A ridge-bridging saddle, a classic pinch point near thick bedding cover, a creek crossing. These are but a few of the time-tested stand setups for peak rut action.

But there are other hotspots. In fact, there might be better hotspots…because they aren’t as obvious, they’re a bit tougher to find, and sometimes they’re a bit more difficult to hunt. But those are the places where you can find those ghost bucks that seem to disappear for weeks at a time, and once you find one of these overlooked hot spots, odds are good you’ll have the place (and that action) all to yourself.

the hidden homstead

1. The Hidden Homestead

For whatever reason, big, mature bucks seem to like ramshackle barns and deserted houses. I first discovered this odd phenomenon while hunting in Kansas. Several of the public properties I’d scouted via aerial imagery held long-forgotten farmsteads surrounded by a few trees and a whole lot of nothing else. After a couple frustrating days of hunting the “prime” ground, I finally swallowed my pride and took a walk around one of these seemingly lackluster areas.

What I found was startling. Scrapes littered the ground, and every possible vertical surface — trees, posts, you name it — featured a rub.

I hung a stand one afternoon and returned the following morning for what turned out to be one of the best rut sits of my life. Since that time, I’ve targeted these old homesteads wherever I can find them, and while not all of them have produced, many have. If possible, I’ll place a trail camera or two at each to help sort out which are seeing the most rut action. 

the field wrinkle

2. The Field Wrinkle

Several years ago, one of my long-time hunting areas in Michigan suddenly became a pretty popular place. It might have been because I’d killed a couple of good bucks there and word got out…or it might have been because the landowners didn’t care for deer eating their soybeans, so they opened the door to anyone who asked to hunt.

Regardless, what I once had mostly to myself now held at least a half-dozen other hunters. To escape the pressure, I hunted a small dip in the back corner of a cornfield. There was a cluster of about a dozen trees there and it was impossible to see from the road because it was essentially a ditch — a wrinkle of sorts in the terrain.

I can’t recall the exact number of bucks I saw on one particular day, but it was around a dozen. They would cruise in and out of that ditch throughout the day and rip through it on the heels of every doe that made the mistake of passing by. Locations like this are among my favorite places to use a feeder during the rut. Not because I think the bucks will be active on the feeder, but because does will use it and create plenty of scent trails for bucks to follow.

In farm country, aerial images will reveal scads of these small, nondescript locales, where a cluster of trees and brush situated in a dip in terrain have escaped the root-ripping jaws of farm equipment. Next time you find one, hunt it. 

four corners

3. The Four Corners

Throughout the Midwest, you’ll see a common landscape theme: Patches of timber converging with the edges of crop fields and some type of CRP-type cover. Spots like this occur because of terrain. Timbered areas are generally of higher elevation than crop fields (of course there are exceptions). In between them you’ll find mid-level ground that’s of lower quality — some of which wasn’t cleared for crops because it wasn’t deemed to be productive enough to pay off.

Look at that patchwork from above and you’ll see where four corners come together: A corner of woods, a corner of field, a corner of brushy/grassy cover, and a corner of a neighboring woods.

Find that and you’ve found the makings of a truly outstanding rut location. Where these habitat types converge you’ll encounter deer that are headed for the crops, headed to scent-check the grassy bedding cover, heading to or from the timber to work scrapes, and passing between woodlots in search of hot does. It’s a hub of activity that might not have an abundance of obvious sign aside from a couple well-worn trails. The rubs and scrapes will be farther into the woods or along the field edges. But the deer making all that sign — nearly every one — will utilize those corners as they travel. 

grassy knoll

4. The Grassy Knoll

No, that’s not a tasteless JFK reference — it’s another overlooked rut hotspot, and it’s one that can be a big-time booger to hunt. This is another lesson learned while hunting in Kansas, though it applies to any location with semi-open country.

When the rut really starts to kick, big bucks will court any hot does they can find and fend off other bucks that dare to challenge them. To keep a doe under wraps, and to minimize the odds of another buck sneaking in and stealing her, a mature buck will sometimes take a doe into an open area — usually a grass-covered knob in sparse terrain — and stand guard. I’ve witnessed other bucks — including other mature bucks — check those knobs any time they see a deer on them, just in case there’s a chance they can steal a doe away.

So how do you target this open-country spot? By going all-in with a decoy. The key to this tactic is providing visual confirmation that a buck is guarding a doe. Stake a buck decoy out with a bedded-doe decoy. The buck decoy should be of medium size — big enough to capture the attention of bucks from a distance, but not so big that it intimidates them. Next, find a place to hide — either in a ground blind or even behind a raked-up pile of grass — and wait for the action to come to you. 

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.