Hunting the second rut
Hunting the second rut
Use these tactics to fill your tag Hunting the second rut.
When Hunting the second rut, food sources are still the best place to spend the last hours of daylight.
BY STEVE BARTYLLA
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 doe bedding areas above the inter- section, 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 every- thing one would want in a stand when hunting the second rut. 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 giving 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 an option. And just like that, I’d scored an awesome buck hunting the second rut
The longer I hunt, the more convinced I become that hunters often needlessly complicate hunting. No doubt, our mind is our most valued
Hunting the second ruts tips
A conveniently located water hole, paired with two funnels separating doe groups, allowed the author to arrow this great late-rut buck.
WHAT RUTTING BUCKS WANT WHEN Hunting the second rut
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 when Hunting the second rut? 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 a doe 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 that most twins are actually sired by different bucks. 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.
Hunting the second rut, as with any other phase of the season, understanding what bucks want and how they meet those wants is key to getting in a position to score.
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 won’t argue that even mature bucks can let their guards down to an extent. But I will argue that survival is still most important to them.
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 hunting the second 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
As powerful a draw as breeding may be, it nevertheless still falls short of bucks’ desire for safety.”
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.
Hunting the second rut means differing buck needs
As important as it is to answer what bucks want during the rut, it’s equally important to find the answer to precisely how they meet those wants. With that answer, we can then look at how we can take advantage of their methods.
Going down the list from top to bottom, security is an easy one. In areas of heavy hunting pressure, even rutting bucks will avoid daylight activities.
This becomes even more pronounced hunting the second rut. We’ve already been chasing most of the mature bucks hard, as well as throwing most every trick in the book at them. That only makes them place a higher premium on safety. After all, they’d already be dead if they didn’t.
I know it often appears that bucks find breeding opportunities simply by being opportunists, but that’s just not the case. They’ll gladly take advantage of any chance they may stumble across, but there really is purpose behind a mature buck’s apparent madness. An entire book could be written on nothing more than the various methods rutting bucks employ to find estrous does, but most successful hunters generally count on just a handful of techniques.
Let’s begin with cruising bedding areas. During daylight hours, does reside in their bedding areas more than anywhere else. Therefore, it only makes sense that cruising bucks check these locations. Hunting the second rut means keying on these areas.
How they are checked is what separates the men from the boys. Mature bucks are highly skilled breeding machines, which is part of the reason they are still out after does during the late rut. They appear to have learned that there will be some late does and fawns still to be had. With the knowledge, desire and experience, they take finding receptive does to a new level.
Where immature bucks tend to go charging into the doe-bedding areas and randomly chase any doe they find, Mr. Big takes a more efficient approach. With one pass of the downwind side, he can effectively and efficiently check the entire group’s status. Just that quick, he can be on to a hot doe or the next bedding area and repeat the process.
It wasn’t the smell of estrus or grunts that called this old-timer in for the shot; it was the crashing sounds made by the otherwise silent bucks chasing a doe.
Yes, there were a few soft grunts that morning, but the vast majority of noise was generated from breaking branches. It was then that I began wondering if it was really the crashing noises that drew those bucks.
When I returned the next day, I needed to do some trimming for future hunters. In doing so, I tossed the cut limbs into the creek bottom. After tossing the first couple in, I heard the telltale sounds of a swiftly approaching buck. Slipping behind a tree, I observed the 31⁄2-year-old 8- point explode on the scene. Within moments, a 21⁄2-year-old buck came blowing out of the tall grass from the other direction. Just that quickly, any doubts were removed.
As for watering, I’ve found that the water sources near doe bedding areas appear to be the most productive. Because the bucks are already there checking does, it only makes sense.
The comfort factor has already been touched on. When hot, bucks minimize their midday movement and shift more to late-afternoon, nighttime and very early-morning cruising.
Finally, because the mature, late- rutting bucks are after does, they tend to do the majority of their feeding on the food sources that hold the most does. That way, they are able to sate both their hunger and need to check does at the same location.
Once I answer those questions about what the bucks are after and how they get it, determining the best hunting tactics becomes easy. In fact, I suspect few readers will be surprised by my following suggestions.
Hunting funnels that separate doe- bedding areas and the downwind sides of thick doe “bedrooms” is about as good as it gets. In ridge country, the downwind edge of the ridge can be a great spot, particularly when comple- mented with an erosion cut or saddle that further pinches the cruising bucks. Hunting water holes around does’ bedrooms is another great technique. Food sources overflowing
Of course, that technique relies on the bedding area having a defined edge. It works well for almost any relatively small thicket or grassy or swampy area where does bed. However, when they get somewhere around 10 acres or larger, the mature bucks tend to enter the downwind side and work crosswind to the best of their abilities.
Doe-bedding areas in ridge country are another story. Here, knobs, points, the ridge top and hillside thickets are all common doe-bedding areas. In these settings, Mr. Big appears to adapt more to the specifics of the situation. Still, one of the more common techniques used in hill or ridge country Hunting the second rut is paralleling the ridge top. Although the distance down the side hill varies, they tend to travel 10 to 30 yards from where the ridge begins its sharp break down.
Again, wind direction is the key. By running the downwind side, a mature buck can effectively scent-check the deer above and just over the opposite edge. At the same time, he can use his eyes to scan the ridge side below for does and danger.
Just as does spend the majority of daylight hours in their beds, they spend most of darkness in and directly around food sources. So, it’s understandable that another heavily relied upon technique for hunting the second rut is finding estrous does is patrolling the food sources.
Mature bucks are highly skilled breeding machines … ”
Here, Mr. Big’s techniques vary a bit more. If the wind is blowing from the food source toward his approach path, he can do a quick crosswind check.
Unfortunately, many times the setting simply doesn’t allow for that. In these cases, he will most often enter the field and approach each doe individually. This is not ideal, but at least he can visually ID his targets and avoid the random search an upwind approach presents in that setting.
An often-missed technique mature bucks use is honing in on the crashing sounds of a chase. This first dawned on me last season. At first light, a chase began that eventually drew what had to be every buck in the area. For two hours, newcomers continued to arrive on the scene.
Although some bucks did, indeed, come from a downwind position, the majority came in from upwind. That left little doubt in my mind that they were responding to the sounds of a chase. The ancient buck I shot at the end of that sit while hunting the second rut.
When and How to Call when Hunting the second rut
When Hunting the second rut, the author believes that standard calling and rattling techniques most often cause more harm than good.
In areas of heavy and even moderate hunting pressure, most mature bucks have heard numerous calling and rattling sequences by the time the late rut arrives. After all, that’s all one sees on TV—and it always seems to work. So, real-world hunters do it more and more often. Unfortunately, few TV shows are filmed in what most readers would consider the “real” world.
In many situations, I believe calling and rattling do more harm than good; heavily hunted areas are one of them. In this type of setting, drawing attention to yourself isn’t a good idea. That applies to calling and rattling as much as hunting poor winds, creating disturbances around stand sites or selecting sloppy entrance and exit routes. Here, one is almost always better off letting the other hunters pull out their gadgets while you focus on going undetected and arrowing the bucks.
The other situation is in areas of moderate hunting pressure late in the rut. If others have been calling and rattling, even in these types of settings, the chances are that Mr. Big has already heard their attempts.
Each time a mature buck hears a hunter call and rattle, the odds of him responding in a positive manner go down. Most often, even when a buck does respond, he will generally stop and survey the area from a safe distance—only to slink off and avoid the area.
However, I do believe there may be one method that could work: A few estrous calls, followed by soft tending grunts and paired with a healthy dose of breaking branches and tossing larger limbs together just may do the trick. This far more accurately simulates the real sounds of a chase and appears to be hard to resist. Furthermore, few other hunters ever go that far.
Although I’ll admit that I’ve yet to try it, I believe tying a large limb to a rope could be effective. While calling, one could then mimic the sounds of chasing bucks by repeatedly dropping the limb a few feet and thrashing it around.
Of course, this technique has its risks, because it requires much more movement. Consequently, it shouldn’t be tried often and would most likely be best used in areas where the bucks can’t see for long distances. I do think it may have its place, though, and I’ll be trying it this season. —S.B.
During unseasonably hot periods, morning hunts are gold. Late- afternoon hunts can also produce, but midday will be very slow. During these heat waves, I’d always rather hunt the first two hours in the morning than the rest of the daylight hours combined.
Also, don’t be discouraged if the young bucks stop displaying rutting behaviors. Mr. Big is a different species. He’s going to play on until the fat lady starts singing! In all areas but the South, that isn’t until a week or two into December. And in many Southern settings, you can make that January.
Good luck hunting the second rut.