By Josh Hillyard
It’s just about time to flip the calendars to November, buck activity is picking up and full blown seeking and chasing is either already happening in your neck of the woods, or is right around the corner. The switch is about to flip and that magical time of year we all look forward to will finally be here!
Throwing it back to a couple of years ago, on October 30th of 2014, Mark and Dan had the opportunity to interview Scott Bestul, of Field & Stream, on The Wired to Hunt Podcast about this very topic – the rut. I always enjoy going back and listening to these previous episodes that correspond with the current time of the year, as I seem to pick up new bits of information that I didn’t catch the first time around. Just before this season began, I started leasing a new property just around the corner from my house and after giving this episode another listen, I’m confident that a couple new pieces of advice I picked up from Scott this time will help fill my freezer with a nice Michigan buck this November!
Here are 3 keys to Scott’s rut hunting success, per the aforementioned podcast.
1. Speed Scouting: Right around this time of year, Scott is doing a lot of speed scouting. He’s checking the places that typically house good rub lines and where scraping activity historically takes place, while also making sure he knows where the does are bedding. Of course, he has already identified many of these areas by much more extensive scouting in the off season. But by knowing about these areas before the season, it allows him to be much less obtrusive during these in-season speed scouts. Scott can sneak in, check these areas out for hot, recent sign, and then get out.
Speaking of sign, Scott has found that late pre-rut scrapes are much more important than later on. He primarily focuses on hunting scrapes the last few days of October. Scott also makes an important distinction between different kinds of scrapes. He looks for scrapes back in the timber, where bucks might be active on those scrapes during the day, while scrapes on field edges are usually visited most often at night. He’s also paying attention to where the rubs are, as that’s where he turns his focus to after hunting the scrapes. According to Scott, the key is to “find rubs going through travel routes, because I know that when bucks start covering a lot of ground, they will be using terrain funnels to get from place to place to search for does.”
2. Hunting Terrain Features: Speaking of funnels, Scott focuses heavily on terrain features during the rut as well. Scott believes deer are naturally lazy critters and will take the path of least resistance when possible. It doesn’t necessarily matter what type of country you are hunting, you can usually find a terrain feature that funnels deer movement in some way that you can focus on. A few main features Scott looks for are fence lines, creek beds, saddles and benches on ridges, a change in structure (edges), etc.
Scott explains, “It is kind of how a fisherman needs to read a lake. You need to look at a map and figure out how they are going to get from point A to point B. He is going to follow this structure; he’s going take the easiest route”. He also goes on to talk about how you need to think about the big picture, not just your chunk of property. It’s important to think about how deer are moving between properties. Then taking this a step further, find these types of terrain features that connect different doe bedding areas together and you will most likely have yourself a dynamite stand location for the rut.
3. Using Calls Effectively: One of the biggest things I personally struggle with is when and how to effectively use calls. There have been more than a few times when I’ve ruined a hunt by overusing my grunt tube, snort wheezing at a buck and completely freaking him out, or rattling at deer that were not in the right mood. That said, Scott’s advice on calling in this episode was huge, and one big takeaway was that he prefers to only call to deer that he can see, as this allows you to see how the deer is responding to the call. You can judge their body language and their mood, and then based on your observations, determine if they heard you or not and what to do next. Scott believes that the majority of bucks will give you some sort of indication that they’ve heard the call. If he doesn’t get a cue that the buck heard him, Scott will amp up the volume a little until that buck hears him.
“It’s important to remember that when bucks are in the rut, they are walking through the woods breathing hard, crunching leaves, snapping twigs. A lot of times they don’t hear those first few contact grunts we give them. In my opinion, it is important to get their attention,” he explained. Scott also credited Mark Drury as someone he has acquired many great calling tips from. I couldn’t agree with Scott more here, as Mark has been on the Wired to Hunt and 100% Wild Podcasts and has shared a ton of helpful information on calling.
Mark, Dan, and Scott cover plenty of other useful information on topics such as; the timing of the rut, moon theories, using scents, and much much more! To hear the full interview with Scott Bestul, give Episode 29 a listen.