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Hunting the rut when the thermometer soars

11/9/2005
Rattling along a waterway is a good tactic to employ during the heat of the whitetail rut in a warm autumn. 

The heat is on … much to the chagrin of whitetail hunters across a good portion of North America's best deer country.

With the rut beginning to heat up in many locales, including the big-buck-rich American Midwest, near-record warmth is conspiring to keep daytime whitetail movement to a minimum in deer camps.

"Oh yeah, it's been slow for the last week," said veteran big buck expert Stan Potts on Tuesday as he broke for lunch in an Illinois deer camp.

"It's Nov. 8 and, right now, it should be rocking," he added.

"But when it's 55 to 60 degrees when you get in a tree in the morning and in the 70s in the afternoon, these deer aren't cruising and doing a lot right now."

In northern Oklahoma, deer-hunting outfitter Brady Walker of Ducks N Bucks Guide Service also is wiping sweat from his brow as the southern Great Plains bake in the untimely November heat wave.

"Yeah, today, it's cooled down; we got some clouds and it's dropped all the way down to 71 degrees in the shade," Walker quipped.

Across the border, with a Kansas deer tag burning hot in his pocket, bowhunter Brian Strickland already has made two lengthy drives from his Colorado Springs home to try and tag a big Sunflower State buck.

So far, however, warm weather has caused the monster bucks that southern Kansas is well known for to lay low in the shade.

This past weekend, when chilly morning air greeted him one dawn, Strickland's hopes were briefly stirred for what's to come as the rut peaks over the next couple of weeks.

"One morning, the low temperature was 39 degrees," Strickland said. "That was the day I saw the most activity; I saw deer movement up until about 11 o'clock."

With another cold front scheduled to knock temperatures down a bit later this week, Potts is hopeful that things will be soon be rocking in his neck of the deer woods.

"When we get a little bit of a cold snap, they've been waiting and they'll pop," Potts said.

"When that happens, several (does) will come into estrous at once, and then (you could) have a frenzy on your hands with bucks cruising all day long."

In northern Oklahoma, Walker nods his head in agreement.

"(When it gets cooler), it will go crazy," Walker said. "It's like a light switch, it flips on and, pow, it's going."

Until then, all three hunters have a few tricks up their sleeves until cooler north winds blow.

For starters, Strickland will not climb into his stand without the ability to make some noise when he sees a buck on the prowl.

"Rattling and calling is a key," he said. "Last weekend, I called in several smaller bucks. Even without my decoy out, they still came in except on one of the days that was really windy."

In the Land of Lincoln, Potts will try to edge in closer to where whitetails are hiding to wait the warmth out.

"What we're doing, we're trying to move in close to where they're laid up in their bedding areas," Potts said.

"We're trying to get right on the edge as close as we can to catch these bucks milling around."

He's also making sure that he's in his treestand both early and late.

"We're seeing these bucks at last light and at first light," Potts said. "This morning, we saw three bucks including one shooter in the first 30 minutes of daylight."

In addition to hanging a stand cozy to a deer bedding area and hunting the first and last glimmer of legal shooting light, Potts also has another couple of tricks up his sleeve.

One is to hunt near water. On his Tuesday morning hunt, the deer Potts described above eventually followed some does into a cool river-bottom area to bed.

"Waterholes are a key right now, especially if you can get one real close to a bedding area," Potts said.

"You can actually sit there in the middle of the day, since bucks will come into it in the middle of the day if it's near a bedding area."

The veteran deer slayer has yet another ace up his sleeve to help turn the odds of shooting another prime-time November buck in his favor.

"I'm a firm believer in decoying," Potts said. "I always use a buck decoy and not a doe decoy and set it up along the edge of an open field, an open pasture or a food source."

Potts urges bowhunters using a decoy to position it upwind of their stand location about 20 yards or so.

By doing so, the real buck should eventually walk between the hunter's stand and the decoy to scent-check the fake deer.

Potts also advises archers to place the decoy quartering toward their stand location with the decoy looking back into the woods behind the hunter.

He says that such a posture will look more realistic to an approaching buck, with the decoy simulating a deer that is looking back at a doe or another buck in the woods rather than looking blankly out into the open space of a field.

Does such a setup work during warm weather?

Potts says yes, noting that a couple of years back such tactics allowed him to kill a 9-point buck on camera for a Hunter Specialties "Prime Time" video despite afternoon temperatures soaring up into the 70s.

In northern Oklahoma, Walker focuses his hot-weather rut-hunting strategy on finding the does around preferred food sources.

"Right now, the does are concentrating on wheat fields that are just sprouting up; they love that first two weeks when it sprouts up," Walker said, noting that his clients also are seeing bucks cruising along the edge of local alfalfa fields late in the day.

To find such hot food sources, the guide says that hunters may have to scout a bit more, especially if dry weather and warm temperatures have changed the local whitetail playing field in recent weeks.

"The (farmers) that planted early this year, they've got good wheat," Walker said. "That may push the deer a mile up the creek."

He also indicates that hot weather or not, November is the prime time to kill a big buck in most of whitetail country.

In other words, put in your time on stand and punch the clock, sweaty conditions or not.

"My advice is to keep going," Walker said. "You can't kill them in front of the TV; get out there and find the does."

You can rest assured that warm weather or not, the bucks sure will.

After all, it's November, and that's whitetail hunting's prime time.

All it takes during this favored time on the calendar is one moment for a hot-weather hunt to turn into a memory that will send a shiver down a hunter's spine for a lifetime to come.

For more information on Brady Walker and Ducks N Bucks Guide Service,
click on their Web site.