10 Tips For Tagging Out A Trophy Whitetail

10 Tips For Tagging Out A Trophy Whitetail

Rule the Rut with these Sure-Fire Strategies.

Many of you take your vacations during the rut and run straight to your favorite stands -- where you found all the buck sign when scouting. Maybe you need to rethink that approach. To be most successful at this time, you need a game plan that changes. Stay one step ahead as the bucks change their behavior. Take advantage of their weaknesses during each phase of the rut. Then you won't have to burn out your favorite stand by day two of your seven-day vacation. The rut is too precious to waste even one day using a one-dimensional approach. Forget about your favorite stand. These 10 tips will make you fluid, adaptive and, ultimately, successful.

Scrapes found in lines along believable travel routes in the cover are much more likely to produce action than individual scrapes found on field edges.

TIP #1: Scrape Lines
There are two keys to successfully hunting a buck along a scrape line. First, you have to do it at the right time. Second, you have to find the scrapes without too much scouting pressure.

The right time is just before the does start to come into estrus. In most of the whitetail's range, the best time for scrape hunting is the last week of October.

Do most of your in-season scouting using an aerial photo while sitting at home on the couch. Also, rely as much as possible on information you gained while hunting last year or when scouting after the season. Scrapes will show up in roughly the same place every year. You should be able to predict where the travel routes and the scrape lines will be with reasonable accuracy. Then, all you need is a quick pass through the area to check out your hunches. Ideally, you will wear a pair of scent-eliminating booties such as Elimitrax. I don't scout during the season without them.

You are looking for fresh scrapes located back away from field edges. It is a bonus if the scrape line rounds the edge of thick cover. A mature buck will hit such places during daylight hours as he begins traveling more in preparation for the rut.

Most importantly, look for scrape lines, not individual scrapes. Scrape lines are, by definition, located along a buck's travel route. If the scrape you are watching isn't along a believable travel route, the odds a buck will come through are low.

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Hunting where does live in order to shoot a nice buck has its fringe benefits, including the opportunity to shoot does for the freezer.

TIP #2: Hunt Does
Once a few does start to come into estrus, you will see a pronounced increase in buck activity and chasing. This is your signal to start hunting the places where does concentrate. Go where the does are, because that is what the bucks are doing. When the rut peaks, you simply can't go wrong hunting places where you know you will see does. Just remember that while bucks are nomadic at this time of the season, does aren't. You have to be able to consistently fool the local does or they'll move off and take your chances with them. Don't over-hunt any stand. Entry and exit routes are just as important now as they are during the early season.

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Field Editor Bill Winke shot this buck during the 2008 season while hunting over an open gate. This travel bottleneck is situated between two doe bedding areas, and the buck was cruising on the lookout for does when he came through on the morning of Nov. 9.

TIP #3: Bottlenecks for Cruising Bucks
You can't beat a good bottleneck during most phases of the rut. Anytime you can find a crack in the terrain that deer have to avoid or a strip of cover that offers both concealment and the path of least resistance you have stumbled on a potential hotspot. Terrain-related funnels include such features as saddles, steep bluffs and water crossings, to name just a few. Cover-related funnels can include brushy fence lines, narrow fingers of cover and the inside corners of open fields that extend into thick timber. Be on the lookout for these, and many other natural bottlenecks, in the areas where you hunt. Typically, you'll want to find such a spot between two places where does concentrate. Bucks are cruising from one doe bedding area to another, or from a feeding area to a bedding area, and they naturally slip through your funnel.

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In areas that don't receive a lot of hunting pressure, observation stands are great places to spend some time. The very best time to use them is when bucks are patternable, such as the late pre-rut phase.

TIP# 4: Watch and Learn
Bucks are slightly predictable during the early rut phases -- like scrape hunting, we are looking at a period extending from the last week of October through the first few days of November. This is a time to hunt near food in the evenings. Activity levels are accelerating, but the bucks are still staying close to home. If your hunting area gets a lot of pressure, it is unlikely bucks will show themselves during daylight hours. If you feel this is the case where you hunt, this strategy will only lead to boredom and frustration. It would be better that you looked for the thickest patch of brush you can find for your stand. However, if your hunting area has low or moderate pressure, take up stands where you can watch the feeding areas. Then, move in quickly, with stand in hand, once you see a good buck using the area.

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When calling, try to set up so that a circling deer can't get downwind of you

without stepping into the open or crossing a major obstacle. This will reduce the likelihood that bucks will swing wide on their way to investigate your calls.

TIP # 5: When and Where To Call
I call during the entire rut, but it definitely works better in areas with lots of ground cover. It is tough to draw a buck into an area with a wide-open understory. They're not dumb; instead of coming to investigate, they'll simply stand back and look. If they don't see the buck fight or the potential mate, they will simply leave. Thick cover around the calling site will greatly improve your odds of pulling the buck close. Since a wary buck will first try to circle downwind before coming to a call, you should keep an open field, river, lake or steep bluff close on your downwind side to reduce this likelihood. This is just good hunting strategy, even if you never call. I don't often call until I see a buck I want to shoot passing out of range. I am always watching, with binoculars handy, for any telltale flash of movement. I don't like to educate bucks, and the easiest way to give them a PhD is to have them sneak in on you several minutes after a blind calling sequence. Some people love to call a lot, and they swear by their success. I am not one of them.

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Doe bedding areas are great morning spots because bucks come to these places to look for does shortly after daylight and will stay on their feet well into the morning.

TIP # 6: The Ultimate Morning Stand
By early November, bucks are very actively seeking does. It is time to hunt the bedding areas in the morning. One morning, a couple of seasons back, I experienced the most excitement I've ever had on stand. Three different hot does ran past -- each followed by several bucks that tracked every zig and zag like they were the tail on a kite. The action took place well back in the timber on the edge of a bedding area during the middle of the morning. As soon as I see bucks chasing does, I start spending my mornings hunting the downwind fringe of doe bedding areas. Bucks will begin showing up shortly after sunrise and mill in and out of the area all morning as they hunt for an estrus doe. Does will start out using these areas heavily, but as the amount of chasing increases they will spread out and hide to avoid the commotion. However, the bucks will continue to come through looking for them.

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Bowhunter Rick Whitaker took this exceptional buck after calling him across a small food plot. Micro-plots and calls play a key role in your success during the rut.

TIP # 7: When to Hunt Micro-Plots
I love micro-plots -- food plots that are less than an acre in size and located in the timber or a secluded spot on the edge of the timber. If you don't have such a spot to hunt, it is well worth exploring your options in establishing one before next season. Micro-plots are a lot like bedding areas. They produce excellent results as soon as the bucks start chasing does. While bedding areas are great morning stand locations, these micro-plots can be good morning or evening. Does will use their customary feeding areas heavily until about Nov. 10, when the bucks are hounding them so hard they start to avoid open areas. Bucks will check out these small, isolated feeding areas at all times of the day during the rut. Since they are small, the odds are good that bucks will end up within bow range. You can't beat a micro-plot during the rut. They are like buck magnets.

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Keeping a low profile to avoid educating deer is priority number one. When the deer know you are hunting them, they become very hard to kill.

TIP # 8: The Cardinal Rule
No matter what strategy you are using or what rut phase you are hunting, there is one cardinal rule you need to observe: You'll never tag a buck that knows you are hunting him. Even though bucks are on the move a lot during most rut phases, you still have to hunt carefully each day so you don't tip your hand. For example, if you are careless in your approach to your stand and you flush the does from a bedding area and they go stomping and crashing and snorting through the timber, you have severely reduced your chances for success from that stand that day. Even if you bump a deer that slinks out of the area without you realizing it, other deer will tell by its body language that danger is near. The disturbance will hang in the air like a fog and natural movement will be reduced in that area for several hours -- possibly even days. Of course, every bowhunter knows you have to play the wind when on stand, but few realize the importance of also playing the wind when approaching and exiting your stand. Getting in and out cleanly is the real chess match you have to win to take a mature buck.

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There is no prize for hunting so carefully you never really get close to the big buck you're after. When you know a shooter is in the area, grab your stand and get in there

TIP #9: When To Be Aggressive
The best time to kill a buck is when you know where he is -- right now. That is when you need to be aggressive. The rest of the time you need to be conservative, studying your camera photos, tracks crossing trails, long-range scouting, information you glean from a local farmer, etc. In other words, be conservative until you know where a buck is and then go for broke. Don't try to be too cute once the circumstances are leaning in your favor. There is no prize for being so careful you never really hunt the buck. When you know which part of the timber a buck is in, you need to hunt the best stand you have in that area as quickly and carefully as possible. Don't be afraid to get right in there with him.

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Field Editor Bill Winke's experience has convinced him morning hunts are more productive than evening hunts. If you are forced to give up one or the other, sacrifice your afternoon outing.

TIP #10: Mornings vs. Evenings
After many years of hunting nearly every day of the rut, I have concluded mornings are better than evenings. Bucks seem to be on their feet during daylight hours longer in the morning than in the afternoon. Generally, I can count on about two hours of movement in the evenings and about four hours of movement in the mornings. So, a little basic math suggests morning hunts have double the chance for sighting a good buck. I also think bucks are more relaxed in the mornings. They are prone to make mistakes. I don't mind using that to my advantage. Of course, you have to be in the right places to see this kind of activity, but I've already covered my top picks for morning and evening hunting. Hunt as much as you can, but if you're forced to choose between giving up a morning hunt or giving up an evening hunt, give up the evening hunt.

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