Ahhh, the rut. It’s that magical time we whitetail hunters dream of all year. We are like little children waiting on Christmas morning; it is all we can think about. But, let’s not forget about that exciting stage that comes before the rut. Yes, I’m talking about the pre-rut. For many hunters, including some of the top experts, it is the pre-rut, and not the peak rut, that holds all of the magic.
Okay, so maybe you consider the pre-rut to be part of the rut. And, technically it is one phase of the rut. Yet, it is very different than the peak of the rut that most of us imagine when we think of rutting bucks. Therefore, the tactics and strategies that we use during the pre-rut need to be different than those we use during the peak.
First, it’s important to know when the pre-rut period usually occurs. And, this time period is usually during the last 2 weeks of October. Now, notice, I said usually; there is no exact science in determining the pre-rut, or for that matter, the rut. There are many factors that can influence all 3 phases of the rut, because if the first phase is early or late, than all 3 phases will be off from the expected time period. So, you can typically give or take a week from the usual time period.
Alright, if you can’t always know the exact date the pre-rut is going to start, then how do you know it’s going on? Well, you have to know the signs! This is a great time to do a little scouting and figure out where the bucks are. It is during this pre-rut period that bucks are making new scrapes and rubs. Bucks are in search of does in heat, so they are moving. You are most likely going to find those scrapes and rubs near bedding areas, food and water sources, and staging areas. The bucks are still staying in their home territory at this point, so those scrapes are going to be along their usual travel corridors. However, the scrapes you are looking for will not be on main trails. The big boys are going to make their scrapes off the beaten path. Also, you want to look for scrapes that are very fresh, and are a little larger in size than usual. And, this scrape must have a licking branch over it; if there is no licking branch this is not a breeding scrape. So now that you’ve found those scrapes, you have a good idea of where to hunt. Remember, you don’t want to sit right on top of these scrapes; set yourself up a little downwind for greater success.
Okay, scrapes are just one sign to look for. The next thing you are going to notice is an increase in the activity of the smaller bucks. Yes, the young bucks are the first to move and chase. They are young and inexperienced, so they are going to let you know when the pre-rut is in full swing!
So, the pre-rut is going on. Now what can you do to ensure the greatest success? Here are my top 10 tips and tactics for bagging a big buck for the pre-rut.
- Hunt The Scrapes. Of course, this is my number 1 go to for hunting the pre-rut. But, if you couldn’t find those fresh scrapes, don’t worry. Just follow some of these other great tips and tactics.
- Find The Does. Bucks are looking for does in heat, so if you know where the does are, sit there. The bucks will come along.
- Call. Now is the time to start using those calls. I like to use a combo at this point. I prefer the can-style doe bleat and a grunt tube. Though, I have personally never tried one before, I have heard of hunters having great success with the snort-wheeze call. This is one I need to invest in and try!
- Rattle. This is the perfect time to do some rattling. Keep in mind, though, too much is not a good thing! Keep the rattling light and short. A typical rattling session should only last 20-30 seconds. If you overdo it, the bucks are going to know something is not right. The goal is to call them in, not scare them off. I prefer to use a rattle bag simply because it is easier to lug in and out of the woods than rattling antlers.
- Use Decoys. Bucks are very territorial this time of year, so why not challenge him with a decoy. While you could use a buck or doe decoy, I recommend only using the buck, as does are also territorial. I’ve known other hunters who were busted by the dominant does in the area, and there is nothing worse than having a doe blowing at you when you are pursuing that big buck! (check the laws in your area regarding the use of decoys)
- Use Scents. Using doe in estrus scent can really pay off during the pre-rut, especially when used in or around scrapes. And, if using a doe decoy, be sure to pair it with your estrus scent. Likewise, if using a buck decoy, pair it with dominant buck scent. Dominant buck scents can also be used in and around scrapes. However, it is important that you remain as scent-free as possible. I use scent-free shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. I have also started using Nose Jammer spray, while it is scented, I have had great success with it. (please see my review on Nose Jammer). One final word of caution, many states have banned the use of natural deer lures, so please check the laws in your area.
- Hunt The Weather. So, this is an often debated topic. Everyone seems to have an opinion on how the weather affects deer movement, and research actually shows that it has no impact. But, I can only speak from experience and what I have heard from other hunters. And, there are a large number of hunters, including many experts that believe weather plays a large role in how deer move. Personally, I recommend hunting the cold front, as do many of the experts out there. It only makes sense that as the weather cools, deer are going to move more. In fact, some of the best days according to many are cold, windy, and rainy days.
- Hunt The Moon. This is another heavily debated topic. Should you hunt the full moon or the dark moon? Well, if you ask the experts, you might get mixed opinions. The majority of experts, however, favor the dark moon because during this time frame nighttime rutting activity is reduced. However, other experts claim to see more deer movement during a full-moon. Regardless of which moon phase you prefer, the bucks will be moving more during either phase. However, since we are talking pre-rut, the full moon will be in effect, so just get out there and hunt it.
- Hunt All Day. The bucks are starting to move; they are out checking scrapes, so you have to be there when they show up. While they are still staying in their home territories during the pre-rut, the bucks are breaking their usual patterns. Bucks that would normally only be moving at night are now out during the day. So, to increase your chances at that big buck, you need to plan some all-day hunts.
Well, there you go; some great tips and tactics for hunting the pre-rut. Whether or not you agree with all of these tactics, the pre-rut is still one of the best times to be out there in the woods. So, grab your bow (or gun) and your gear and get out there. And, as always, hunt smart and hunt safe!
Any other tips or tactics you would like to share? Or do you have a comment? I would love to hear your thoughts, so please comment below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.