Hunting the Rut – Lessons Learned

Last weekend was one that I had been looking forward to for quite some time.  The rut should have been in full swing, I had some time off of work, and I would be chasing whitetail for four days straight.  Does it get much better than that?  I think not…

Beautiful Morning

My hunting started on Thursday, a perfectly cool morning of 24°.  I was heading in to setup in a new spot that I had quickly scouted, but didn’t have any history with.  It was a ridge top that connected a bedding area to a water/food source, and although I typically don’t consider water/food much during the rut, this spot was a perfect funnel for cruising bucks.  Once the sun began rise it didn’t take long for the action to rise with it.  I saw 8 bucks that morning, several of which came in range of my tree stand.  I passed on the first two that I saw that day, both being small 4 pointers.  I had one great 8 point come in about a half-an-hour later, but unfortunately he was on the tail of 3 does.  I tried challenging him with some calls, but he was concerned with one thing, and one thing only – getting his ladies pushed into his spot.  They moved through quickly at 40-45 yards.  No shot.

Brrr... Cold Wind!As the morning progressed I had a few more deer move through, but just out of range of my stand.  The winds started to pick up late in the morning.  I didn’t know it at the time, but this wind would prove to be the decisive factor for the remainder of my hunts.  I sat all afternoon and evening without seeing one single deer.  I realize that happens, and I am no stranger to days in the stand without deer, but I didn’t expect it to be happening this time of year.  We were in the middle of a cold front following 3 days or rain; how is it that the deer weren’t on their feet for the evening?

The forecast for Friday was wind, and more wind.  I really debated on sitting the same set as Thursday, especially since it was high on a ridge, which would put both me and the deer up in the wind.  My head was telling me to drop low and get out of the wind, but my gut wouldn’t let me give up on a spot that saw so much action the morning earlier.  I pushed on up the ridge and sat the same set.  As the morning carried on I saw some decent action, but again nothing was falling in place perfectly.

I had an injured buck come in and bed just 35 yards from me.  His back leg was severely injured and his rack was malformed from his injuries.

He wasn’t big, and he wasn’t pretty, but man did I want to put my tag on him.

My arrows were ready to fly!I couldn’t stand to think of this poor guy hobbling along through the woods for another winter.  He bedded down in a depression and I could only see his head.  I said a prayer and asked God to send him my way when he arose from his bed.  I thought about climbing down that second and trying to put the sneak on him from the ground, but he was too close and he kept scanning his surroundings in all directions.  He finally came to his feet and began looking my way.  He took one step, and then another.  I stood, bow waiting.  Just as he began to move into one of my shooting lanes he stopped, spooked by some ruckus that the squirrels were causing, and then preceded to back out of the area.  I didn’t see this buck again, but I hope that someone was able to harvest him over the firearm season in the following days.

Friday’s action continued by watching two bucks go at it for a good 4-5 minutes.  They were below my stand, about 80 yards away.  Both of the bucks were cruising a ridge line when they stumbled upon one another.  It didn’t take long for the fight to break out, and boy did they put on a great show.  I have witnessed a little sparring before, but this was the first all-out fight that I have seen live in the woods.  What a sight to behold!

Friday afternoon and evening ended up being very slow as well.  The wind was brutal and I know that the deer were laying low because of it.

To be honest, I was frustrated and disappointed.  This isn’t what I was hoping for.

Saturday was the opener of firearm season, and though I would be able to hunt, the invasion of the orange army tends to cause chaos to break loose.  On one hand this can be good since it pushes deer around, but it also doesn’t take long before the movement ceases as the deer take cover.  I had really high hopes for Thursday and Friday.  The weather looked great, but the wind proved to be brutal.  I second guess my decision to sit the same spot on Friday.  It provided me with some action, and some great experiences in the woods, but it also left me empty handed.  Hindsight is always 20/20, and if I had to do it over again I would have been more aggressive in my afternoon and evening hunts over those two days.

My Badlands 2800 - I love this thing!I hunted a different property for the firearm season on Saturday and Sunday.  Saturday morning started off with some great action.  I was hunting from the ground and I had some good encounters with bucks, but again I couldn’t get that last little bit of luck for things to turn my way.  The highlight of Saturday was having a buck within 7 or 8 yards of me on the ground.  He came in behind me, and then moved over the wrong shoulder.  It was insanely frustrating to have a buck that close and not be able to get a shot off, but WOW, what a rush to be that close to a buck on the ground!

I stopped counting shots at 9:00am on Saturday, and by that time I was already over 70.  The orange army was out in full force.  After 9:30 or so the action completely died, and the temps began to sky rocket.  You know it isn’t a good sign when you are in mid-November and can hunt in a t-shirt.  The temps stayed high the rest of the weekend, and the action remained slow after those first few hours.  On Sunday the woods were absolutely dead.

Lessons Learned

I tend to be a pretty patient hunter, which I think is a good thing.  But I learned over these 4 days that hunting the rut, and especially hunting before the invasion of firearm hunters, is no time to be on your heels.  I think I was too patient.  I should have moved stands for evening/afternoon hunts.  I should have managed the high winds better.  I should have, would have, could have…

The most important lesson I learned is a lesson that I have learned one hundred times before: A lot of things have to fall in place for a successful hunt.  Sometimes those things come easy, and sometimes they come hard.  Sometimes they never come at all.  I came close, but could never get those last few inches of luck.  That is hunting, and I love it!

I still have time on my side, and tags to fill.  Let’s hope I can get it done!


The Author

Mark Huelsing is a regular guy with an irregular passion for bowhunting and the outdoors. Learn more about Sole Adventure or get in touch with Mark...

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  • Will Jenkins

    Sorry you didn’t get to fill a tag but at least you got to see some good action. Shotgun season starts here Saturday so unless a dog is chasing it most deer will be nocturnal at least on the weekends . . .

    • Mark

      Will, our firearm season ends on Tuesday, and then I have until Jan 15th to bowhunt. I am so ready to get back at it!

  • Al Quackenbush

    Mark, I always love reading your posts. Great writing and enthusiasm! Very exciting stuff and even though you didn’t punch a tag you got to see more in a few days than most hunters I have encountered out here have seen in years. Good insight, too. Trust your gut and if it’s windy, make a move. Keep up the hard work and I am sure you’ll fill that tag!

    • Mark

      Thanks, Al! It felt great to be out there and have those encounters. I have a good amount of the season left, and I know I’ll connect soon enough.

  • Passinthru Outdoors

    I’m sure many a hunter, including myself has been in that situation where we knew deep down we were making the wrong decision to not move but just couldn’t get the body to do so. As unsuccessful as you think you were, in my book you had a good hunt. I’ve been unable to hunt a single outing during our archery season. way to busy and with no Sunday hunting in CT, hunting time has suffered. Keep on after them and enjoy every minute of it.

    • Mark

      Passinthru, you are are right – despite the fact that I didn’t fill a tag, it was a good hunt. I fell for you guys who don’t have Sunday hunting. That sure does limit your opportunities. I hope you can get out there soon!

  • AZWanderings

    Sounds like my week in PA. As they say, always better than being at work. Good luck with the rest of the season.


    • Mark

      Thanks, Ben!