Regardless of weather, moon or other environmental conditions, the vast majority of does in the northern two-thirds of America will be bred between November 6 and Thanksgiving. That was true 50 years ago…will be true this year…will be true 20 years from now.
Historically, November 5 to 8 have been some of the top big-buck days within this window. Why so good? Most bucks haven’t bred a doe for a year. They wander around in a testosterone stupor, waiting on the first does to pop into heat any day now. These four days are some of the best of the year to see a big buck on his feet in daylight. Take off if you can.
Best conditions: The cooler the better, with a light to moderate wind out of the north or west. But since the bucks are out of their gourds and the sweet smell of does is so powerful, you are apt to see a big deer on the move even if it’s in the 70s. Just hunt!
Best stand: Scout in the timber 100 to 150 yards off a corn or alfalfa field, and zero in on a spot with buck rubs and scrapes and maybe a doe trail. Set a stand where one or more ridges converge into draws and a creek bottom. Many bucks will swing though these corridors either trolling for does or chasing them–if not on the 5th, then maybe on the 6th or the 8th. Hunt a spot like this for two days in a row and I’d bet money you’ll see at least one buck.
Best tactics: Try the rattling horns, which work best in the mornings. Grunt at any buck you see. Hanging hot-doe wicks near your stand can’t hurt.
If you’re off from November 9-14, you might well have to contend with the “lockdown” in many places. Older bucks will hook up with does, push them to remote hideaways, and seem to go underground to have their fun for a few days. Big buck sightings decrease noticeably during lockdown, and the woods can be still as a tomb.
I think you’re better off to push your vacation back a few days if possible, until November 15th. Bucks that were locked down with does begin to free up and start roaming again.
Best conditions: At risk of sounding like a broken record, you want the weather cool to cold. But don’t let a heat wave stop you. One November 15 in South Dakota, with the sun burning the prairie at 80 degrees, I stalked, sweated and shot a great 8-pointer tending a doe out in the open grass at 2:00 p.m. When you hit it right, the power of the rut is amazing!
Best stand: Look for a timbered ridge flanked by a crop field on one or two sides and interspersed with heavy cover. The more buck sign on the ridge the better. Heavy cover near your stand is crucial, because with any hunting pressure in the area, old bucks will move in or near the thick stuff.
Best tactics: I’d back off rattling because bucks have heard clashing antlers, both real and fake, for weeks. But keep grunting; those calls won’t spook deer. Get to your post at daybreak and hunt till dark if you can; a rutting buck might come by any time of day.
I predict this full-moon week will be the second pop of rutting activity this season (the first minor one having occurred around the full moon October 20). No doubt bucks will move, but it’s a tricky time. Bow season has been open for weeks in all states, and in many areas muzzleloaders and rifles have boomed, or are beginning to.
Pressure will be a factor for most of us, especially if you hunt public land. But the bright moon overlapping the end of the “lockdown” phase can work to our advantage. Older bucks will be finished breeding their first does, and prowling for rounds two or three of fun. They should move especially well from around 11:00 a.m. until late afternoon, so post near thick cover and where the wind is right, and hang tight throughout the day.
The falling moon days of November 20th through 25th could be especially good if cool weather is in your favor. Once bucks get with does and then lose them, that desperately seeking second phase kicks in and can be magical. Be on stand and ready from 9 am to 11:30 am, and then again from 1 pm to 4.
Most does have been bred by now, and bucks are tired and run down from chasing the girls and eluding hunters. But the survivors know the chance to breed a doe won’t come around for another year, and they prowl for the last five percent of does that might still be receptive. They move mostly at night, but a buck might slip up at dawn or dusk, so be out there.
The day before Thanksgiving is one of the biggest hunting holidays of the year as family and friends fan out across the woods. This is another reason to go. Those other hunters moving around might drive a buck right into your lap.
Best conditions: Hope for daytime highs in the 20s to 40. Light snow would be great.
Best stand: You’ll likely have a chilly west or north wind, so set up on the east side of a ridge where the wind is right, and where you can cover a wide swath of woods below. Watch for a buck cutting from one thicket to the next, hoping to run across a last hot doe, or sneaking away from pressure.
Best tactics: This late in the season, the deer are spooky and unpredictable. Your best tactic is simply to go to your best spot and hunt hard. Stay positive and be ready. Your chances of tagging out on the tenth best day of the 2021 season are better than you think. Good luck.