Doc examining a large area of dirt torn up from a buck battle.
This is an example of tracks made by two bucks battling in snow.
Generally, only archery hunters, 99% of which are stand hunters, are allowed to hunt whitetails during this rut phase, September through the first half of October. Activities of bucks during this period are limited to feeding, watering, bedding and battling with other bucks. The usual frenzy of making and ground scrapes and antler rubs does not begin until nights cool sufficiently to trigger this activity during the latter half of October. Searching for scrape trails and hunting with doe-in-heat buck lures is therefore likely to be a waste of time during this rut phase.
During this rut phase, the absolute best spot to hunt antlered bucks of all ages is a location where they spend most of their time while not bedded and are most visible (while leaves still cover trees and shrubs): a feeding area currently frequented by multiple bucks. Deer trails adjacent to such feeding areas and/or sites where bucks have been battling (sometimes discovered outside of feeding areas), are also likely to be productive.
Typically, forest region feeding areas are fairly open, where sunlight can reach the ground to enable grasses, clover and other favorite greens of whitetail to flourish. Do not overlook stands of oaks at this time. Acorns become a number-one favorite of whitetails after they begin falling in late August. Clearcuts and farm crops such as corn, alfalfa, hay and soybeans are sure to be favorite feeding areas at this time as well. To zero in on older bucks, however, scout at least two weeks before hunting, searching for signs that indicate which feeding areas are favorites of multiple numbers of mature bucks. Such signs include lots of deer tracks 3-5/8 to 4 inches long and droppings 5/8 to 1-1/4 inches long, buck droppings often clumped by this time. Smaller tracks and droppings mean mature does, yearlings and fawns are also feeding there. Heavily tracked patches of dirt or turf 10– 30 feet in diameter are favorable signs to find as well — made by two bucks battling. Generally, one quick hike across a buck feeding area is all you will need to become convinced you’ve found a great place to stand hunt, which is good, because the less time you spend in a feeding area, the better. Depositing your trail scents all over the place, which will persist for many days, will quickly convince the most elusive of whitetails, older bucks, to begin feeding elsewhere.
Your next project, which I have explained in detail in recent blogs, is to select stand sites and figure out how to get to them and remain undiscovered by bucks in the feeding area. Always approach a stand site from downwind or crosswind, always stand hunt downwind or crosswind of where you expect to see a deer and never cross a feeding area to get to a stand site. When hunting older bucks at feeding areas, or any other area for that matter, no matter how skilled at stand hunting you believe you are, never count on remaining undiscovered by mature bucks longer than 2–3 consecutive half days. After that, if unsuccessful, it’s time to move to a new stand site.
Finally, the day you discover a freshly made ground scrape or antler rub in mid-October, Rut Phase I has ended. It’s then time to begin hunting mature bucks elsewhere.