By Alex Comstock
Even though the rut is viewed as the whitetail hunter’s super bowl by many, it’s not as simple or easy as picking out a random tree and hunting. The rut can be a grind, a lot of work, and an all-around challenge.
One guy I’ve noticed who always seems to conquer those challenges, and who hunts as hard as anyone, is Zach Ferenbaugh from The Hunting Public. For some solid advice for dealing with the challenges that come with hunting the rut, read our Q&A below.
Q: To give some background, how many days would you estimate you spend afield during the month of November?
Zach: It varies year to year based on how quickly my friends and I tag bucks. Throughout the last three years though, I would say that I have been in the field on average 20-25 days throughout the month hunting or filming. Luckily, I hunt with a group of friends that all work as a team to fill as many tags as possible. So even when we tag out we still get to be in the field throughout the month filming each other.
Q: Hunting the rut can be mentally taxing. Is there anything you do in particular to keep from mentally burning out?
Zach: Getting enough rest is the most important thing. We occasionally will sleep in for the first few hours of daylight and then move into an area and setup for the rest of the day. This allows us to take breaks and catch up on sleep while still spending a large portion of the day in the field. We also take breaks from hunting some days to scout for pressure, see what crops are standing/harvested, and just get an idea of what deer are doing in specific areas that we hunt from the road. Time management and getting enough rest has always been important because it keeps you feeling fresh and helps your positive attitude throughout the month.
Q: After spending day after day chasing mature bucks, what keeps you motivated throughout the rut? I think it can be challenging for some people if they go a significant amount of time without having the chance to send an arrow at a mature buck.
Zach: The group of friends that I hunt with is what keeps me motivated. Even when things seem to be getting tough, we keep grinding as a team and when someone finally harvests a buck we rally around that and keep the momentum up. In addition there is really nothing else that I would rather be doing throughout the month so it is pretty easy for me to stay motivated.
Q: The rut is something deer hunters across the country look forward to every year. Even though it’s an awesome time of the year, what would you say is the number one challenge you face year in and year out during this time of the year?
Zach: Hunting pressure. Like you mentioned all hunters look forward to the rut. Therefore the majority of the hunting pressure on public land takes place during November. Although this can be an issue, it can also be a key factor into improving hard to reach areas. As hunting pressure increases, the deer get pushed into the unpressured pockets where no one is going. Once you find that area, things can get pretty wild. Some of our best hunts take place in the mid-late part of November because the deer have been pressured in the easily accessible areas and are tucked back in the deep corners of public land.
Q: How often do you pull an all day sit? Is there anything that you’ve found to help you stay focused while on stand all day?
Zach: I would say that we sit in one stand location all day 5-7 times a year. We also like to move throughout the day and change strategies based on how we think movement patterns will change throughout the day. That really helps me not get burnt out in one location from sunup to sundown. I am pretty impatient to be honest so I like to move when the action is slow to try to get in the game a little better. I also like hunting with a buddy because when the action is slow it helps to have someone to talk to. Last and possibly most important is I like to make sure to have enough food and water. If I don’t stay hydrated combined with lack of sleep I can lose focus quickly.
Q: One thing about the rut that can be challenging for some hunters is the perceived unpredictability of bucks. From your experience, have you found bucks to be unpredictable at times? Or, have you found a pattern among mature bucks in general that they seem to follow during the rut?
Zach: I wouldn’t say that they are totally unpredictable. We have the belief that the first week of November most of the mature bucks are locked down with the first hot does in their bedding areas. As the month goes on those mature bucks travel more, but they still know how to avoid pressure. Like I mentioned earlier with increased hunting pressure, deer get pushed into areas where they do not encounter human scent. If you can find that area where no one is hunting, whether that be public or private, you will find the does and you will find the mature bucks.
Q: If someone asked you for one piece of advice to harvest a mature buck in the next week, what would you say?
Zach: As we enter the middle part of November it is important to stay focused and not give up. This is my favorite time to hunt because year in and year out it seems like this is the time frame when the oldest bucks move the most. The first week of November a lot of two and three year old bucks are out cruising and the older bucks seem to be locked down with does. As the month progresses the big bucks have to travel more to find the hot doe outside of their core bedding areas. The sits during this time may not be as action packed, but the biggest and oldest bucks seem to be on their feet at odd hours of the day. So don’t give up and don’t get discouraged because some of the best hunting is yet to come.
If you want to see more from Zach, or his team of friends, be sure to check out The Hunting Public on YouTube
-Alex Comstock, WhitetailDNA