This article, written by accomplished DIY big buck hunter Andy May, is a brief excerpt from our Rules of the Rut 2.0 eBook and Podcast package which includes two downloadable eBooks and three hours of audio interviews, all focused on the rut, featuring some of the top minds in deer hunting. In addition to Andy, you’ll hear from Scott Bestul, Don Higgins, Steve Bartylla, Chris Eberhart, Jeff Sturgis and many more. Click here for more information on the Rules of the Rut 2.0 – MK
By Andy May
First, let me start by saying that an extremely pressured hunting environment is not ideally where you want to be during the rut. But if you’re stuck with that kind of situation or reside in a state that gets extreme pressure and don’t have the time or interest in traveling to low pressure states, this article may help you.
I should start this by defining what I mean when I say “extreme high pressure”. Extreme high pressure to me is ranging from 20-40 bow hunters per square mile. Extreme high pressure to me is small parcels that are hunted by multiple guys and overcrowded public ground where it’s difficult to find a single parking spot. Extreme high pressure to me is seeing two to three box blinds and a few more tree stands in the distance and having no possible way to avoid it. Extreme high pressure to me is hunting in areas where there is a consistent flooding of human scent due to the limited accessible land and high hunter numbers.
In southern Michigan, where I hunt, most parcels are small and have multiple hunters on them. When you add small parcels with high numbers of hunters you get an environment that just isn’t conducive to growing mature bucks and what some consider “quality hunting”. While some of these areas do have good numbers of deer, often the quality and number of mature bucks is what leaves a lot to be desired. So how can you possibly take down quality bucks in an area like this?
Extreme Pressure Observations
I’ll try to keep my observations based mainly on rutting behavior for the purpose of this article. Deer in extreme pressured environments act completely different than what you typically see in less pressured areas. The deer in these areas are borderline schizophrenic. On several occasions I’ve watched mature deer stay bedded alone for the entire day even during the chasing phases and peak of the rut, while surrounded by hunters in the distance. This tells me the pressure is so extreme that their instincts to survive are actually overriding their instinct to search for hot does. The mature bucks I do see during the rut in these pressured areas are most of the time locked up with does and moving very little. In these extreme pressure areas I see a major lack of typical rutting behavior from mature deer. Chasing does across fields and through woodlots is a rarity in my experience by the truly mature animals, 4 years and older. The mature bucks tend to sit back and wait until the does are truly in estrous and then take over under the cover of darkness or in thick cover during daylight.
Best Times To Hunt the Rut
All of that being said, my favorite time to hunt the rut in extreme pressured areas is without a doubt in the middle of the day from 11:00 to 3:00 PM. I personally have taken several of my biggest bucks in this time frame and will not miss it if I am able. In fact, between 2006 and 2014, I’ve taken seven bucks between 3-5 years of age, all in the middle of the day and all between November 5-7. Let’s be honest here, very few guys sit all day, or even through the midday hours. So not only does hunting the midday time frame offer you a period of “less” pressure, but big mature deer often instinctively utilize this time frame to check doe bedding areas for estrous within their fall home range as well. If you’re serious about taking big bucks you simply must not forgo this time frame during the rut.
A close second favorite of mine would be high pressure frosty mornings, especially at the beginning of a cold front. It seems under these conditions I routinely get visuals, encounters, and shots of mature deer in my area.
Avoid The Fields
I can honestly say I have never shot a mature buck in Michigan in a short crop field. Even during the rut I almost never see big mature deer (4 years +) in open fields in extreme pressured areas. If I do, it is very brief and an unreliable area at best. For this reason, I typically avoid fields all together during the rut. I will however hunt sign in relation to current food sources such as parallel trails on downwind sides of the current major feeding source or along the inside of the field edge where deer typically enter/exit. For the most part, sitting on the edge of a big short crop field is a bust for me during the rut in these extreme pressure areas. This is not so in other states with less pressure.
Bedding Cover/Breeding Cover
In extreme pressure areas I often am hunting in/near isolated buck bedding cover or what I call breeding cover. This isn’t your typical early season setup next to buck bedding but rather hunting the breeding areas where mature deer tend to push the does he is tending. In my experience, under high-extreme pressure, the mature animals will chase/seek very little in daylight and will rather push the doe they are tending into isolated pockets away from other competing bucks. I’ve witnessed this time and time again and have been able to capitalize on it many times. Bucks in my area of southern Michigan farm land on pressured ground often bed in small isolated pockets of cover such as: abandoned home farmsteads, islands of cover in large fields, standing corn, brushy fence rows in wide open fields, pond/lake edges with overgrown cover, cattail swamp islands/points, or in river bend/oxbows in river bottom cover. These are often the same pieces of cover that the big mature deer will push their doe into to tend her. As the rut pushes on and gets closer to peaking or even lock down, these are the areas I’m hunting.
Funnels Can Be Hit or Miss
Your typical rut funnel travel routes in extreme pressure areas are extremely hit or miss. I won’t say you could not have success in these spots because you certainly could, but I will without hesitation say they do not produce like they do in other states. You can be in for some extremely long, lonely sits in these travel funnels because more times than not, these spots are easily found by other hunters and hunted too much. My advice is to avoid the obvious funnels and stick to the thick cover funnels that function more like bedding area funnels. These are the types of funnels that will sometimes get overlooked because they are hard to get to and visibility is often limited.
While most hunters avoid nasty weather, I typically will try to use it to my advantage. If the weather is extremely warm, windy, or heavy rains, “most” hunters will sit it out, even during the rut. I actually don’t mind those sits because often the number of hunters in the deer woods is drastically reduced. If I get extreme winds or rains I will often attempt to get into more sensitive areas where I can tuck in close to where I think the deer are. The deer won’t move much in these types of weather conditions, but it gives you a unique opportunity to slip into areas that you normally can’t due to sight and sound. I’ll sometimes “still hunt” standing corn fields, thick wood lots, or isolated patches of cover under these extreme conditions too.
When the temps go on the rise I’ll hunt cooler bottoms, swamps, or isolated water holes near thick cover bedding. These spots will still get attention during the rut although the action may be slower. On November 6th, 2009 I killed a 150” 4 year old buck in the middle of the day, when the temperatures were in the mid 70s. I didn’t see any other hunters or vehicles that day yet still had one of the best hunts of my life. I was situated in a bottom along a creek where the temperature was a little cooler and water was readily available. Extreme cold weather doesn’t seem to shy hunters away as much as wind, heat, or rain.
My best advice for hunting the rut in these extreme pressure areas is “be a ghost”. Be invisible to the deer you’re hunting as well as other hunters. You must do whatever it takes to try to stay undetected because in extreme pressured areas you may get one chance the entire season. The deer here simply will not tolerate what they will in less pressured areas. Equally important to being invisible to the deer is staying undetected by other hunters. Unfortunately on shared property or over crowded public lands, hunters actually tend to move towards other hunters when they know their location. For this reason I stay mobile and typically take my stand in/out with me even though I may have several prepped trees. I usually won’t leave my stand out because it will undoubtedly be hunted, stolen, or vandalized.
Last season I had two stands vandalized and three cameras stolen. You have to be mentally tough to hunt these areas. Not only because the hunting is tough but because of the competition, harassment, trespassing, and just sheer number of hunters that flood into the deer woods from the season’s start to finish.
After reading all of this, I’m sure you’re thinking that hunting the rut in extreme high pressure situations sounds pretty rough. And yes, it’s a mental grind. But if you can keep your attitude positive, stick to your game plan and never give up…you will have success!
By Andy May
For more great rut hunting information like this, be sure to check out the Rules of the Rut 2.0!