The Whitetail Deer Rut: My First Experience
The rut is a magical phase in deer hunting that permeates every corner of the hunting community. Most hunters would agree the rut is the absolute best time of the year for a chance at killing a mature buck. The action can be so hot some days that you might feel that it is possible to saddle up one of the twenty deer that keep running every single direction around you chasing each other. The crazy action days are priceless experiences and can give you a year’s worth of experience in one day if you are in the right spot. It can also give you a deflating, head hanging, bad taste in your mouth if you end up sitting out of the action. Until this year I had never hunted the rut intentionally, and I had never had the opportunity of witnessing an entire property lit up with deer for an entire day. That all changed on my November 8th hunt.
The day started as I got out of the house around 3:30 am. I had a 40-minute drive and I gave myself an hour to walk in and set up, so I was ready to hunt about an hour before shooting time. As I was walking in, I spotted two does in the CRP field on my way to the stand. I kept walking keeping my headlamp down. I crested the hill and quietly dropped my gear under the tower blind and carried the decoy bag out into the field to set up a 3D buck decoy. I applied scent and quietly climbed back into the tower. As I was finishing setting up my gear in the tower, I heard something walking out of the tree line to the south about twenty minutes before shooting time and I instinctively looked up. Unfortunately, my headlamp was still on, and I shined two more does that briskly trotted through the field in front of me.
As the shooting time arrived and the sun began to peek over the horizon, I noticed the two does that had trotted through earlier were feeding in the field about 80 yards away to my left. I also noticed two bucks and 3 does down in the CRP field where I had walked past on the way to the stand. The larger buck (a solid mature 8 pointer) was pushing the smaller buck off a bedded doe. He continued to lock her down bedding about 10 yards away from her all morning. About an hour into the hunt I decided to call to the buck I could see in the CRP and observe his reaction. I performed a series of grunts followed by two snort wheezes as loud as I could make them without making it sound unnatural. He looked in my direction but never got up. I waited about ten minutes and then heard something walking quickly through the woods to my south. As I turned my head, I noticed it was a very nice 10-point buck that I seemingly blind called in while trying to call to the 8-point.
I observed the deer and was in position in the tower ready to draw my bow if he got close enough for a shot. He was sniffing the air and ground the whole time, following the exact same path that the does had walked earlier that morning. He worked his way to the top of the hill towards my decoy and he turned broadside at 30 yards. As I drew back, he looked up and turned at me simultaneously and knew something was not right. He immediately started briskly walking out of the field. I tried to stop him several times before he left but I was unable to keep him from leaving. He ran off behind me and I did not see him again.
I spent the next hour watching the deer in the CRP field waiting to see if something else would work its way to my decoy. After some back and forth in my mind, I decided to get down and try to sneak all the way around the woods behind me, then belly crawl 150 yards into the open CRP field and try to get into bow range of the bedded buck. As I approached the edge of the CRP field, I grabbed my binoculars and relocated the 8-point buck. I put my head down and started slowly moving through the dry yellow tall grass. From above it probably looked like I was doing a freestyle stroke with one arm on the ground and one arm trying to quietly shuffle my bow. Part of the plan that made this approach a possibility was the wind speed and direction. Both allowed me to mask my scent and noise moving through the grass at an angle towards the bedded deer.
I would periodically stop and glass trying to relocate the head of the bedded buck but was unable to see him the closer I got to his approximate location. When I arrived in the area, I thought would put me in range, I saw the beds they were using, and I moved downwind of them. After a few minutes in this spot, I heard a bleat followed by a grunt. I slowly looked up over the top of the grass and saw a doe and the 4-point walking towards me. The doe stopped and bedded down, and the buck turned broadside looking at her about 28 yards away. I grabbed my bow and started to clip in, but before I could draw back the buck had picked me out of the grass and walked away.
Just then a gunshot went off from the direction of the east neighbor’s property and four large does ran across the road sprinting through the CRP and cornfield then up into the woods. They continued running out of the property to the west. Not more than a minute later I watched that 4-point catch the scent of at least one of those does and he bolted along the same path. He stopped briefly on the cornfield hill when he spotted my decoy, but he continued along their scent trail.
Just before packing up for the day and heading home, I witnessed the same 8-point buck I tried to stalk chase a doe out of the woods by the truck and down into the CRP field again and then out across the road. The day marked the second most deer I had ever seen in a single hunt and the action was incredible. The feeling of success coming at any time from anywhere is almost indescribable. As with most things that get you excited, I wanted to come back and experience this again. The action, the behavior, and the practice of being around animals created a unique opportunity for quick learning and instant feedback which transformed into an experience that will shape the way I hunt for the rest of my life.