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How To/Pro-Tips

Risky Business Rut

Don't ever believe that a mature whitetail buck is dumb even when in heavy and hard rut. He may move more that he ordinarily would. He may move more in daylight than usual. And he will certainly venture into unfamiliar territory while chasing does. This goes against his native caution, which is temporarily overpowered by the natural instinct to procreate. But he's not stupid. He senses that he is in compromising situation and his general wariness increases. He will use every advantage available even while indulging in the risky business of the rut. Hunt the rutting buck just as cautiously as if he were not in rut. But since his normal pattern is disrupted, hunt other places. During the rut, hunt on the margins of heavy doe-use areas such as feeding areas and main trails. That's where bucks that are not already chasing a doe will hang out. Continue to hunt cover and hunt it carefully. He may be "in love" but he is nobody's fool. -- Brenda Valentine

Rubbing It In

Many hunters believe rubs to be the most reliable form of buck sign. Some believe that the bigger the rub the bigger the buck. To an extent I agree with both. The big advantage is that rubs are less likely to be made randomly than scrapes. Rubs appear first and they are about a whole lot more than getting velvet off antlers. The buck marks his territory from glands on his forehead while rubbing. There are three main types of rubs. There are the purely territorial rubs around the buck's core area that are much like "No Trespassing" signs. There are rub lines that are strung out along a trail indicating a buck's preferred travel route. A communal rub often occurs where two or more bucks' territories join. It is usually on a larger than average tree and all the dominant bucks in the area will rub it. So will some sub-dominant bucks and this is the exception to the "big rub, big buck" theory.

Scrape Savvy

Scrapes are like e-mail for sexually active deer. The buck paws out a clean area of soil, usually under an overhanging limb, and urinates in it. If a receptive doe comes by, she also urinates in the scrape. When the buck returns to "check his mail," he picks up her trail. Sounds like a can't-miss deal for the deer hunter, but there's more to it. Most scrapes are situated so that the buck can check if he's "got mail" from a distance. Often he checks his scrapes at night. In fact, there's a theory that most bucks shot over scrapes are intruder bucks rather than that scrape's maker. Also, individual scrapes are checked at random intervals. Some are checked regularly, some infrequently and some are never revisited after they are made. Watch for scrapes that are kept clean and frequently have fresh urine in them. Don't set up right over the scrape. Look for a nearby trail downwind of the scrape and hope to ambush lover boy.

Sorting Out The Sign

So what's hot -- rubs, scrapes, trails, bedding areas or feeding areas? Actually they all are. An area containing all these things indicates a high level of deer activity. However, I don't bet the farm on any one of them. Maybe I'm smart or maybe I'm indecisive, but I try to split the difference. I don't like to hunt solely over scrapes because that's an easy way to spook a buck. Invading his bedding area is even worse. Rub lines indicate only one of his routes and he might be going another way that day. Feeding areas are a good bet during the peak of the rut but are usually too open to tempt a buck at other times. I like to set up on a buck trail, which is usually small and located in denser cover than main trails. I look for a trail that connects two or more of the above areas. Sometimes I will set up on the buck's "bedroom" door of his core area, but I won't go in. -- Bill Jordan

Shake, Rattle And Grunt

Calling deer is becoming increasingly evolved. Today we know much more about whitetail vocalization than ever before. However, one of the most effective buck calls isn't a vocalization at all. "Horn rattling" simulates two bucks fighting. A buck hearing this becomes aggressively curious and often comes to the sound. An old set of antlers or a set of commercial synthetic antlers, are clashed together to mimic buck conflicts from light sparring to mortal combat. Accomplished "rattlers" shake the brush and pound on the ground to imitate buck-fighting sounds. Rattling seems to work best during the highly competitive pre-rut period when the bucks are sorting out who is boss. Response diminishes during the actual rut but picks up again in the post-rut period when fewer receptive does are available. Aggressive buck grunting seems to work best during the same buck-competitive periods as rattling. However, deer are naturally curious about other deer, so light, low grunting may attract a buck just about anytime. -- Terry Rohm

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