Strategies for Hunting the Current Stage of the Rut

By GrowingDeer,

I’ve been hunting almost daily since the beginning of deer season.  I have seen a lot of deer, but not a buck I wish to tag within range.  That’s OK because I really enjoy watching and learning from deer.  I hunt in the Ozark Mountains in southern Missouri. The rut peaks (biggest number of does receptive at one time) here during the next two weeks.  My observations and strategies will apply to folks that hunt where the rut is on the same timeframe. I realize deer have finished rutting at some and are not close to starting at other locations.  But throughout the majority of the whitetail’s range the rut will peak during the next two weeks.

Based on those observations I’ll share my hunting strategies for the next few days.

  1. Bucks are still using scrapes especially along travel corridors. Bucks aren’t using scrapes on the edges of fields and food plots as much. This is because they are focused on seeking receptive does rather than feeding during this stage of the rut.
  2. Most bucks, especially mature bucks are not on a food cover pattern. Where any buck will be is very tough to predict during this week because their pattern can change at an instant if they detect a receptive doe.

I will be bow hunting today then tomorrow firearms season opens in Missouri.  So, my strategy today will be much different than tomorrow.

Today I will seek stands in known travel corridors.  Those are difficult to find in the mountain habitat that I hunt because it’s 90+ percent timber and cover.  It’s much easier to find travel corridors and bottlenecks in ag country where cover is limited and bottlenecks are easy to find by simply studying aerial images.

Grant tags a hit list buck, Handy

Tomorrow I’ll be carrying my Winchester and my odds will be best where I can use its effective range.  At my place that means watching powerline easements or large areas where there is native grass  rather than timber.

Utility easements or other long linear openings offer hunters a view into cover without disturbing deer.  I simply approach from the downwind side and pick a spot where I think or know deer are crossing.  This is an excellent stand/blind location for hunting and learning where deer prefer to travel (travel corridors!).

It seems receptive does will often seek thick cover when they are receptive to avoid being pestered by multiple bucks.  Years ago, I cut all the cedars on a 25+ acre hillside and used prescribed fire to encourage native grasses and forbs to grow. Native grasses provide deer great cover but due to the slope I can see into the cover over most of the hillside.  This is perfect, the deer are extremely comfortable in this habitat and I can observe them.  Through the years I watched bucks tend many receptive does in that area.  I placed a Redneck blind overlooking this area and have tagged many bucks from it.  That’s likely where I’ll be hunting tomorrow morning.  I’ll keep you posted on our social media.

I hope these strategies help and that you enjoy creation!

Grant

Strategies for Grunt Calling Throughout the Season

By GrowingDeer,

Just a couple of weeks ago while hunting, I saw a four-year-old buck we call HighRiser and a younger buck enter a food plot about 100+ yards from my stand. It was near the end of shooting light so I took out my Messenger grunt call and grunted to see if HighRiser would come on in for a shot before dark. HighRiser looked my way after the first call. I called again and he took a few steps my way. I called more aggressively and HighRiser started towards the stand. The more I called, it was easy to see from HighRiser’s behavior and posture he was becoming aggressive.  Both HighRiser and the younger buck came within range but a tree canopy blocked my shot. It was a very fun hunt! (You can see that hunt by clicking here.)

It's because of responses like this that the Messenger grunt call is one of my favorite tools for deer hunting. During the early season I set it to the highest pitched setting.  Both bucks and does will often respond to this pitch.  I only call during this time of year when I see deer that do not appear to be coming within range.  In addition, I start with a very low volume and work up till the deer indicate they’ve heard the call. I rarely call after they’ve responded with a look, etc. Using this strategy, I’ve watched groups of does and fawns respond as well as bucks.

As scrapes heat up and at the beginning of the pre-rut I switch my Messenger to the middle setting and use it a bit more aggressively.  I don’t call to does as much at this time of year as they can be leery of bucks that are pestering them.  I do call to bucks – often more than once.  I will grunt lightly multiple times after the buck or bucks have shown signs of hearing the call.  If the buck is coming my way I don’t call. If he stops, I will call again just loud enough for him to hear the call.  Watching the behavior and posture of the buck determines how much more I use my call.

HighRiser Buck responded to Grant's grunt call

Once the pre-rut is in full swing I use the call very aggressively. I’ll even blind call (call without seeing a buck).  The one time I don’t call is when I see a mature buck tending a doe.  The doe will often go the other way and the buck will follow.   It’s as if she’s being pestered by one buck and doesn’t want to be around another to add to her troubles.

Once most does are receptive and the rut (breeding) is in full swing, I will grunt at any buck I see cruising UNLESS they appear to be coming within range. I’ve seen buck’s respond from long distances.  I blind call about every 15 to 30 minutes to pull in those bucks that might be in the vicinity of the sound but outside my range of vision

Using the middle setting on a Messenger grunt call communicates that a young buck is tending a doe possibly causing other young bucks and mature bucks to respond. Don’t over call, but a single grunt or two when blind calling will let bucks within hearing range know there’s a receptive doe nearby and they will usually come check it out.

Be careful to not call to bucks that will likely approach from the downwind side.  Such bucks may bust you before they get within range.  This is true throughout the season.  This means the timing of when to call depends where the buck will likely approach. I’ve let bucks travel past me so they wouldn’t swing downwind when responding.

I use this same strategy throughout the rest of the season.  I tend to to call more often as the season progresses. However, even a month or more after the peak of breeding bucks will still respond to grunts which indicate a receptive doe is in the area.

The third setting replicates the sound of a mature buck.  I only use this if I see a mature buck and he won’t respond to the middle setting.  When a mature buck responds to this call, be ready. He’s likely committed to coming in close!

Check out our clips page for Reconyx trail cam videos of bucks grunting and practice to mimic their sounds. You can start with the video here where a young buck grunts while chasing a doe.

I’ve tagged many bucks and does due to calling. It’s a very exciting and effective way to hunt! I hope these grunt calling strategies work for you, too.  For more tips, watch the video at this link.

Enjoy Creation,

Grant

When Will the Rut Be This Year?

By GrowingDeer,

I’ve heard many theories about what determines the timing of the rut. Most of these theories are based on assumptions that whitetail breeding is triggered by a specific phase or characteristic of the moon’s orbit. More than a decade ago the “timing of whitetail breeding is related to a phase of the moon” theory was brutally murdered by a ruthless gang of facts.

This ruthless gang was composed of more than a dozen researchers from five different universities that analyzed data from known breeding dates of >2,500 does from populations in South Carolina, Texas, Mississippi, Missouri, Maine, Minnesota, and Michigan, with between 3 and 19 years of data for each population. That’s the equivalent of these researchers being armed with several nuclear warheads. You simply don’t argue with a force who has that kind of firepower.

I’ll save you all the statistical analysis and simply say they didn’t find any relationship between annual mean breeding dates and any phase of the moon.

Based on this and other research projects, I don’t schedule my hunts based on a specific moon phase. Weather conditions definitely can impact the amount of daytime deer activity – but not when deer breed. If you are using weather to schedule hunts there is a problem in that the forecast is rarely very accurate more than three days in advance. That’s not much help when trying to determine which week to take off from work several months in advance.

buck chasing doe

Deer population demographics and the associated behavior changes tend to change slowly. So, if you or someone you know hunted a specific area during the previous few years and observed significant rutting behavior during a specific week, chances are that will be a good week to schedule a hunt in that same area. However, if it was frosting every night when your friend was hunting there and it’s 20 degrees warmer than normal when you go don’t expect to see the same level of daytime deer activity.

If you’d like to learn more about this research or other research projects that relate to deer hunting and deer management, simply go to: http://www.sedsg.com/abstracts.asp and use the search tool to see what America’s best deer researchers have published about that subject.

There are a lot of myths about deer behavior. Those myths rarely help hunters fill tags.

Growing and hunting deer together,

Grant

Bow Hunters: What to Do When Deer Duck

By GrowingDeer,

We recently researched how fast a deer could potentially duck when an arrow is shot at it. The results were eye opening and changed the way we hunt! Here's a summary of the findings:

 

To see the full explanation and the full video, Click HERE.

When Deer Hunting Should You Harvest Does? Here’s How To Know

By GrowingDeer,

A question I frequently receive this time of year is if does should be harvested. Like a lot of deer management subjects, doe management isn’t a one size fits all.

Biologically speaking, deer herds should be managed on a local or site-specific basis. This allows hunters/managers to adjust doe harvest to match local habitat quality against landowners/hunters’ goals.

For example, there could be a landowner that has production soybeans where the deer in that area are much more productive than deer just a few miles away where the habitat is composed of pasture and timber.

If the state management agency allows enough flexibility for landowners to adjust doe harvest as needed, hunters should next consider the quality of the local habitat during the two common stress periods of late summer and late winter.

does browsing on poke berry

In most areas there usually isn’t a lot of precipitation during the late summer and during late winter deer are dependent on the forage that was produced during the preceding months. Now is not a good time to judge the amount of deer related to the habitat's capacity to produce quality forage. Fall is harvest season and there should be an abundance of food now. There will likely be a huge difference in the amount of quality native and planted food now compared to late winter.

The most common mistake I see landowners make is allowing the deer herd to increase past the habitat's potential to produce quality forage. Healthy deer herds can increase 20-30% annually. If doe harvest is postponed until the herd exceeds the habitat's potential to produce enough quality browse, it will be too late and the herd won't likely be reduced fast enough to prevent habitat damage.

It’s much better for the herd and habitat to monitor both the herd and habitat’s ability to produce quality forage and make small adjustments to the number of does harvested each year than to allow herds to exceed the habitat’s capacity to produce quality forage and both the herd and habitat are reduced in quality for years.

To improve or maintain herd quality, it’s important to manage the number of deer on a local level to match the habitat’s capacity to produce and maintain quality forage year-round.

That’s what we’ll be doing here on The Proving Grounds: managing the number of deer to match the habitat’s capacity. We’ve already started on this project, see Tyler take a doe in this video.

Enjoy Creation,

Grant

Deer Hunting Secret: Deer Have a Sweet Tooth!

By GrowingDeer,

You could probably bait me with a pile of Snickers bars or some ice cream. I admit, I have a sweet tooth! I’m not alone, deer also have a sweet tooth. In fact, I believe deer like sweets more than white oak acorns and that’s saying something.

I use this knowledge when I’m scouting each fall. There are many varieties of sweets throughout the whitetail’s range that may be available during the fall. These include fruits such as apples, pears, pawpaw, etc. Often pears, apples, and other types of fruit trees are found near old homesteads. I’ve found such homesteads with fruit trees nearby on public and private land. When the fruit is ripe, deer and other critters are likely to be feeding there.

It makes sense that one of the fruit trees with the largest distribution that deer like is a native. I’m talking about persimmons!

A persimmon tree varies in size and shape based on the growing conditions and soil quality. There is a wide range of when persimmon fruit will be ripe and it seems to vary tree by tree as well as location. In general, the fruit ripens from September through November, pending on the individual tree.  One oddity about persimmon trees is that most of them are single sex: either male or female but not both. The male trees can’t produce fruit. This is important to hunters because it’s important to ensure when scouting that the persimmon tree or trees you plan to hunt produce fruit.

deer like to eat persimmon

Biting into a persimmon fruit before it is ripe will cause an instant puckering! Deer ignore persimmons until they are ripe. However, once the fruit is ripe deer, raccoons, foxes, and more all commonly eat them.

Given this, I scout for large persimmon trees that can produce a lot of fruit. I may even hang a stand or place a blind nearby. However, I don’t hunt in areas where a persimmon is the main attraction until the fruit is ripe. Once it’s ripe, it’s common for deer and other critters to frequent the tree daily. I’ve tagged several deer near persimmon trees and have already scouted some this year to ensure they produced fruit.

I’m confident I can tag one deer (or more) near persimmon trees this year. I may even eat a few ripe persimmons on the way to the stand.

You can watch a hunt where I tagged some does by a few persimmon trees in this video from last fall.

Enjoy Creation,

Grant

Hunting Strategies to Tag Bucks In October

By GrowingDeer,

Throughout most of the whitetail’s range the peak of the rut (biggest percentage of does receptive at one time) doesn’t occur during early October. That may sound like bad news. It’s not. It does mean hunters need to use different techniques than appropriate during the rut. During early October, bucks are focused on food and determining the dominance hierarchy.

Hunters can use this knowledge to create successful strategies to tag bucks. Bucks are genetically programmed to gain weight/develop fat to prepare for the post-rut winter stress period. If your goal is to gain weight you focus on consuming carbs. Deer are the same. During this time of year deer seek grains and acorns – both loaded with carbs.

In production corn and soybean areas deer commonly frequent standing or recently harvested grain fields. These fields tend to be large and difficult to pattern where deer enter and exit. It’s often a better strategy to scout for travel corridors from cover to these fields. Once a travel corridor is found, look for a point along the corridor that bottlenecks deer to a small area and can be approached, hunted, and exited without alerting deer.

buck food pattern

In areas that are primarily covered with timber, especially oaks, deer can be difficult to pattern when the acorn crop is widespread. When this occurs, more scouting may be necessary to find fresh sign and good stand/blind locations. In addition, more frequent scouting may be necessary as the location of the currently preferred acorns can change frequently because the timing of acorn drop varies by species, weather conditions, etc.

In addition to seeking carbs, bucks are using direct contact, scrapes, and multi-year rubs to determine the constantly changing hierarchy. This behavior means mocks scrapes can be a great tool to pattern bucks and/or create bottlenecks. I’ve shared how to create mock scrapes in this video: Deer Hunting Strategy: How To Make A Mock Scrape.

I often combine these two dominate behaviors to tag bucks during October. I create a mock scrape in or near a source of quality food. Bucks will be in or near sources of quality food during their need to gain calories. While seeking quality food, bucks will be attracted to scent communication points such as scrapes. If there’s not a natural scrape near the ideal stand or blind location I create a mock scrape within my effective shot range. You can see a successful use of this technique here.

Understanding the behavior of deer throughout the hunting season will increase the odds of tagging a buck and putting fresh venison in the freezer.

Enjoy Creation,

Grant

Deer Hunting: Breaking a Pattern

By GrowingDeer,

The acorns are dropping here at The Proving Grounds. This means that deer that have been on a food to cover pattern for the last couple of months will be more difficult to hunt. All of a sudden there is a new, attractive food source that will pull them off the food plots they’ve been frequenting.

Why? Because deer are seeking carbohydrates. Acorns are high in energy but low in protein. They are a big attraction this time of year. You can have a buck patterned then literally within two days it can change that pattern when a white oak off the ridge starts to drop acorns.

We’re seeing some of those changes here. We had some bucks patterned – Slingshot and Swoops – coming to a food plot. That pattern has started to break-up.

Doe Eatig Acorns In Bow Range

Scouting for acorns is a good technique whether you hunt 40 or 4,000 acres. We start scouting for acorns as early as July. (Read more about our recent scouting at this link.)

Ideal deer hunting can occur when oak trees are few and far between. This usually occurs when agriculture or other land use practices that limit the amount of habitat that is forested.

Another situation that produces great hunting is when only a few oaks in an area produce acorns. When these conditions exist, patterning deer may be as simple as locating the trees that produced acorns and hunting near them without spooking deer.

However, if oaks are common where you hunt, it can be extremely difficult to see deer during years when all the oak trees produce acorns. This is because deer can eat and bed within an extremely small area. Hunters simply can’t approach these areas without alerting deer! It’s tough to get between the feeding and bedding area when they are literally just a few yards apart.

Knowing which types of acorns deer prefer during the early (from the white oak family) versus late (from the red oak family) season can be a key to hanging stands in locations that fit your hunting schedule.

Last year, Daniel had a great hunt by scouting for fresh falling acorns and then hunting that location. You can see how this strategy paid off for him in this video.

We’ll be sharing our early season bow hunts soon, so stay tuned to see how the different locations and strategies are paying off for the GrowingDeer Team!

Enjoy Creation,

Grant