Most clients I talk to about a Whitetail hunt want to hunt the rut. While hunting the rut is fun and there is lots of action, it really isn’t the best time for patterning and harvesting mature bucks. I own a farm in Kansas and have been archery hunting there for over a decade. Every season I have several bucks on camera over 170 and see several from the stand in that range as well. However, I’ve found over the past few years that the frenetic rut may be the absolute worst time to harvest a mature, trophy whitetail and when you do it comes down to more luck than hunting prowess or planning. Here’s why. During the rut patterning a whitetail buck becomes almost impossible and many that have been on your hunting property all season will disappear. When you do see them, it may only be a glimpse as they chase a doe away before you can get the shot. (Note this applies to archery only- when you have a rifle you can typically harvest that mature buck although you still won’t be patterning him).
I’ve come to appreciate the predictability of hunting in September and late November through December. In September, bucks are on a feeding pattern in their home ranges and routinely visit the same sites. The only challenge here is catching a cool snap when the buck will move before dark. (Note: bucks tend to move more in daylight before shedding their velvet and once velvet is shed daylight sightings tend to correspond to cooler temperatures but not always- even a 10 degree afternoon swing can be enough to get bucks on their feet before dark). The same is true in late November and December when the rut is over or winding down. Bucks return to their home ranges and need nourishment to survive the winter after a month of chasing does. Hunting a food source on a cold afternoon is money for having a chance at harvesting the trophy buck in that area. In September and late November and December if you have a good buck in the area and know where he is feeding, you have a good chance of getting him in front of you when the conditions are right. You are planning and executing rather than sitting and hoping. Note that this strategy is best employed in the Midwest, Northeast and Canada (to the extent the season extends into December). It can work in the South when you get a cool snap but those are less frequent and of course Texas is its own animal with the December rut in much of the state. To me, this is real hunting. Identifying the animal you want to harvest, waiting until conditions are right to go after him and getting the job done. It is an extremely rewarding style of hunting. I like hunting a specific deer, not just sitting in a stand and hoping a good one walks by. If you have never hunted and harvested a target deer that you knew was there, once you have success hunting like this it will be the only way you want to hunt.
I’ll give you some real-world examples from this year. I have a new farm in Kansas with a monarch of 8 point with split brow tines that had been frequenting the same field since August. Because of other hunting trips planned I never hunted the farm until November 6. On November 4 I had a daylight picture of him in front of my stand. Guess what? I hunted November 6-12 and never saw him or had a picture of him. He just returned on November 16. By contrast had I hunted him in September, he was very predictable coming to the food source. Another example this year was my archery whitetail trip to Alberta for opening weekend in September. The outfitter had his cameras out, knew which bucks were in the area and frequenting the location and when. First night in I harvested a beautiful 160 class 10 point. He read the script and the plan was executed with perfection. All this being said, hunt the rut -- its fun -- but don’t forget about the under-appreciated September and late November-December Whitetail options. If you can only pick one time for an archery hunting for a trip, I have to say the first half of the November rut dates would not be my first choice. Give it a try and I’ll bet you’ll have more success. Oh yeah, and the best outfitters I’ve spoken with agree. Plus, its typically easier to get a date with a great outfitter in September or late November-December because everyone else wants the rut! If you have a place you hunt for whitetail in the rut consider making a travel trip to another location in early or late season to check it out.
Jay Roberts is the Owner of Shoshone Adventure Consulting, LLC and an avid bow hunter.