rut intel

Ah, the rut. That magical, mystical — and sometimes mythical — time of the year when all things seem possible in the whitetail woods.

It is during the rut that a significant percentage of giant bucks are tagged each fall, and the reason for this is simple: During the rut, big bucks are on their feet and roaming.

I monitor my trail cameras religiously during this mercurial period of the season, but I've learned over the years to use them a bit differently than I have in the past. Here are five things your cameras can — and can't — tell you when the rut is cranking.

1. WHICH BUCKS ARE AROUND

There's no shortage of research available that chronicles how much (or, in some cases, how little) bucks travel when on the prowl for a hot doe. Some bucks simply don't stray very far from their primary core areas. Others will cover plenty of distance. Your cameras will tell you which bucks are looking for love in the area that you hunt. But be forewarned: They may not stick around for long.

This is why I love cellular-equipped cameras during the rut. I'll position these units near the best bedding cover I have available to hunt. That's where the does will bed, which means that's where the bucks will cruise. By using the Moultrie Mobile system, I'm able to monitor multiple areas in near real-time. When I get daylight images of a buck I want to target, I hunt that area the very next chance I get.

2. WHICH BUCKS AREN'T AROUND

Perhaps just as important as knowing what bucks are hanging around is knowing which bucks have left. This is really more about eliminating unproductive areas than it is about identifying the right place to be.

About five years ago I was hunting a buck with multiple sticker points that made him very easy to identify. He was at least five years of age and perhaps as old as seven.  I had gotten a few images of the deer throughout September and October, but once November rolled in, those camera locations were as dry as the Sahara. Because of this, I opted to hunt a different bedding area.

I killed the buck the first afternoon I hunted that new area. Later, I checked a camera that was nearby and, sure enough, there were several daylight pictures of the buck. I didn't kill that buck because the camera told me where he was hanging out. I killed him because the cameras I had been checking told me he wasn't around them.

3. THE HOT SPOT FOR HOT DOES

For whatever reason, certain bedding areas draw more hot does each fall than others. I wish I could explain this phenomenon, but I can't — all I know is that it’s true. In one of my primary hunting areas, local does have five different thickets in which to bed. Deer bed in all of them and, for much of the year, none seems to be much better than another. But once the rut kicks in, one bedding area will be the hot spot — and those spots have changed many times over the years that I've hunted there.

I hang trail cams along travel corridors leading to and from each bedding area or parallel to them. Those cameras make it pretty easy to determine which bedding area is that fall's chosen stomping grounds — it’s the one whose cam is loaded with buck images.

reading rut intel

4. HOW BUCKS ARE RESPONDING TO PRESSURE

If you hunt an area that sees a lot of hunting pressure — whether directly on the parcel you're hunting or on neighboring land — trail cameras can tell you how deer are reacting to the pressure.

I firmly believe that if I'm capturing images of mature bucks in my hunting areas after October 15 (or mid-to-late December for the south), those mature bucks will be around all rut long.

I think bucks that face heavy hunting pressure react to that pressure pretty quickly. They'll still rut hard, chase does, make and check scrapes, and cruise bedding areas in search of hot does. But they won't do it as aggressively as unpressured deer, and I feel those heavily hunted deer are far less likely to travel far and wide in search of a suitor.

Once I begin to get trail cam pictures of a buck in late October, I assume that buck is there to stay. Old bucks are smart bucks wherever you go. But in areas with intense hunting pressure, those deer have already reacted to the pressure and have decided that wherever you’re seeing them is the place to be. In short: Your cameras will tell you whether pressured bucks are using your area.

5. WHEN A BUCK WILL SHOW UP

When I pull an SD card to check what images have been captured on it, I pay very little attention to the timestamp. I want to know what buck was moving around and whether it was moving during daylight hours. The rest of the info is nearly irrelevant.

Bucks will not have a well-defined pattern of movement for much of the rut. A buck that has showed up in a particular food plot three mornings in a row may well be there the next three mornings. Or, it might pick up a hot doe and disappear for several days.

The rut is unpredictable. Your cameras can be a huge asset during the rut as long as you understand that they can only tell you when a buck passed by and what that buck looked like. It can't predict when the deer might return, which is why you need to put in as much time on stand as you can.

  

About the Author: Tony Hansen manages for and hunts mature whitetails in his home state of Michigan, where sweating the details is the only way to succeed. When not hunting his own properties, he can be found pursuing deer on public land throughout the whitetail’s range. Tony’s writings have appeared in Outdoor Life, Traditional Bowhunter, North American Whitetail, and Bowhunter.