Editor’s note: If you’re new to our DIY Deer Hunter Profile series, here’s the scoop. In each of these pieces, Andy May, a DIY whitetail specialist himself (listen to him on Ep #162 of the podcast and #200), hand picks and interviews the best DIY deer hunters from across the country to help us better understand how they do what they do. After reading today’s profile, be sure to CLICK HERE to see the other hunters Andy has profiled. – MK
By Andy May
Q: Tell me a little bit how your hunting journey began?
A: My name is Skip Rutter. I moved with my family from lower MI near the Indiana border to central Upper Michigan when I was in 3rd grade. My dad always took me and friends hunting for some type of game. Waterfowl was one of our main passions. I shot my first deer when I was 12, and that’s when the addiction set its hooks into me! For the first several years I only gun hunted, then gravitated to bow hunting. Any deer with antlers was fair game in the beginning, and does when allowed. I still have totes full of deer antlers from those early days. Of course I wanted to kill big bucks, but I typically shot the first deer that I had an opportunity at regardless of size. I honestly think that those “killing” days, helped me to be a better hunter.
One Christmas I received the Monster Bucks 10th anniversary videos. After watching it, man was I hooked! Those videos got me wanting to hunt bigger, more mature animals. I saw all the different states they hunted, and it motivated me to do it also.
Fast forward to present time, and at 45 years old with a wife and two kids, I am lucky enough to take several hunting trips a year. I have a wife that loves to hunt, and allows me to be away a lot. I coach a lot of my kid’s sports teams so I rarely take a trip that includes more than four actual days of hunting. I hunt both public and permission lands. Most places are only cyber scouted till arriving, but the last couple of years I have been to some repeat properties.
Q: You clearly know how to get it done on great bucks consistently. What was the turning point in your hunting career where you were able to do that on a consistent basis?
A: Honestly the big change was when I started hunting where big bucks are! Cliché I know, but very true. WI, MN, KS, IA,MO, SD – these states just have more large deer than where I live. One of my biggest influences is Jeff Sturgis. That guy just gets it done year after year. He is a good friend of mine and we have been on quite a few hunts together. I also frequent The Hunting Beast forum quite a bit, although I would not consider myself a “Beast” hunter. I do have a lot of respect for those guys that pound the pressured public hunting beds. I have kind of blended a lot of Jeff’s and the Beast’s tactics together to form my own “system” of sorts. Once I combined hunting in big buck areas with the tactics, it all sort of started falling together.
Q: In your opinion what are the three things that are most important for hunters to be successful in killing the oldest bucks in his area?
A: (1) Knowing where they bed. Or a lot of times in my case “hoping” you know where they should be bedding based on cyber scouting. Man I am wrong A LOT in this area!
(2) Only hunting a stand when the wind is right. Hunting the “right” wind doesn’t always mean a perfect wind. A good wind for him/on the verge of “bad” for you a lot of times is the most productive. Also the most frustrating!
(3) Knowing how bucks navigate terrain. This is the one that I seem to struggle the most with. I am constantly humbled by a mature buck’s ability to outsmart me! One thing I would add is that I am not always targeting the biggest bucks in the area that I am hunting. When it’s all said and done, I am still just a “Killer”. I enjoy sending an arrow through a mature deer’s vitals. I do target 3.5 year olds and up, and try to kill something at least in the 130 range. I will add also, most of the time the first sit in a stand is the most productive.
Q: I know you are a family man and have limited time to hunt. Many of your trips are only 3 to 5 days in length. How are you able to get it done successfully on such a short timeframe?
A: I cyber scout the areas I’m going to hunt months ahead of time. I revisit the maps constantly, putting hours into breaking the property down. When I put boots on the ground I feel like I know the property fairly well. But sometimes when boots hit the ground, everything changes. You have to be willing to adapt at the drop of a hat. Sometimes the cover is too thick where you were going to hang a stand. Sometimes deer just aren’t traveling the way you thought they would based on cyber scouting.
One of the most important things though I feel is only going in far enough to find “good” sign, meaning adequate sign in a good pinch/travel corridor. If you keep trying to find better and better sign, more times than not, you will blow out the whole property. Also I am a big fan of ditch hubs, or a ditch line that pinches with a field in front, and a steep ditch behind. This also creates great access. If I can find a hub where two or more ditches come together, and there is at least some sign, I am setting up a stand. More times than not, I am set up where there is not a lot of buck sign but the terrain I am in is set up great for cruising bucks. I’m confident that these areas will produce during the rut even though they may not be loaded with buck sign. That all changes when hunting a buck in the early season. At that time you rely more on bedding, and bed to feed/feed to bed patterns.
I try to base my hunts on cold fronts if possible. This is huge factor at any time during the year but especially during rut based hunts. Any day after October 18th that there is a cold front, I try my best to be in a stand!
The last thing for being successful on a short hunt is to constantly having a positive attitude. You have to just “KNOW” that a deer will walk in front of you during your hunt. Try to always make it fun and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. I know for me personally, I always feel guilty being away from home, and I constantly remind myself that I won’t be gone for much longer.
Q: Describe your style of hunting from the beginning of season as it progresses through late season.
A: I generally only take one trip before rut, base most of my hunting during the rut, and one trip after. I spend most of early season hunting with my kids at home. My son loves to waterfowl hunt. Both of those trips are spot and stalk, one with a bow and one with a muzzle loader out west.
Q: What pieces of equipment do you rely on for your style of hunting?
A: Lone Wolf stand and sticks, good lightweight optics, rangefinder, and my bow. Milkweed! This is one of the most important items! Milkweed is way more accurate than Accuweather!
Q: In your opinion what mistakes do most hunters make when targeting big bucks?
A: This is a hard question for me. I don’t feel like I’m qualified to critique anyone’s hunting tactics. I have made so many mistakes, and will continue to make mistakes, that I still feel like I don’t know anything most times. I am constantly humbled by a whitetail’s ability to survive and outsmart me.
I can list some of the mistakes that I have made, and maybe others have made some of the same ones. You have to hunt where big bucks are. You aren’t going to kill a big buck if there isn’t one in a 100 mile radius. If you are just targeting the biggest bucks in your area, then it doesn’t matter. Hunting the wrong wind. This is a major no-no. You are better off hunting a sub-par stand with the right wind than hunting the wrong wind in one of your best stands. Not having good Entry and Exit routes. This is so important. You have to get in and out clean. I have seen Jeff Sturgis literally walk a mile and a half route to reach a stand that would be a half mile or less as the crow flies. His results speak for themselves. Once I started applying that mindset to my hunts, good things started happening. Here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I see people sit the same blind with the same bait pile every day of season. This will go on for years. Is it any wonder why there seems to be no deer in the area?
Q: Hunting big bucks the hard way is a long process. What part of the process do you get the most enjoyment out of?
A: I love cyber scouting during the winter months. It gives me much needed hunting “therapy” after all the seasons are over. Post hunting season is tough on me for the first month or so. I go into a semi-depression haha. I love the days leading up to the next trip. The anticipation leading up to the hunt is a special feeling. I love the traveling. Cruising down the road with a hot coffee in your hand, heading to your hunting destination, priceless! The first sit on the first day, knowing you have three or four days ahead of you with no work and just hunting. It doesn’t get much better than that! That moment you realize a mature buck is heading to the pinch you set your stand in. Adrenaline starts flowing and your body just kind of goes into auto-pilot. I love the emotions of the shot! It’s tough to manage but awesome! Something I just started doing the last couple years is now my most favorite part of the hunt. I just sit down with my animal taking it all in after the hunt. I notice what the weather is that day, the smells, all of it just needs that little bit of extra attention. Sleeping in the next morning while your buddy gets up early again isn’t bad either!
Q: Tell me a little bit about the places you hunt.
A: I have hunted just about every scenario of land possible. High pressured public, no pressured lease, and everything in between. I have a great deal of respect for the guys that get it done consistently on highly pressured public ground. Most of my hunting now days is done on permission/trespass fee ground. I do have a small lease in MN and hunt public muzzleloader in the late season.