1) Did you know? Studies show that one mature buck may blaze as many as 1,200 rubs from late September through November, or some 17 rubs a day.
2) Which rubs are the best sign? Look for antler-blazed trees as thick as your bicep. All bucks rub saplings, but only mature bucks work trees 4 to 6 inches in diameter or larger.
3) A copse of antler-mangled saplings or cedar branches are sign of an aggressive buck, the kind of beast you want to hunt because he’s apt to move in daylight.
4) “In many areas the first scrapes pop up in old logging roads, slip along and scout those first.” — Jim Crumley, Virginia bowhunter and creator of Trebark camouflage.
5) A Tennessee study found that bucks rub like crazy in 2 types of terrains—valleys and secondary points, or fingers of timber that drop off the sides of ridges. The more brush and saplings in these funnels, the more rubs you’ll find there.
6) “Big trees with scarring from years of rubbing are signposts. Our observations suggest older bucks deposit pheromones on these rubs, and that plays an important role in the dominance ladder of a herd. All deer, does and bucks, interact with signposts—they smell and rub them—but only mature bucks make them. They act as communal scent wicks and are located in areas with high deer traffic.” –Dr. Grant Woods, Missouri biologist and hunter
7) One November day a few years ago in Illinois: The wind was blowing 20 miles per hour. “I wasn’t going out,” says bowhunter Gary Sulcer, “but I did.” He’d been in the woods only minutes when a doe tipped by with a bruiser on her heels. Gary’s arrow was true; the main-frame 8-pointer scored 160. Lesson: You only have so many days to hunt the rut, go when you can, no matter the conditions.
8) “We didn’t have any trail camera photos of that buck, and I had never seen him,” says Gary Sulcer. “But I knew there was a big one in the area, he was rubbing trees as big around as your thigh.”
9) Studies show deer rut hard when the barometer is between 29 and 30.
10) Penn State researchers tracked GPS-collared deer for a month, during which it rained 9 days and 22 were dry. Bucks moved on average eight-tenths of a mile on dry days and six-tenths on rainy days. That’s negligible, don’t let rain stop you.
11) Perfect rut morning: Still and frosty, high-pressure, with temps in the 20s. Hang tough on stand, a buck might wander by until 11:00 a.m.
12) “We’ve analyzed tens of thousands of camera images, and our data clearly show one terrain where mature bucks move throughout November: the intersections of two or more drainages and/or fingers of timber deep in the woods.”—Whitetail biologist Mickey Hellickson
13) Best rut stand #1: Downwind of the junction where several draws and finger ridges intersect.
14) Set one or two trail cameras on a ridge or bottom that you don’t have confidence in and have never hunted before. You might get a picture of a good buck in a “poor” spot, which quickly becomes a good new spot.
15) Killer bow setup: Tree stand on an edge where pines or cedars meet hardwoods. Bucks rub, scrape and prowl for does on “break lines.”
16) A scrape without a broken lick branch hanging above it is not worth hunting. Move on.
17) Best scrapes to watch: In brushy cover with doe trails nearby.
18) Watch active scrapes 50 to 75 yards from dense bedding cover. You might catch a mature buck milling around scrapes closest to his sanctuary at first or last light.
19) In hill country look for scrapes dug 70 yards or so below a brushy hilltop. Bucks like to bed on a ridge or bench, watching for does and scent-checking scrapes below.
20) On ridges and flats where you found the most acorns in September expect heavy rubbing and scraping in November.
21) University of Georgia research: Multiple bucks hit one set of scrapes while other scrapes 100 yards away go dormant. Scout, move and hunt the hottest sign.
22) Set up too close to scrapes and deer will see, smell or sense you there. Back off 100 yards or so, even when bowhunting, and watch for a buck circling into scrapes.
23) Wear rubber gloves and clip a mangled lick branch, which holds the forehead and saliva scent of several bucks and does, from atop an active scrape and wire it over a mock scrape near your stand.
24) Best rut stand #2: Downwind of the “X” where two trampled doe trails cross.
25) “Set tree stands between 17 and 20 feet. When a buck comes by at 20 to 30 yards, you’ll see plenty of lungs, the perfect shooting angle.” — Terry Drury, Midwest bowhunter and outdoor TV personality
26) Buy a climbing stand to go along with your lock-ons. Use the climber to move in for a quick strike at scrapes, or on a ridge when you get cam images of a big buck.
27) Best rut stand #3: Thirty yards back in the woods off the corner of a field, along a main trail. Does will come from several directions, converge in the corner and make their way back into the timber. Bucks prowl a corner where they can see and scent check many does.
28) In Indiana one November, bowhunter Brent Ireland got a single cam picture of a double-drop giant. He hung a stand on the ridge near his camera and killed the 199-inch giant two days later. Lesson: Get one image of a monster on his feet in daylight, move in and hunt him.
29) Set trail cameras on different sets of scrapes and you’ll get images of most of the bucks on your land, both the locals and the passers-through.
30) 3 camera tips for scrapes: Set cams 15-20 feet away from the sign; lash them waist-high and level on trees; if you don’t get images of a good buck after 3 days, move cameras to new scrapes.
31) Invest in a cellular trail camera like the Spartan Ghost. Monitor scrapes and trails without checking cards and scenting up the woods.
32) A doe that flits around with her tail erect is ready to breed or almost ready. A buck or bucks will be close.
33) Best rut stand #4: Hogback ridge flanked by crops and CRP, swamp or similar thick cover on the other side.
34) One humid Texas morning we rattled up 15 bucks. Guide Clay told me, “With moisture thick in the air, horns have a high-pitched tinkling, bucks like that.”
35) Rattling bags and boxes work, but nothing beats the real thing. A solid set of 140-inch antlers are the bomb, with just the right tone and volume.
36) After rattling at a buck a good ways off, don’t let your guard down, even if he shows little interest. Sometimes a buck will walk 50 more yards, get curious and circle back to check you out.
37) Best time to rattle: Sunrise to 10:00 a.m. I don’t carry horns in the afternoon.
38) Hold one rattling antler tight to your body and bang and grind on it with the other antler to cut down on hand movement.
39) “If your arms and hands aren’t tired after a rattling sequence, you’re not doing it hard enough.”—Texas rattling expert Gary Roberson
40) Screw a rubber-coated hook ($2 at Home Depot) into a tree close to your stand. Hang rattling horns within easy reach.
41) Shooter trots by 100 yards out—try a quick burst of rattling to stop him.
42) Research from Texas shows ground rattlers don’t see half the bucks that come in. Elevate and rattle from high ground or a tree stand or tripod to spot more bucks.
43) Best-sounding grunt call for the money: Ridge Runner from Quaker Boy ($12 at Amazon).
44) When a buck hears your rattles or grunts and is interested, he begins to hunt you. Set up with thick cover to your sides and behind you. Make a buck commit close as he searches for the “deer” he hears.
45) A stud chasing or tending a doe makes loud, weird sounds. Blow urrrp, urrrp or urrrg, urrrg on your grunter to mimic it.
46) Blowing a sequence of 10 to 12 grunts on your call is most realistic.
47) Primos’ original CAN call is still the best for bleats of estrus does ($10, primos.com).
48) Keep doe bleats short and sweet: meaa, meaa.
49) “Back up bleats with blowing and wheezing, like a doe not ready to breed. Blast air and wheeze through your nose. It can drive a buck wild. ”—Mississippi expert Will Primos
50) When a buck rolls in out of nowhere don’t reach for your call. Bleat or grunt loudly with your voice—baaahhh or eckkkkk–he’ll stop.
51) Remember to draw your bow or aim your muzzleloader before you grunt or bleat to stop a buck. Obvious, but it’s easy to forget when a big-racked bruiser is close!
52) “The grunt-snort-wheeze is the most aggressive rut call. It can bring in a dominant deer, but it can also scare off young bucks.”—Georgia biologist Dr. Karl Miller
53) Good rattling/grunting setup: Wind in your face and rock bluff or stream at your back. A buck can’t circle downwind and bust you.
54) A deer’s eyes are oriented to pick up predator movement on or just below the horizon. You can get away with a bit more movement in a tree stand, but still be careful.
55) Favorite muzzleloader setup: Sitting on a hillside, looking across to an adjacent hillside where I can cover 2 or 3 thickets. Bucks move all day from one cover to the next checking for does.
56) Best rut stand #5: A creek or shallow river crossing pocked with fresh tracks in brushy woods. The waterway dictates and funnels most all deer movement through the area.
57) Deep, splayed tracks 2½” to 3 1/2” long in mud tell you buck, though the size of his rack is anybody’s guess.
58) Position a stand or blind so the sun rises or sets behind you. You’ll have an extra 10 minutes of shooting light at dawn and dusk.
59) “On land that has been managed for years, 5- and 6-year-old bucks can’t compete with the aggressive 3- and 4-year-olds anymore, or don’t want to. Some old giants travel across the fences and take up residence where there’s less competition for does. If that happens to be where you hunt, great.” –Expert Iowa bowhunter Don Kisky
60) Best tip for public land: Hang a tree stand in thick, secluded cover and sit in it all day. You might catch a buck rutting a doe on natural movement, or another hunter might inadvertently drive a 10-pointer to you. Either way, you win.
61) Multi-year data from a property in South Carolina showed that 95% of the 3.5-year-old and older bucks harvested were killed within 100 yards of a well-defined sanctuary, such as a pine stand, brushy clear-cut or cedar thicket.
62) Around November 10, break out the hot-doe scent like Tink’s #69 ($10 at Bass Pro Shops).
63) Reach up and hang scent wicks 6 feet or higher so the wind and thermals swirl and carry the scent.
64) Texas study: Bucks split time equally at scrapes juiced with doe or buck urine. Might as well dump both into a real or mock scrape you’re watching.
65) “The weekend of November 8 to 10 should be excellent this year, especially if it’s cool. I think your best shot to see a mature buck is 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Hunt your best food source.” –Mark Drury, Iowa expert and TV personality
66) Douse a doe decoy with estrus scent and set her in a clearing where a buck can see her and approach comfortably from downwind.
67) In an abundance of caution to prevent the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, 9 states prohibit the use of natural deer urine and permit only synthetic scents. Check your regulations. Don’t worry, synthetics smell like deer and work fine.
68) Cut tarsal glands off a doe or buck your buddy shot, and hang them near your stand both as an attractant and cover scent. Black hocks from a buck that has rutted for weeks reek the best.
69) Did you know? You can store deer hocks in a Baggie in the freezer and use them again next November.
70) “Around November 10, a big, loner doe is ready to breed. Watch her close, a buck is gonna be on her tail soon.”—Kentucky call maker and expert Harold Knight
71) In mid-November don’t overlook a giant guarding a doe or bedded with her in a fallen treetop, clump of brush, fence row or other weird spot.
72) Did you know? Sometimes you can smell a rutting buck upwind of your stand before you see him.
73) A 10-pointer chases a doe close to your tree stand. The instant the shot is clear take it! The pair might stand there panting for a minute, or they might crash off any second. Don’t miss your
74) One November morning in Saskatchewan, a doe kept throwing up her head up and looking back into the timber. I aimed my 7 Mag. She bolted as the 150-inch buck broke out, and I killed him. Lesson: Watch the does, they give away the bucks.
75) In mid-November, many does sneak out to CRP fields, ditches and the like where bucks can’t chase them anymore. Of course, bucks follow and keep hassling them. Glass these spots.
76) Watch a doe trail trodden to dirt or mud long enough, and a good buck will prowl by.
77) Full moon week November 12: Expect bucks to move 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Hunt all day if you can hack it.
78) Good post for a mid- to late-November afternoon: 70 to 100 yards back in timber and along the thickest, nastiest ditch that leads out to crops.
79) Don’t waste precious rut-hunting time. If you sit in a spot for three days but don’t see much, move.
80) Dilemma: Pass the first buck that chases a doe past your stand because a bigger buck might be coming? Advice: If you’re happy with the first rack, take him.
81) Studies of GPS-collared deer from Maryland to Texas show that most all bucks make “doe excursions” out of their core area during peak rut. Some bucks might wander 5 to 8 miles or more, while others move 2 miles or less.
82) Oklahoma study: When bucks embark on doe excursions, they move in linear patterns. By traveling for miles in straight lines, they maximize their chances of contacting hot does. Set several stands along a linear creek bottom or ridge to intercept a buck.
83) When gun season opens, monitor where people park their trucks and enter the woods. Hunt a secluded spot that others overlook. It might be 2 miles deep in the woods, or 200 yards off a back road.
84) You’re still-hunting and a doe jumps out of a ditch. Find the nearest rest and ready your rifle, a buck is apt to roll up out of there next.
85) Wyoming, November 18 one year: Seventy degrees and windy, and bucks rutted all day. I shot a 150-incher dogging a doe at 3:00 p.m. Lesson: Hunt hard, the pull of peak rut overrides the weather.
86) Post-rut hunting is better than you think! Research from Maryland shows that 20 to 40 percent of mature bucks continue to make doe excursions into December. Keep grinding until you get one.
87) After Thanksgiving, hunt Tuesday through Thursday. You’ll have the woods to yourself most days.
88) One December in Kansas, my friend Jim Riley saw 3 bucks hassling a small doe. The next day he went back and saw 5 bucks dogging her, and he shot the biggest 8-point. Lesson: Find the last hot doe and stick with her.
89) Killer gun stand: Narrow weed strip between 2 blocks of woods. Bucks run the “point-to-point” for does.
90) First week of December lay a doe-in-heat trail into your stand. It can actually work better now to bring in a buck because there are fewer receptive does misting the woods.
91) Studies of hunter behavior consistently show that most people hunt only a half-mile or so from a road, field or other easy area. For more elbow room and fun, hike deeper.