The Rut: Chaos in the Deer Woods

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Rut Quotes, Past to Present

deer scrapes
Don’t be afraid to freshen scrapes with scents and stir up the dirt to get scrape-related odors into the air. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

“During the rut, the deer are in constant motion, and are often found in bands. The necks of the bucks swell and their sides grow gaunt; They chase the does all night, and their flesh becomes strong and stringy — far inferior to that of the barren does and yearlings. The old bucks then wage desperate conflicts with one another, and bully their smaller brethren unmercifully. Unlike elk, whitetails are generally silent in the rutting season. They occasionally grunt when fighting; and once, on a fall evening, I heard two young bucks barking in a ravine back of my ranch house; but this was a wholly exceptional instance.” — Theodore Roosevelt, “The Wilderness Hunter”

“I reach again for the lunch, but my eye catches a peeled popple. Here a buck has rubbed off his itchy velvet. How long ago? The exposed wood is already brown; I conclude the horns must therefore be clean by now. I reach again for the lunch, but am interrupted by an excited yawp from the dog, and a crash of bushes in the swamp. Out springs a buck, flag aloft, horns shining, his coat a sleek blue. Yes, the popple told the truth.” — Aldo Leopold, “A Sand County Almanac”

“Attractor scents can be the smell of a natural food, such as apples, or might be that of an animal in heat during the time of the rut. … Attractor scents can be extremely effective when a few drops are placed beside the game trail a bowhunter is watching. As the animal moves along the trail, he will suddenly be stopped dead in his tracks while he sniffs at the scent, offering the bowhunter a standing shot while the animal’s attention is engrossed with the scent.” — H.R. “Dutch” Wambold, “Bowhunting for Deer”

“Once rutting activity is assumed, bucks will move in and about their home territory at will at almost any time of the day, depending on the moon, weather, temperature, doe activity, etc. We know they will be utilizing whatever cover and wind advantages they can. There is a voluntary decrease in the buck’s appetite as the rut progresses. He’ll eat less and concentrate more on breeding plans, even though a lot of this energy will be spent in preparation of the coming estrus peak." — Gene Wensel, “Bowhunting Rutting Whitetails”

“The whole trick to scrape hunting lies in the ability of the hunter to analyze rut sign and then discreetly take an elevated stand downwind of an active scrape and have the confidence and patience necessary to wait it out. Knowing that an undisturbed mature whitetail will scent-check a primary deer scrape regularly, it then becomes no more than a waiting game.” — Gene Wensel, “Bowhunting Rutting Whitetails”

“One of the determining factors in telling how big the buck is that’s working a scrape can sometimes be determined by the branches that overhang the scrape. Big white-tailed bucks are simply big animals. Their antlers can reach higher into over hanging branches than do the antlers of smaller bucks. When examining scrapes, note how high the buck has broken off the branches above the scrape. After you have examined several scrapes, you will begin to see the differences. It will soon become obvious that some bucks are larger." — Toad Smith, “Toad’s Tricks to Taking Whitetails in the Corn … and Everywhere Else”

“Even if you have pure, native deer, there still may be significant modifiers to the normal rut pattern. In some years in East Texas, the rut pattern is very distinct, while in others it appears abnormal. … Body condition has a great deal to do with the timing of the rut. If deer are in poor condition, from overpopulation or a bad growing season, rut timing will be less pronounced and may be spread over a long period of time. This is the trickle rut so dreaded by many hunters. Well-managed herds typically have well-defined peaks in the rut, lasting only a few days, with lesser peaks following 25 to 28 days later.” — Dr. James C. Kroll and Ben Koerth, “Solving the Mysteries of Deer Movement”

“The extensive home ranges of mature bucks will frequently overlap those of other mature bucks. These are the deer most likely to fight. The fights I have seen were not over does, although that is often the cause. The fights I witnessed occurred because of the onset of the breeding season and one buck’s invasion of another’s turf.” — Leonard Lee Rue III, “The Deer of North America”

“Even the less secure, more exposed travel routes, such as a fence line, are often used at midday in areas where hunting pressure is light. You won’t find a lot of buck sign along bedding-to-bedding travel corridors because bucks only use them to get from Point A to Point B, and they don’t mess around much along the way. You’ll almost never find a trail, maybe some kicked up leaves if you’re lucky, so don’t be fooled by the lack of sign. Trust your instincts and set up a tree stand. At first you may feel silly, but thereafter the bucks you see will keep you on the edge of your fold-out seat for days at a time.” — Bill Winke, “Hunting Hard for Whitetails”

“About the only thing most rub lines have in common is that they’re established along routes where bucks can use the terrain to their full advantage. In some cases, their rub lines follow routes that give bucks great visibility. In other cases, the bucks can use their sense of smell to its full extent. And in yet other cases, rub lines are near the area’s thickest cover. At any hint of danger, a buck traveling these rubs lines can bound once or twice and be swallowed up by thick cover.” — “Greg Miller’s Rub-Line Secrets”

13 Tips for Bowhunting the Rut

  • Not all scrape lines or rub lines go dormant once breeding begins. If you find rubs and scrapes in a pinch point or travel corridor that provides the shortest run between two doe bedding areas, a buck just might shoot through while prowling for his next companion.
  • When the rut is peaking, hot and cold hunts within a hunting group are common. Why? It’s not unusual for one hot doe to tie up three or four amorous suitors. If your tree stand is hanging where she happens to walk or run, you’ll think you’re seeing the best rut ever. But if your buddy is a half-mile away, the woods around him might be devoid of bucks.
  • Most buck fights are over before they begin. And even if one of the bucks doesn’t back down first, fights seldom last long. Then again, some bucks fight for several minutes and sound as if a tank is barreling through the woods. So, when rattling, mix up your routine with fights of various length.
  • No matter how long your rattling sequences, it’s critical that you remain well-concealed. Choose tree-stand sites that provide a good back-drop and multiple trunks.
  • After rattling, don’t be too quick to drop your guard. Every buck responds differently to rattling. For all you know, the buck that showed up an hour after your last rattling sequence was standing out of sight 30 to 45 minutes, trying to determine what caused the ruckus.
  • If a buck comes in silently and catches you still holding antlers, don’t try hanging them up. Drop them to the ground, even if it’s 20 feet below, and let the buck make the next move before reaching for your bow.
  • If hot weather moves in during the rut, realize your odds just plummeted. But don’t give up. Search out water, preferably springs or watering holes on high ground where winds are less tricky. If bucks are courting does all night in the cool air, they’ll often look for a drink before bedding down, and then again late in the day before beginning their next night of prowling.
  • Don’t be too quick to abandon a tree stand on warm days. Although it’s difficult to stay up there all day when you haven’t seen a buck all morning, sometimes those boys make a quick midday circuit, even in hotter temperatures.
  • Scrape-line hunting, even in the best circumstances, is a relatively low-odds endeavor. But low odds are better than no odds. Research shows up to 90 percent of scraping activity occurs at night. But that still leaves 10 percent, right? Just remember that mature bucks are least likely of all to show up at scrapes in daylight. If you hunt scrapes, hunt those closest to bedding grounds, if you can get in there without spooking him.
  • Do tree stands have you stuck in a rut? If you feel tortured sitting in a tree all day, consider your alternatives. Instead of snoozing in the truck, grab your binoculars and spotting scopes, find some high ground, and look for bucks bedded in brushy fencerows. Stalking bucks is never easy, but it offers better odds than watching TV or napping in camp.
  • Another good way to spend midday hours, whether the rut is on or not, is to stalk cornfields on windy days. If you thought ahead, you marked “dead” spots within the field that were water-soaked when the field was seeded. These spots often hold high grass, which bucks sometimes use for secure bedding sites.
  • Keep experimenting with your grunt calls and bleats. One of the most effective doe bleats I use sounds almost like a Hereford cow calling for her calf. I’ve never heard a real white-tailed doe make such a sorrowful sound in the woods, but I’ve bow-killed several bucks that came to investigate the call, and none appeared suspicious, just curious.
  • Despite the fact few professional deer researchers endorse popular theories about the moon’s impact on the rut, many bowhunters swear by predictions offered by laymen such as New York’s Charlie Alsheimer.

Deer Scrape Doctors: Guys, Try Human Urine

More bowhunters are using their own urine to doctor deer scrapes. According to Kim Marie Tolson, an associate professor of wildlife management at the University of Louisiana-Monroe, it’s worth a try — especially for male bowhunters.

“A hunting colleague of mine works for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries,” Tolson said. “He had been ‘collecting’ his urine in a bottle while sitting in his treestand. After having no luck one morning, but with a full bottle of urine, he carried out his specimen. Along the way, he passed an old scrape that had not been used that season. He emptied the bottle into the scrape. The next day when he returned to his stand, the scrape had been torn up and worked overnight. A coincidence?

“That, and some research by Ben Koerth and Jim Kroll (of Stephen F. Austin University in Texas) concerning scrapes and scents got me thinking about human male urine,” Tolson said. “The testosterone produced by all male mammals is chemically identical. A little chemistry lesson: Testosterone is a steroid, and all steroids are lipids. Their lipid nature makes them a bit more stable and will not dissolve in an aqueous solution, i.e. water or urine.

“I have no scientific data to indicate the deer are sniffing for testosterone when they investigate a scrape. But, I would think it’s a likely candidate,” Tolson continued. “Also, bucks (and male humans) have their highest testosterone levels in the morning. Bucks will rub-urinate into their scrapes when they get up from their bedding areas.”

Therefore, if bucks find high levels of testosterone lingering in their scrapes from deposits made the day before, it’s possible they’ll become agitated by the intrusion of another male into their bailiwick.

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