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13 Tips For Archery Deer Hunting During the Rut

It’s a magical time of year, really. As daylight wanes, the temperature begins to drop, frost appears on the pumpkin, leaves turn color and start toppling to the ground, and experienced bowhunters know the deer rut or breeding season is underway.

Buck rubs on trees and scrapes on the ground are apparent.

A buck rub on an eastern cedar tree in rural Sarpy County, NE. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Deer movement is picking up and the bowhunter’s excitement is intensifying.

A white-tailed deer buck deposits scent from his forehead above a scrape in rural Cass County, NE. Photo by Eric Fowler of NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

The timeless tradition of waking up well before dawn compiling gear and walking to deer stands and blinds in the cold darkness of early morning hours is upon us.

Rut deer hunting tools of the trade — Rattle bag, actual rattling antlers and buck grunt tubes. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

So, with the deer breeding period kicking off, bowhunters need to be on their game and take advantage of tactics to lure a nice buck or a doe to within shooting range.

Rattling antlers brought this mature white-tailed deer buck out of the woods for a look around in rural Saunders County, NE. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Below are thirteen tips compiled from Jeff Rawlinson and Aaron Hershberger, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Outdoor Education Specialists, along with Luke Meduna, Big Game Program Manager/Wildlife Biologist and Dusty Schelbitzki, Depredation Program Manager/Wildlife Biologist, both with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. These individuals blend extensive wildlife science backgrounds with many, many years of archery deer hunting experiences.

The tips should help make the most of your deer hunting adventure during the rutting time with your bow.

(1) Stay on Stand. As difficult as it may be, this is the time of year for sitting on the stand or being in a blind all day, or at least for as long as you can. That’s because bucks could be moving at any time chasing does, sparring with other bucks or being bumped by farmers harvesting their crops or even by hunters on neighboring properties. Bring a bottle of water, lunch and snacks and then sit as comfortably as possible and wait. Bring your iPhone or Android device with the sound off to periodically look through it, take some cool nature pics with it and let your family and friends know that you are deer hunting on social media sites with it. Oh, and absolutely do not forget your fall-arrest system and haul line if you’re hunting from an elevated position – a tree stand. Make sure you have a comfortable stand setup — one that you can sit or stand on for those long days. A seat cushion for the backside is strongly recommended as well.

(2) A Confident State of Mind. Confident hunters just know that a mature buck or doe will peak its head around the corner of a game trail or appear along a field edge at any minute. Confident hunters rely on continual scouting and are confident enough to use what they have learned to adapt their location quickly. Confident hunters are prepared to move that stand or blind if their scouting indicates they should. Confident hunters always think positive thoughts! Confident hunters are also safe, ethical, patient, alert and ready to shoot but not to take a chance shot. Confident hunters know their well-placed, sharp broadheads will effectively and cleanly connect. If nothing else, confident hunters have the confidence to keep going, even when things are not going their way!

(3) Make Noise: Rattle! Bucks clanking and grinding antlers fight for dominance. They know what that sound means. Bring your rattling antlers and let them know there is a new buck in the area! Real antlers work best (be careful and cut the brow tines off), but artificial ones will do the job, too. Start rattling softly. Some bucks come fast to the sound of rattling antlers while other bucks may take their time on the approach. A few tine clicks could bring in that buck standing about 50 yards away instead of spooking him. As the rut progresses, become more aggressive. Slam those antlers together, work them hard and then pull them apart quickly. This is not fast, empty rattling but choppy bursts of energy. Additionally, try to thrash your antlers on small trees and shrubs to sound like the real deal. Mix in a few grunt calls, snort wheezes, or estrus bleats for some additional vocalizations. The bulk of deer responses to rattling usually are in the first couple hours of daylight. That is the absolute best time to rattle.

(4) Control Abnormal Sounds. This may go without saying but you have very little room for error this time of year. Slamming truck doors, clanging objects on your stand, opening packages of food (this one usually is a struggle for all deer hunters) can all alert deer to your presence. Take the most efficient path to your treestand or ground blind so as not to bump any deer. Be especially cautious with sound once at your treestand. The metal of the stand often scratches the side of the tree as you climb. Lubricate any squeaky parts with silicone, if possible, and utilize carpet or moleskin to help muffle sounds. Some deer hunters go as far as carrying and utilizing a small fox squirrel shaker call to cover any startling noises they happen to make.

(5) Play that Wind. Always critical! You cannot harvest a deer if they smell you long before you see them. Check what the wind direction will be on the day you plan to hunt and then choose a stand or blind location that will allow you to hunt without having your human scent blow into an area deer will likely to show up or be present. Take a small powder bottle on your deer hunting outing to occasionally check the wind from your stand or blind.  A baggie full of cattail or milkweed seeds also serves the same purpose of providing the hunter with a pinch of wind direction now and then when some of the seeds are tossed in the air. Make certain you are downwind of any main deer trails, too. If you’re calling or rattling, be able to watch your downwind side as bucks may sneak in from that direction to find you.

(6) Scents. Deer are worried the last doe in heat was found yesterday. Fresh doe scent will get the attention of most bucks. Use a fresh, quality doe estrus scent to fool a buck’s nose. Synthetic pre-orbital gland scents can also be effective. Pairing buck and estrus lures at ground level with a pre-orbital gland lure applied to an overhead branch can work well to pique the curiosity of most bucks in the area. Used in combination with scents or lures, creating mock scrapes are also a way to make a mature buck think there is a new guy in town and potentially get him to be a little more active during daylight hours. Using a scent drag is an effective way during the rut to attract deer, as well. Go with a double drag system employing doe estrous on one wick and buck urine on the other wick. This scenario paints the picture of an aggressive buck trailing a hot doe, but more importantly of an unknown buck pursuing a hot doe. Keep in mind If you harvest a buck, you should save the tarsal glands and add those to your hunting arsenal.

(7) Scent Control. For a deer hunter, there is no way to eliminate your human odor although you can control it. Showering before the hunt with fragrance-free soaps and shampoos then drying off with an unscented towel, plus using scent-free moisturizers and deodorants all need to be done. Decontaminating hunting clothing and gear by washing, spraying or wiping them with special scent-reducing products must be done. Once cleaned, they should be stored in sealed plastic bags or tubs to keep them that way. Fresh cedar trimmings or shavings, dirt, and leaves can also be used in combination with your clothing to help mask human scent.

(8) Dress for Success. It is hard to “stay on stand” all day if you are shivering cold. Layer your clothing with multiple, proper loose-fitting garments. Avoid cotton products against your skin as it retains moisture and makes you colder faster.  Synthetics such as soft fleece along with a layer of wool can really help transfer moisture away from your skin keeping you warm and dry. Have a good pair of well-insulated, waterproof rubber boots. Wear a stocking cap or face covering. Fingerless tactical gloves that have grip on the palms are excellent to wear for bowhunting. Put on the tactical gloves and then put your hands inside of over-sized mittens for warmth. Take insulated coveralls with you to the stand. It is amazing how chilly 45 degrees can feel with a slight breeze blowing all morning!  Regarding camouflage clothing, patterns are important, but the main priority is to break up your shape to blend in with your surroundings. You typically want a good contrast in your camouflage. You should also try to pick a pattern that will match the environment that you mainly hunt.

(9) Be Vocal, But Don’t Over Do It. It is sometimes advantageous to be vocal when archery deer hunting. You need to make the right call though. Work in some assertive grunts near or during the peak of the rut, however, use your grunt tube sparingly. Deer hunters often will call too much. Simple, short contact grunts can be used when you see a buck and need to get his attention. Longer, more aggressive grunts work best for picking a fight. Blind calling with tending grunts and bleats can work, too. One more thing: Don’t overlook using doe-type calls like doe bleats or doe estrus bleats.

(10) Decoys. Using a deer decoy when deer hunting can attract deer, help set up a shot, make calls and scents more effective and add another dimension of excitement. When is the best time to use deer decoys for deer hunting? The answer: Pre-rut and rut periods when bucks are on the move, fighting with each other, rounding up does and  establishing their turf. In Nebraska, that usually means during the archery season up until the start of the firearm season. Of all the information presented on using deer decoys, the most important one involves removing as much human odor as possible. Store a deer decoy in a large sealed bag or tub. Set it up using latex gloves. Spray the decoy frequently with odor-eliminating products. Safety is also an important consideration when using a deer decoy. If you plan to use one during the firearm deer hunting season, wrap some blaze orange around it when carrying it to and from the field. Most hunters use deer decoys only during the archery deer hunting season. Why? Deer decoys have become so realistic that even with binoculars it’s too easy to convince ourselves they are the real thing from much distance.

(11) Hunting Public Lands On publicly accessible lands, other hunters can be an asset to you pushing deer in your direction. Position yourself along deer escape routes. And, don’t forget about isolated clumps of habitat either. These are excellent spots for a buck to bed with a doe.  Remember, where you find does, you’ll find bucks. Specifically, where there are does feeding/bedding – the bucks will visit. Deer on public land can react to hunting pressure, so hunt a nontraditional time such as the middle of the afternoon on a weekday.

(12) Find the travel routes, pinch points and bedding areas. Closely monitor travel routes or corridors that squeeze deer within range of your stand or blind. The more trails that neck down through a pinch point or funnel in the landscape, the better. It is also important to know where deer are bedding and the primary trail or trails they use going to and from that location.

(13) Share what you know! Share the experience of archery or crossbow deer hunting in Nebraska with a newcomer. As a seasoned hunter, it’s more fun to convey what you know and be a hunting coach or mentor for someone new anyway, isn’t it?

A mentor, Loren Katt of Gretna, NE (right) and his mentee, Hunter Volcheck also of Gretna, NE (left) pose for a quick pic before embarking on an archery deer hunting session in a recent year for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Mentored-Youth Archery Deer Hunting Program in southeast Nebraska. Photo courtesy of Loren Katt.

About greg wagner

A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Communications and Marketing Specialist and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media channels, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!

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