Bow & Arrow Hunting Coach: Late Rut Tips
Posted on December 28, 2011
It had already been an amazing morning. I’d passed on two very mature bucks within easy shooting range in under a half-hour. With firearm season a day away, the only thing that gave me the resolve to pass was my belief that I could still take a larger buck.
The stand location was an obvious choice when I had scouted the area that spring. With three points dropping down and meeting together and a doe bedding areas above the intersection, bucks would surely be using the points to get between the doe groups. As an added bonus, the bottom also narrowed at this location, pinching any bottom running bucks to within shooting range. The cherry on top was the water hole 15 yards away from the tree I’d selected.
The combination provided everything one would want in a rut stand. Because of its converging points and the “pinched” bottom, it covered two separate funnels between multiple doe bedding areas. Along with that, the well-placed water source was a convenient stop for chase-weary bucks to quench their burning thirst. Finally, the points offered an escape route for bucks wanting to slip out the backdoor of doe bedding areas with their new girlfriends.
I eventually saw what I was looking for–a big buck traveling with a doe, exiting this “back door.” Panting, tongue hanging, foamy strands of thick saliva dripping from his lower jaw, he’d obviously had a hard night and was now guiding his prize to a more secure area.
He also was going to give himself a water break en route. He was so intent on this that when the doe tried veering away from the pool, he circled and tined her hard in the side, redirecting her back toward the water.
However, my arrow found its mark before getting a drink was no longer an option. And just like that, I’d scored an awesome late-rut buck.
The longer I hunt, the more convinced I become that hunters often needlessly complicate hunting. No doubt, our mind is our most valued and powerful hunting weapon, and using it is critical to our success. Still, I do believe that keeping it simple is often the best route. That certainly applies to hunting during the late rut.
What Rutting Bucks Want
When it comes to hunting bucks during any phase of the season, there’s a tremendous advantage to answering a couple of simple questions.
What do bucks want during this phase? During the late rut, the obvious answer is to find the last few remaining estrous does. Even though there’s more to it than that, no one can argue that finding estrous does is of utmost importance to mature rutting bucks.
Of course, successfully securing her is another desire–one that’s not always easily accomplished. Even in areas with skewed buck-to-doe ratios, the competition between bucks for estrous does is intense. This is confirmed by studies that have found the most twins are actually sired by different bucks.
As powerful a draw as breeding may be, it nevertheless still falls short of bucks’ desire for safety. No doubt, many readers have seen rutting bucks do careless things during the rut, and I won’t argue that even mature bucks can let their guards down to an extent. I will argue that survival is still most important to them.
If survival and breeding are the two greatest desires of rutting bucks, I’d rank drinking as number three. The combination of cruising for, chasing and breeding does, as well as fighting off other bucks, is exhausting. To put this strain in perspective, mature bucks commonly lose 25 to 30 percent of their body weight in less than a month of breeding.
Just as with humans, these extreme workouts create a powerful thirst. Although deer can survive a surprisingly long time exclusively off their fat reserves, they must intake water regularly or risk dying. The physical exertions of the rut serve to further compound that need. Like humans, the harder they work, the more water they must intake–and rutting bucks work hard, indeed.
Watering also plays into the comfort factor. Sure, a buck’s desire for physical comfort ranks well below safety, breeding and the need to water, but it’s still a want. This can be seen firsthand when unseasonably warm temperatures shut down midday rutting activities. It gets to the point where the combination of the buck’s winter coat and high temperatures makes it too hot to run around the woods.
Finally, the desire to feed would round out a rutting buck’s primary wants. I understand that many seem to believe that rutting bucks don’t eat. I’ve just seen too many mature bucks feeding during this phase to buy that theory.