How to Hunt the Peak Rut

Those days when bucks are chasing does from daylight to dark are pretty much behind us for the season. According to multiple reports, most of the country is seeing peak rut activity. Terms like “lockdown,” “pickup-breeding phase” and “hit-and-miss” are being heard at the local breakfast diners, archery shops and on social media.

But the savvy hunter knows late November might be the best time to tag a giant buck. Lesser bucks are running out of gas and rejoining the does in the food sources, with just a fragment of the breeding urge they had in the beginning of the month. It’s time for a shift in tactics. Below are a few ways to increase your chances of shooting a peak-rut buck. Before we move on though, let’s clarify a few things.

The lock-down phase occurs during the peak rut when a bunch of does come into estrus at the same time. Bucks will find receptive does close to home, so movement seems dormant for a period. But when the local does are bred, that is when the “pickup-breeding phase” begins to ramp up. Bucks – especially mature bucks – begin to cover ground again to search for the next doe to breed. Perhaps this is why 22 of the top 50 bucks in the Boone and Crockett record books were shot during the two-week period of November 14-December 1.

1. Get Close to Cover during the Lockdown Phase

“Do not enter a bedding area!” We scream this all the time, but how close can we get?

You want to push your luck when hunting during the lockdown phase because simply put, that’s where the bucks will be. Mature buck movement will be slim, but you may catch them on their feet close to home. Make sure your stand location is blowing your scent away from key bedding areas. The lockdown phase might be the one instance where we break our rule of not getting too close to bedding areas. Just be sure the wind and weather conditions are right.

2. Hunt A Spot that Has Never Been Hunted Before

You know these areas on your hunting property, don’t you? They are where the cover is so thick; you can’t imagine a buck would ever enter it.

But consider this: This year, Illinois firearm hunters shot 57,968 deer during the first three-day firearm season last weekend (November 20-22). From October 1 to November 16, archery hunters harvested 43,228 deer. That’s a lot of pressure. That’s the case in a lot of states. 

After and during (check regulations on bowhunting during firearm seasons in your state) the firearm season hunt those spots that may not look attractive to you, but have not been hunted at all during the season.

3. Get Loud with Calls and Use Decoys

When you think the lockdown phase is over, it’s time to go back to hunting the large funnels that are present on your hunting land. The challenge here is patterning exactly how the deer will move through these travel corridors – especially when hunting with the limited range of archery tackle.

Some calling and decoy tactics, while going against the grain of conventional wisdom – can bring bucks into shooting range. They are desperate to find another mate, so a buck and doe decoy combo with some rattling and snort wheezes can get the attention of cruising bucks.

Hunting the peak rut is a grind, but it’s also the time when the buck of your dreams will be seen, and hopefully shot by prescribing some of the tactics above.


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