I went to a metro area property I have permission to bow hunt on Sunday, and was hoping to make preparations for the rut, which should start near the end of October.
I took my No. 2 son, Andrew, and we set out to find a spot where the bucks would be cruising as their bodies continue to fill with testosterone in the next few weeks. We found a classic “funnel” spot and I looked around for a good tree to put up a stand.
Problem was, there already was a stand there. It was a metal ladder stand, and my guess is that it had been there for a while. A large tree had fallen right next to it, and I had trouble believing any hunter – even the most inexperienced – would put a stand up right where a fallen tree lay.
I knew I was close to the property line, but I also knew this stand was within the boundary on the property I had permission to hunt, though only by about 15 or 20 yards. I took my concern to a local police officer who has helped me with these kinds of issues before. A bow hunter himself, he advised me to take the stand down, lay it on the ground, and attach a note to the tree for the owner of the stand to contact me.
He also advised me to post the land so that anyone coming out into the woods will know where the boundaries are. I was appointed guardian of the land, so I am authorized to post it. I put a few signs up on Sunday, and will add more. The police officer told me how to do it according to the law, and it shouldn’t take much time to do it. Plus, signs are cheap, so there’s no reason not to do it.
Stuff like this is an important part of preparation. The last thing I want to see when I’m in a stand during the rut is another hunter. Hopefully, that won’t happen this fall. As far as how to hunt the rut, I offer these tips:
As mentioned above, funnels are where deer travel is restricted to a small opening. When bow hunting, it’s nice to have funnels 50 yards wide or less. Water, steep terrain or terrain changes (tall grass to woods) all can create funnels. Or, if there’s a fence going across a stretch of woods and there is one spot where the top wire or two is cut, that can be a funnel, too. Another good one is fallen trees. Generally, if the tree is big enough, deer will travel around the tree. Another funnel occurs in hill country like southeastern Minnesota – the head of a large gully.
The thing to remember is that deer move a lot more during the rut – in fact, more than they do at any other time of year. Does move searching for the dwindling amount of food and because they are being chased by bucks. Bucks move because they’re searching for does. And, deer like the paths of least resistance, provided they are in or near protective cover as opposed to being in the wide open.
Now’s the time to be scouting for funnels. And, don’t worry if there’s not a lot of deer sign. Deer will travel through funnels year round, but far more during the rut. You may find some well-worn trails now, but if they don’t go through a funnel area, they might not be so good during the rut. I recommend studying up on funnels (there are lots of good articles on the internet), then getting out in the woods and trying to find a funnel or two. When you’re sitting in a stand you put up near a funnel, you’ll be glad you did the work to find it.
Wait them out
One thing you can count on in early November is lots of deer movement. Because of the high levels of testosterone coursing through their bodies, bucks just can’t sit still for more than a few hours. In fact, some bucks are on the move almost constantly, especially if does have started coming into estrous. The bucks about go crazy.
This is precisely why hunters should do what the bucks can’t – sit still. I can’t emphasize this enough. An all-day sit in the right spot dramatically increases your odds of seeing a deer. I did this two years ago down near Red Wing and was rewarded with a beautiful eight-pointer that was chasing a doe. It was about 2:50 in the afternoon, and I had been sitting in my stand for about eight hours. The doe in front of that buck was the first deer I had seen all day.
I’m amazed at the number of hunters who leave the woods between 10 and noon. All I have to do is take food and water into my stand, and I’m good to go all day long. It may seem incredibly boring, but what keeps me going is knowing that I can see a deer at any time.
I just have to make sure they don’t catch me napping, like the nice six-pointer that came within 20 yards of my stand about seven years ago when I was sitting in our two-man permanent stand with Andy. I was sound asleep with my forehead resting on the shooting rail when Andy poked me on the shoulder, then leaned in to tell me a buck was coming. I ended up trying to turn the swivel chair so I could get a shot off. But, the chair squeaked and the buck spooked. He turned and ran a short distance, then stopped and turned broadside. I was able to take a shot before he ran down the hill. Unfortunately, we never recovered the buck. We went down the hill and looked, but never found blood or the deer.
But, it was a lesson learned for me. I sure hope that never happens again.
Pay attention to scent
The hardest thing to fool is a whitetail’s nose. If a deer sees you or hears you, it will stop to try and figure out what you are. But, if it smells you, it usually will turn and hightail it out of there, leaving behind a shocked and frustrated hunter.
I’ve had that happen too many times, and it’s never fun. Now, I practice a scent control regimen that includes washing clothes in no-scent soap, then putting them in a charcoal-infused bag that is designed to eliminate scent.
Then, I shower with no scent soap and put on my clothes. One important piece of my outfit is rubber boots, which do not hold any human scent. I have a pair of Muck boots that I really like. They are insulated and comfortable. When you consider that your footwear touches the ground almost constantly when you’re walking in the woods, it makes sense to keep the odor off of your feet.
The reward for managing this important detail is seeing a deer nearby that is undisturbed by your presence in the woods.
And, of course, along with scent control is playing the wind. That, in fact, is the best way to keep your scent away from a deer’s nose. The ideal scenario is to have the wind in your face when you’re in the stand, and to have your smell blowing away from the trail(s) you are watching. If you hear guys talk about smoking cigarettes while up in the stand and still seeing deer, I can almost guarantee that the wind was in their face. You could never get away with that if a deer is downwind.
This is much easier said than done. In fact, even though I have hunted a long time, I still get revved up when I see a deer. That’s why it’s important to play through scenarios in your head long before you shoot. That way, when an animal appears, you will have rehearsed what you are going to do. By the way, this is a lot more important in bow hunting than gun hunting.
Sight in your weapon
I marvel at the number of hunters who don’t take the time to do sighting in before the season. Then, they’re surprised when they miss a deer and don’t know what went wrong. Just two years ago, I rushed myself sighting in my 7mm rifle for our trip to Montana. The first time I fired at a deer, I missed. It was only about a 100-yard shot, so I didn’t know what went wrong. I went to the range and found out it was shooting way high. I corrected the problem and took a nice whitetail doe the next day with one shot.
If you spend hours, even days, preparing for your hunt, it only makes sense to have your weapon dialed in. With archery, I assume most hunters will shoot their bows multiple times and have their sight pins adjusted properly. The key thing here is to practice often enough that hitting the bullseye is almost automatic. I like to take it one step farther by shooting at a cardboard deer cutout target with the vital area marked. That gets you used to shooting at a deer.
Here’s hoping we all will find a deer in our sights this fall and make a successful shot!