November 07, 2017
It's hard to believe it's been almost a decade since I met my buddy Cody. We were hired separately to shoot a video project for an aspiring hunting show. After instantly becoming friends, he invited me to come out and turkey hunt on his family's place on the border of Nebraska and Kansas. The rolling pastures, river bottom draws and ranches that made up the landscape were unlike anything I had ever hunted before. I immediately fell in love with that part of the country.
After seeing some of the deer Cody and his dad Scott had killed over the years, it was obvious I needed to carve out some time to come back during the legendary Kansas rut. It's been seven years since my first hunt in the open country of the Midwest and I haven't missed a November trip since.
Over the years, it's become clear the core rut strategies aren't much different than those of the hill country or denser habitat. It's still really all about understanding where the deer live, how they navigate the available cover and where they are feeding. The difference is understanding how and where to apply those strategies.
Livin' On the Edge
It's no real secret that deer are boundary travelers. They love to be on the edge of cover whenever out in the open so at the first sign of danger they can vanish to safety. It's true that bucks living in open country are more comfortable being exposed, but when cover is available the odds are high they will be sticking fairly close. This can provide great ambush opportunities for us hunters.
One of my all-time favorite rut setups takes advantage of an edge feature. There is a piece of property I hunt open to the public during the fall through Kansas' Walk In Program that sets up for great rut activity. The layout is a couple hundred acre CRP field with a skinny little draw that juts up through the CRP coming from a large destination agriculture field, which is a primary food source.
With the CRP being well over five feet tall, both does and bucks of all ages feel very comfortable transitioning up the tree line of the draw in the mornings headed to the top of a small rise where they typically bed for the day in the CRP. Once the rut really gets going, mature bucks will cruise perpendicular, back and forth across the skinny draw and a couple other brushy fence rows seeking receptive does.
It's an all-day spot that often delivers nearly constant activity. The key to its success is the sense of security the draw's edge gives the deer, especially the does, during the rut. Since the does want to be there naturally, the bucks are not far away.
On to Greener Pastures
I am continuously amazed by some of the places you can find big, mature bucks in open country. I've seen multiple mature bucks in a single hunt traveling through literally a two-acre slightly over-grown cattle lot in an ankle high pasture on public ground.
It's a spot that was overlooked daily by multiple hunters and would have been overlooked by me had I not noticed a large, fresh rub that ended up being surrounded by fresh scrapes, by dumb luck. The point is, if there is enough cover to physically hide a deer, pay attention to it.
Locations to focus on are brushy fence rows, tall CRP patches-large or small, clusters of trees and brushy waterways. Anything where a mature buck can conceal himself and his doe. When bucks are starting to lock does down in open country, they love to take their does out into the middle of the wide open and hold her because it's easier to fend off competition from other bucks. They can see a long way in all directions and easily keep the wind in their favor.
You can have some incredible action setting up wherever and however you can conceal yourself on the downwind side of whatever cover is available. Many times, these little goldmines are only big enough to have one entry and exit route, which helps funnel them for an ambush. These locations can not only be highly effective, but they are a ton of fun to get creative and strategic with.
These types of locations also can offer some of the best hunting because they are often overlooked by other hunters, especially on public ground. It took me a few years to figure out that just because it looks like an open, gently rolling pasture that couldn't hide a mouse, doesn't mean there isn't a couple hidden pockets or even a thick deep draw over the next hill that can be the jackpot.
After stumbling my way into some phenomenal public land goldmines in open country, I can now enjoy some great hidden gems with very low hunting pressure while most of the other hunters drive right by looking the other way. So get a bird's eye view from a good areal, identify the closest, active feeding destination and keep an eye on the does. Then be ready when the big guy comes by sneaking back to cover or pushing his doe to isolation.
Strap On the Feed Bag
Arguably the best way to get the drop on a big buck during the rut is capitalizing on primary food sources. As the old saying goes, "deer are slaves to their stomachs." It couldn't be more true, especially when the weather really starts to shift and the herd begins feeding more to prepare for the year's colder months.
This is even more magnified in open country since the deer typically don't have as much high-quality natural browse nutrition as other regions. So, they really must rely on the larger agriculture fields as primary food sources in most cases.
The beauty for us hunters is that it generally provides a good starting point in putting a plan together to capitalize on a rutting buck moving in daylight. With the does concentrated to one general area, bucks will frequent these areas more as the does get closer to estrous. It also helps that the bucks are trying to get as many spare bites as they can while scent checking and chasing does.
Personally, I don't generally setup right on these food sources. I prefer to back away from them on concealed travel routes where cruising bucks and harassed does feel comfortable from bed to food and back. These primary food sources can be great for identifying target bucks and observing favored travel routes in relation to wind direction for accessing the field. Long distance observed movement, concentrated security cover and food sources are the big pieces of the puzzle when it comes to hunting rutting open country bucks.