The Best Days to Tag Trophy Bucks in 2016
October 19, 2016
Last year marked the first time I shared my rut predictions with the readers of Petersen's BOWHUNTING.
In that article, I specifically talked about key times to hunt based on the moon phase and its relation to natural rut activity. My purpose was to give you an extremely efficient schedule of when to hunt if you have limited time to do it.
I laid out a bulletproof plan that has consistently worked for me for two decades. And to prove my own points, I decided to put my predictions to the test and limit my hunting to the dates and times I had discussed. The results were mind blowing, to say the least!
So, before I get to my hunting forecast for 2016, I'd like to walk you through four stellar hunts as they played out based on my predictions and strategies. Then I'll
finish up by giving you this year's hottest dates so you can plan for the season!
Lets face it; there are a lot of factors that play into a successful whitetail hunt. Where you hunt, the size of the local deer population, weather, your ability to make the shot and a host of other variables come into play.
Regardless of those things, however, you can be certain about the timing of the rut in your hunting area. Generally speaking, the whitetail rut kicks off in late October in the northern half of the United States. Then, the further south you go, the rut pushes later on the calendar. For example, in the Deep South the same activity I discuss in this article will occur in late December and early January. Regardless of where you are on the map, I'm sure you know your window for the rut.
When I look at a calendar with that window in mind, I then look at the moon. And while many deer hunters focus solely on moon phase, I pay just as much attention to the times for moonrise and moonset. I believe nature likes to rise and fall with the moon. As one of my mentors once described it to me, the moon is a "magnet" that lifts game animals as it rises and sets on the horizon.
If the moon is anywhere on the horizon to about 40 feet above it, then I have historically seen good deer movement. That may be at first light, two hours before dark or even at 1 p.m. But when the moon is in the right position, then that's when I see good movement of the big bucks. If you understand this basic concept and then combine it with your strategies for the three phases of the rut, you will be more deadly!
I climbed into my stand for the first time last year on Oct. 22. This was the week leading up to the first full moon on the Oct. 26. I sat a couple evenings as the nearly full moon rose during the last hours of daylight from Oct. 22-25. I saw several bucks in food plots and almost made the decision to take one about two hours before dark as he fed in a plot not long after the near full moon rose.
I love evening hunts for the few days prior to a full moon, because the moon is clearly visible before darkness. During the pre-rut, this is important to know because big bucks will make their first daylight appearances to scent check does on main food sources. This is also the time when mature bucks make their main rubs and scrapes and really claim their area. The big bucks make an appearance for a short period and seem to know which doe will come into estrus first.
Once the moon is full, then the early-/mid-morning hunts will be better, since the moon will be setting during those hours. On Oct. 27, I went in a stand for a morning hunt since the full moon was rising after it was already dark. It was only my third sit for 2015. During the pre-rut, bucks will either be checking does, making scrapes or making rubs. Because of this, I focus on stand locations along the edge of a creek or along some CRP. Two hours into my hunt, a small doe appeared about 150 yards away on the field edge.
Behind her was one of the biggest deer I had ever seen. He was sniffing her a little bit and then urinating on his tarsal glands and lip curling. I could tell he was claiming his area, so I waited until he wasn't looking directly my way and blew a few grunts at him. Without hesitation, he whirled around and headed my way. Several times along the way, he stopped to rub trees and scrape the ground.
When he stepped inside 40 yards, I put a Rage in the vitals. He is my biggest deer ever, and I spent fewer than 12 hours on stand to tag him! I credit my success to keying on morning hunts after the full moon and choosing a stand location along a field edge where bucks can check for does. Also, the grunt tube was crucial to getting his attention.
Once the rut kicks off, you are at the mercy of being near the first hot doe of the season. Many bucks will key in on the same doe, and they are usually already close by them. One hot doe can have multiple bucks chasing it. My strategy during the early rut is to hunt hard in areas where a hot doe is likely to be trying to fend off multiple bucks.
This is usually in thickets, briar patches or thick CRP cover. The moon gives you a good idea on main movement times, and for the early rut most does are still moving on their normal schedules. However, they are less likely to be wandering around in plain sight of bucks. This is why food plots tend to be more vacant during the early rut, since bucks are constantly harassing the does.
On Nov. 2 last year, the moon was waning and well on its way toward a new moon. The moon was rising well after dark and then setting down on the horizon during the late morning. I knew the morning would be the better time for a hunt, but my good buddy Christian Berg (our trusty editor) had drawn his non-resident Iowa buck tag and arrived for his hunt that afternoon.
That evening, we sat what I call an observation stand. It overlooked a lot of CRP and thickets but was also on the edge of a food plot. As expected, the CRP and thickets had most of the activity as the food plot sat vacant. We did get to the see the first hot doe of the season with a swarm of bucks chasing her throughout the thick CRP. Nothing came close enough to shoot, but by using that evening to be in a spot where we could overlook a lot of the area, we were able to key in on piece of timber about half a mile away for the morning hunt.
After watching that doe get bred, we knew the rut was officially on! With that in mind, I told Christian we needed to get into that thick timber nearest that hot doe where major trails intersected. Based on the moon setting late the next morning, I told Christian I predicted good movement mid-morning. After an hour, we saw our first little bucks passing through. All of them were on main trails, walking as if they were on a mission to pick up a scent trail.
After only a few hours, a great buck I had captured on my Stealth Cam over the summer came walking along one of those main trails. He obviously had finished breeding a doe early and was alone and covering ground to pick up a new track. He stopped and freshened up a scrape right before giving Christian an 11-yard, broadside shot. Once again, using what we knew about the timing of the rut, using thick, high-traffic areas and the moon all factored in to a successful hunt after only two sits in the stand.
The peak rut is a funny thing. It involves the "lock down," when the bucks are tight to their one doe and are sometimes tough to find. It can be tough to get shots when the chasing is fast paced and it can be frustrating trying to get bucks to slow down. Bucks are normally with the doe until later in the mornings and then they start covering ground to find another. This is when you can put rattling antlers to use to get their attention when the timing is right.
Last year, the new moon was Nov. 12, right during some of the peak rut activity. So, it played really well into having movement throughout the day. During lockdown, movement can be spotty but being persistent with the rattling antlers, packing your lunch and sitting all day is what it's all about! If I only had one full week to hunt the rut, I would pick the week that the new moon is happening and get mentally set on sitting those days, ALL DAY.
Last year, this week fell from Nov 9-13. I had one other friend call me who drew a tag here in Iowa. I talked him into waiting until this week to come, simply because it was the dark of the moon and I knew it was the best time for all-day sits. I think a lot of people want to use their vacation time to hunt the first week of November because they assume that is "the rut." However, you should look past just the dates and instead look at the moon calendar. On some years, that full week of the new moon may in fact fall in early November. However, last year it fell in mid-November, which is when I had Mike come.
The key to this time of year is being in timber, creeks and cover where bucks are comfortable moving any time of the day. Mike and I both had lunches packed for sitting all day. We started out in pinch down points of bigger timber blocks.
We sat all day and saw multiple bucks at varying times of the day. One important outside factor that I haven't mentioned yet really came into play for his five days off work. We saw on the weather map that there was a huge system moving in later that week, with some dangerous weather and also much colder temps. I told him that the calm right before that storm would be a great chance for big movement with deer.
After 36 hours in the tree, we were on our fourth day of his hunt. The new moon was actually rising mid-morning that day, and that weather system was also supposed to hit about noon. I told him Mike needed to be aggressive with rattling that morning. Starting at first light, I slammed the antlers together and right away we had a small buck come in. Each hour, I rattled and made a calling sequence.
At 9 a.m., I started my third rattling session, and at 9:04 Mike made a perfect shot on a monster buck that literally charged right in to our tree. The key factors were the new moon, all day sits, rattling and focusing on good cover along creeks in timber where bucks feel safe to travel through the day.
This year, the moon calendar is a little different than last year. The new moons are falling very close to the first of October and November. Given that, here is what I predict for hunting conditions in the Midwest:
'¢ The first few days of October will be good for movement for short, two-hour sits morning or evening. Focus on transition zones between bedding and feeding areas. Oct. 13 and 14 will produce good evening sits overlooking food sources. Movement will occur well before dark, so get in early.
'¢ My favorite pre-rut days are Oct. 26-29, and this year I will prefer to hunt the mornings more than the evenings, simply because the moon will be in its best position after 9 a.m. It sounds funny, but if I only had three hours to hunt on those dates, I would be in my stand from 8-11 a.m.
'¢ As long as temperatures aren't too much above normal, I see great rutting activity starting on the new moon, which is Halloween day. The first week of November will be much like the second week was last year. You will want to be hunting all day that first week of November, and filling a tag early is highly possible.
'¢ There will be some awesome early afternoon/evening hunts from Nov. 10-13, because the moon will be rising before dark! However, don't just sit on a food source simply because its an evening hunt. Instead, set up in some timber or a thicket just off of food sources. These are classic areas where a big buck may be holding a doe.
'¢ The full moon arrives Nov. 14, and this coincides with the time of the rut when bucks start leaving a doe late in the morning and covering ground to find a new one. With that said, the late-morning movement should be good most of this week, and you shouldn't be surprised to see a big buck you haven't seen before.
'¢ The moon starts to go dark again in late November, which will make evening hunts get better and better. The first week of December should have some great evening activity on food sources!
Last year, I literally wanted to practice what I preached. I stayed out of my stands until the time I had written about. It was really hard for me to wait more than three weeks
after opening day to get started! However, I believe in what history and the moon has taught me.
I trusted what I told all of you, and I waited until that iron was red hot before I struck. I hunted three days and was done! Christian hunted two days and was done! Mike hunted just over three days and was done!
When it comes to whitetails through the Midwest, understanding the moon, the timing and the tactics is all you need for success. Good luck, my friends!