More ink is spent writing about whitetail deer hunting than any other game animal in North America.
Magazine pages are filled to the brim with tips, tricks, lore and hunting know-how to teach you how to shoot a whitetail buck. With all of the stuff that is written about them, all of the “secrets” to help you fill your tag, you might think that it takes some special knowledge to bag a whitetail.
Well, there is something special about whitetail deer, there’s no question about that. And all of the hoopla does makes sense, since whitetail are the dominant big game animal in the country. But hunting whitetail doesn’t have to be daunting or intimidating. In fact, it’s actually pretty simple. Simple, yes, but not necessarily easy.
There are close to 30,000,000 whitetail deer in the United States right now. That’s up from around 500,000 in the early 1900s. That’s a tremendous conservation success story. Whitetail are some of the most adaptable creatures on the planet. They can live in big, deep forests or in your suburban neighborhood.
They are also creatures of habit, and their habits are just what you need to know in order to bring one down.
The rut is the dance that everyone wants to attend. But during the longer whitetail hunting season, you’ve got basically four seasons to consider: non-rut, pre-rut, peak-rut, and post-rut. Let’s take a real quick look at each of these.
The non-rut is when it’s life as usual. Food, water and cover are the primary concerns. In the summer or early autumn, bucks will hang together in little bachelor groups, Their antlers are still growing and covered in velvet. They follow fairly predictable patterns of moving from cover and bedding areas to feeding areas. Life is easy and uncomplicated.
The pre-rut is when bucks begin to break away from their non-rut bachelor groups and become more independent in seeking out their own turf. Their antlers stop growing and calcify, and they have lost their velvet. Bucks spar with one another, make rubs and scrapes, check out the does, eat and sleep. Life is still fairly predictable, as bucks move from cover and bedding areas to feeding areas. But the boys will begin lightly sparring with each other, testing one another, pushing each other outside of their bachelor group range a bit.
As the pre-rut progresses each buck will make rubs, where they rub their antlers against a sapling. They’ll also make scrapes, where they’ll paw at the ground, clear the leaves, and urinate onto the earth. If you find a larger than average scrape that has an overhanging “licking branch” you may have found a hot scrape. It’s not a bad idea to stake out that scrape, because more than one deer will likely use it.
The peak-rut is crazy time. Bucks are actively chasing does. Does come into estrous and are receptive to being mated. The bucks respond to this by staying with a doe briefly, mating with her, and then searching for another doe to mate with. It is this “any port in a storm” approach that makes bucks do crazy things. As they travel in search of does in estrous, they are susceptible to being tricked with calls, decoys, scents and the like. They take chances and are somewhat unpredictable for the couple weeks of peak-rut. But the does remain predictable. So in some sense if you hunt the does, you may have success in seeing bucks.
Post-rut and everything’s back to normal, almost, with bucks getting more food and some much needed rest than they did during the chaos of the peak-rut. The influx of hunters during the rut has also affected the deer. They are harder to find as they have become more nocturnal due to the hunting pressure of the previous week or two. But all is not lost, and really good deer can be taken during the post-rut.
An Ox Ranch hunting guide will be of tremendous help in sorting these seasonal patterns out and putting you onto deer, no matter what time of year it is. They’ve learned the behavioral patterns of the deer during these times and have a good bead on what the deer will be doing and when they’ll be doing it.