5 Tips for Bow Hunting the Rut

by Denny Sturgis Jr.

Implementing these five tips into your rut hunting game plan could tip the odds in your favor this season.

Denny Sturgis Jr with a Beautiful Buck

When the rut approaches, numerous things are changing in the whitetail world. Priorities change for most bucks. Food and security slide down the list to make room for propagation and buck movement increases dramatically. Crops are being harvested in agricultural areas and leaves are dropping reducing available cover. Temperatures are falling and many food sources begin shifting also. As hunters, we need to adapt our thinking for these changes.


When bird dogs encounter a large strip of cover to search out for game they don’t have to cover every inch. They can simply cruise on the downwind side of the cover Bowhunter using the 'Bird Dog' method and effectively search the whole strip with their sense of smell. Bucks in search of receptive does do the same thing. John Hale, a noted hunter of big bucks with traditional equipment, shared this with me back in 1991. I was hunting down in Illinois when we met to have dinner one night during the rut. The bucks were constantly harassing the local does. The does were sneaking around with their tails clamped down tight and bedding in the thickest cover to avoid the aggressive bucks. John was easing into the downwind side of the thickest bedding areas he knew of and climbing into a treestand on or just inside the area he figured a buck would walk through. He didn’t even place his stands that high depending on the cover. He said many times setting his stand at eight feet high was plenty high to go undetected. He reported seeing and passing shots on numerous bucks so far that season and had proven the method numerous times on big bucks over the years. Later in the week on that same hunt I used John’s advice to collect my first Pope and Young buck. I placed my stand fifteen yards in the off the downwind edge of a thick, brushy hollow choked with honeysuckle. Sitting in the stand since first light I’d passed on shots at several smaller bucks. At 2:15 pm a bigger buck popped up out of the hollow chasing a doe and hesitated within easy range allowing me to shoot.


Whitetail does drinking water during the Rut When temperatures rise during the whitetail rut it seems to shut down a lot of the normal increased movement. The rut will carry on though because fawns are still born the same time every spring. Since I started hunting water sources, I no longer dread heat waves during the rut. In fact some of my hunting buddies and I use it to our advantage. We’ve had nice bucks drink in the morning before going to their day beds and also come in the first thing after rising in the afternoon. Does need water also and can attract bucks in during the rut. I was sitting all day in a large woods during a hot spell years ago. At high noon, a huge buck appeared from a draw and plodded over to a tiny pot hole in the woods with his mouth hanging open. He tanked up like a camel and sauntered back into the draw he came from.

I’ve had good luck hunting over small water holes and ponds. The banks and mud are easy to check for tracks and figure out how to set up. Other areas are more difficult to figure out. Nick Niblock with big buckOne area I used to hunt had multiple swamps. At times they all had standing water in them. While the deer could drink anywhere, they had a couple preferred spots where they watered. Both were located on outside corners of the swamps. I’m not sure why they preferred these spots, but I know on warm days in November they are great treestand or blind locations. I’ve also noticed dried up drainage ditches and creeks will sometimes have pools of water left behind in low spots that can become prime water sources.

Rich Niblock, is one of my hunting pals from Michigan. He has killed several of his best bucks over water. One of the farms he hunts has a beautiful, flowing stream snaking through it. While deer do drink from it, he says they prefer a stagnant pool on the edge of a marsh that was dug out decades ago for some reason.


'The Gauntlet' hunting the rutI’ve had some early season spots that are doe and yearling paradise. We seldom see any bucks in these areas early. When the rut starts though buck sign appears seemingly overnight. My wife and I hunt a quarter mile strip of trees that we call the gauntlet. It’s normal to have three to five groups of does filter past early in the season. When the rut comes, buck rubs and scrapes appear and bucks seem to wait in ambush for the does the run the “gauntlet.” Remember the doe spots you find early and check them when the rut comes. If the does are still there chances are they will have male company.


Zwickey Judo small game point
Zwickey Judo screw-in point

The rut can be a challenging time for most bowhunters. We want to spend as much time in the woods as possible, but with all the other obligations in life it can be frustrating at times. I think it’s important to keep in top shooting shape; especially during the rut. This is the time of year that most of us practiced all summer for. I carry a hammer or judo tipped arrow and try to get in a few practice shots at the truck or walking in and out. I also have a bag target in my garage. I can only get a five or six yard shot, but I think it helps to stay focused, keep shooting muscles toned and also lets me check to make sure gloves and heavier clothes aren’t going to alter my shot.


During the rut, your ears can be a great aid to your hunting. Most of us hear buck grunts, fighting, wheezing and chasing. Grunting or wheezing back can sometimes provide positive results. Some of the areas I’ve hunted are super thick. I’ve had good luck moving to the chase/grunting areas undetected and climbing a stand (if available) or setting up on the ground. I’ll often use the sounds I heard in the morning to select an afternoon stand location.

Dale Karch with big non-typical whitetail buckThe best example I can think of for using your ears to hunt was experienced by my friend, Dale Karch. Dale and his wife, Sandie, own 3Rivers Archery. He was invited by True Flight Feathers to hunt their property in Iowa for whitetails. One morning in November, Dale positioned himself in a ten foot high ladder stand 10 yards inside the edge of woods that necks down between a creek and a high weed, CRP field. He heard a deep grunt resembling a hog when he entered in the dark. Around 9:00 he heard a grunt again. It sounded close, but scanning and glassing the area provided no clues. A lone doe walked between the CRP field and his ladder stand a short time later. Dale said the doe was staring at a clump of brush about fifty yards away from the ladder stand. She walked closer with her ears rotated forward and bobbing her head up and down focused on the brush. Dale figured the grunts were coming from there. The doe wandered off finally around 10:00 and Dale quietly climbed down and stalked the brush pile. Upon arrival, he found nothing and glanced around puzzled. Twenty-five yards away he noticed a crab-claw antler tine sticking up out of the CRP grass in a slight gulley. He nocked an arrow and crept closer. A big non-typical buck was bedded, facing away on a narrow ledge cut into the bank of the gulley. Dale eased into less than twenty feet, rose up and delivered a Woodsman broadhead into the vitals. On impact, the buck jumped up and into the bottom of the five foot deep gulley where he mired into two feet of mud and expired right there.


There are no guarantees in hunting, but here’s hoping that following these five rut hunting tips help you with arrowing a trophy buck. Be sure to share in the comments below any tips you have and email in any success you have this deer season.