Deer hunting is at its absolute most exciting when bucks are frantically looking for estrus does—and then suddenly far less exciting once
Deer hunting is at its absolute most exciting when bucks are frantically looking for estrus does—and then suddenly far less exciting once they find them. That’s what makes this Friday, November 11th, my pick for the overall best day of the 2022 whitetail rut. We are only a handful of days away from peak breeding, when bucks will become increasingly locked down with does and the hunting action will slow for a bit. But right before we get there, as in this Friday, it’s going to be absolutely nuts, and you need to be in the deer woods. It looks like much of the country will be seeing cooler temperatures late this week, too, which should push daytime buck activity into overdrive. If you’re lucky enough to have Veteran’s Day off, make the most of it. If not, it’s time to cash in a personal day.
At this point in the rut, a fair number of does are already in estrus or about to be. So, you can expect some bucks to be locked down, but that’s fine because with the majority of does not quite ready, most bucks will be on the prowl, and this is a great time to encounter a monster. Early in the rut, a lot of the most obvious action involves younger bucks. There are some good ones on their feet then too, for sure, but the biggest, savviest bucks are famous for playing it cool during the whole pre-breeding ritual and then getting down to business once does really start coming into estrus. In other words, if you can get yourself into a stand or blind on Friday, you should not only have a day full of great deer activity, but also a real chance at a gagger. Here’s a closer look at where we are in the breeding cycle and how to make the most of it.
Related: The Best Days of the 2022 Whitetail Rut
Rut Phase: Just Prior to Peak Breeding
If I had to put a number on it, I’d guess that between 30 and 40 percent of does are in estrus at this point, and in a matter of days that number will reach a point where most does are available to bucks. When that happens, more bucks than at any other point in the rut will be occupied tending does in isolated patches of cover for anywhere from one to three days. This is the dreaded lockdown, and as any deer hunter who has stuck it out in a stand for several days straight in the middle of the rut and seen nothing but a few lonely and lost-looking fawns can attest, it can bring some tough hunting.
The good news is that we are not quite there yet. And the great news, as mentioned above, is that the apex of buck activity happens now, right before it tails off. It’s true that the rut is a very dynamic thing and that the exact timing of various phases can be a little earlier or later depending on where you live. In fact, the precise timing of the lockdown can vary within a relatively small area. So, keep two things in mind. First, if lockdown hits early where you are hunting and you own or have permission on multiple properties, try making a move and you may find very different rutting activity. I’ve seen it dead one farm and on fire only 10 miles down the road. Second, remember that even during the lockdown, bucks that are in-between does are frantic to find another. So it can be worth sticking it out. But if your timing is right, and I’m betting it will be, you’ll witness the hottest rutting activity of the year.
November 11 Morning Hunt Plan: Find a Funnel and Sit All Day
This is the perfect time to settle into a stand at dawn and stay there until dusk, assuming the situation is right and you can handle it. These hunts are not for the faint of heart; even the most spacious stand or blind can feel claustrophobic after four or five hours, but here’s the thing: That giant buck that’s been acting like a ghost all fall can stroll past you at any time of the day, and if you’re not there you won’t see him. Where? At the height of the rut’s best action, I always look for a no-bust funnel stand on a ridge end, or the downwind side of a bench, or a hub where three or more ridges join. A no-bust stand is one that situated so that the wind carries your sent over a valley or other steep drop, so that a buck can’t wind you not matter what direction he approaches from. And let’s face it, during the rut, they can approach from any direction. The other big advantage of a no-bust stand is that you call and rattle without worrying about a buck circling downwind. So don’t be afraid to whack the horns or call aggressively, and keep your head on a swivel.
November 11 Evening Hunt Plan: Move to Food, If You Must
I get it, sitting all day in one spot is more than many hunters can bear. So do your best to last until early afternoon in your morning spot, and then if you feel like you need to stretch your legs or see some different ground, go ahead and slip toward a different evening setup. For this, I like a food plot or small oak stand that’s just off a major food source like a corn or bean field. Any bucks that haven’t found a doe will be trolling between these spots throughout the day and especially in the late afternoon, looking to intercept a doe heading toward the main groceries. And because these discrete food sources are protected from the main chow line, a buck that’s tending a doe might push her off the big feeding area and right to you.
Hot Tip: Challenge a Buck
One of the most overlooked and under-used calls is the snort-wheeze. It’s especially effective on mature bucks and is one of the few vocalizations that has the potential to call a buck off a hot doe. You can make this pfft-pfft-phhhhh (yes, it sounds like the air being let out of a tire) with your mouth, and if a buck is close enough to hear it, he knows another buck is in his wheelhouse and ready to challenge him. If he’s got even a shred of ornery in his veins, chances are good he’ll stiff-leg it close enough for you to get a shot.
Gear Tip: Phone Charger and Page-Turner
Yeah, I know I’ll catch some grief here from the you-must-be-ever-vigilant police, but I, for one, could never get through a full-day sit without my phone or a good book, not to mention some snacks and water to stay hydrated. How often I use those first two crutches depends on the conditions. If the woods are dry on a fairly calm day, and I know I’ll easily hear deer approaching through the leaves, I’ll spend a fair amount of time reading, with frequent glances up as well as long periods of dedicated vigilance. If the woods are damp or the wind is up, and I know I probably won’t hear approaching deer, I’ll bust out the phone or the book only as often as I absolutely need to in order to stay put and keep hunting. For those of you who can stare at the woods for nine or 10 hours straight, good on you. For the rest us, spending some time with your head down reading is well worth it if it keeps you in the saddle longer.