances of taking a dandy buck is almost impossible. Experienced hunters know the best hunting of the entire year comes during November when moon phase, diminishing daylight and cool weather kick starts bucks into the love sick phase. This is when the powerful patterns of nature dictate bucks seek mates and deer often move throughout the day. November is the hottest buck hunting month of the year and the small window of opportunity to take a trophy deer exists only during the few short days of peak rut. This is when you want to capitalize on the sex crazed bucks and spend maximum time hunting. Far too many Michigan hunters make the idiotic mistake of archery hunting early October and hanging up their bow when leaves fall, weather turns nasty and bucks are on the move. Hunters who saw few bucks in early October are inclined to think the slow buck activity will persist until gun opener. "Ya know gun season is only two weeks away," they often explain to rationalize their lack of interest during the hottest buck time of the entire year. The trick to big buck success often hinges on hunting during ideal deer activity periods and spending maximum time afield during this key period.
You can certainly up your odds if you can identify hot rutting activity. One deadly strategy is to be in the rut zone when activity is at a high level. Take my hunting buddy, Dave Summitt, who got a call from a local farmer who spotted a huge buck chasing a doe. Dave set up that night and arrowed a 300-pound trophy of a lifetime. My point is if you can locate a rutting zone, spot deer chasing, out dancing and prancing, tending and caught up in the breeding ritual you can have an exciting hunt at lightning speed.
Some Michigan hunters like to stop and stalk rutting bucks, others wait until they see rutting activity near stand sites before they hunt. Smart deer hunters invest maximum time afield during high activity periods for bucks. Climber tree stands provide the perfect mobility that can get you into deadly position once you identify where bucks are going nuts. Modern electronics can help you find the hot zone and if your stealth cam is suddenly full of buck images, you know it is time to spend time in the area. Don't hesitate or make the common mistake of scheduling hunts next week. The trick to consistently taking mature bucks often hinges on how quickly you can get in the woods when bucks are hell bent on chasing does.
Calling bucks is often the most overlooked tactic. The majority of mature bucks I harvest are called into range using a short grunt. I do not recommend overcalling bucks by making long drawn out calls like a cow in heat. Use short single grunts to get the attention of bucks and bring them kissin' close. I recommend using your mouth by belching like a buck. Try this tactic while drinking soda pop and use the carbonation to give you burping power. Next learn to build throat belches into the sound of a rutting buck. Sometimes you need soft grunts to bring them running directly at you, other times loud grunts are needed to get their attention in wind or long distances. If grunts don't bring them try rustling leaves, snapping twigs or breaking branches to encourage bucks to investigate the sound and prance into range. There are a number of commercial grunt tube calls on the market that work very well. Try to select a call that has a guttural life-like sound and avoid calls that sound like someone blowing into a plastic tube.
Camouflage is a must for fooling the eyes of wary bucks. I'm talking from head to toe. Wise gun hunters soon learn to camouflage metal barrels that reflect light like a huge mirror. Gun hunters in Michigan have fast learned blaze range can be the kiss of death because wary deer can see the color. Biologists claim deer cannot see color. True, but the hue of blaze orange shows up bright as white to the sensitive eyes of an adult deer. Orange is fine if the woods has a blanket of snow but smart hunters use camo orange or wear a minimum of orange on their hat, gloves etc. Darn few shooting accidents are the result of camo clad hunters sneaking into range, but are rather the misuse of firearms. Most gun accidents are caused by simple safety mistakes, unsafe loading and unloading guns, and guns with safety off. A recent study shows the majority of gun accidents are caused by family or friends loading, unloading or misusing their firearms. People who mistake a hunter for a deer should not be in the woods, period!!
My point is this; just about any hunting tactic will give good results if you are hunting when bucks are preoccupied with breeding activity. The trick is to catch them with their pants down, ambush bucks when they are on the move, covering ground, making scrapes, rubs and actively engaged in the rutting ritual. Timing is the key to success! My advice is to take up fall salmon or walleye fishing, go duck hunting, and try
field goose hunting, chase squirrels
or grouse during October. But
when the winds of November and the patterns of nature turn reclusive bucks into rut crazed machines
you need to concentrate on buck hunting. When a buck's hormones
are raging and he is lovesick, constantly looking for a receptive
partner, you need to be on stand to intercept him.