Hunting the Pre-Rut
By Ryan Taylor
Ahh, the age old question, how do I hunt something that only comes out at night? It’s a fact, as bucks grow older they get wiser, just like people, well most people. They know exactly when to be on their feet and when to be bedded down. It’s almost like when the gunshots start going off, that’s the mature bucks’ alarm clock. So when is the best time to catch these monsters off guard? In my experience, it’s the pre-rut.
During the two weeks before the rut begins, bucks are up on their feet trying hard to find suitable does. Keep in mind, until this “pre-rut” time begins, most does are in doe groups and bucks are in bachelor groups. Once the pre-rut begins, however, the bucks are in the beginning stages of being more aggressive towards each other. Also during the pre-rut, it’s believed that bucks tend to begin roaming around. This is why the mega buck you have been seeing all summer all of a sudden disappears on you or doesn’t show up as much. This can be both good and bad. Bucks that you didn’t know about could also come into your hunting area. Once the rut hits, bucks almost lose all sense of where they are at and where they are going. They become like those creepy old men who go around chasing young ladies. Sometimes they end up miles away from home.
So when is the best time to hunt a mature whitetail on your property? Many hunters would agree that you should hunt that monster during the pre-rut. Typically most of the deer that have been on your property for the past summer are still going to be frequenting that same location. It’s almost like they begin to realize there are more deer there besides them. It is also common to see bucks and does in groups together. Keep in mind, the pre-rut can be great for activity, but you have to know the deer’s schedule. It’s been my experience that during this time period, deer tend to use these common travel corridors heavily. When temperatures drop down in the evenings or mornings, this may be a good time to be in your stand.
I have a mature buck on my camera, and he only comes out at night. What do I do? There are different tactics you can use to catch this buck off guard. He’s obviously learned that he needs to lay low during the day and come out at night to get his food and exercise. The best advice I can give you is to wait patiently until the pre-rut or even the rut activity begins. However, I have been successful before by using my trail cameras to judge where the buck will be at day break. For example, if you are seeing your mature buck at 5:30am and sunrise is at 6:00am, check the direction the buck is headed and record down these directions. Once you get a pattern on what time the buck generally comes by, focus on the area that the buck is heading once daylight hits and you just may catch him on his feet getting ready to bed down or hide for the day. The reverse can happen as well. If you are seeing the buck at 7:00pm and its dark out at 6:30pm, check the direction the buck is coming from. This may be the trick that helps you land that mature buck. Many times though, hunters are viewing mature bucks out and about in the middle of the night. If this is the case, plan A would probably work the best; patience.
How can I draw that buck out earlier than the pre-rut period? Bucks that are 3-4 years old and older know that fall is coming up and they will need the extra poundage to stay healthy and alive. Once early October hits, those mature bucks begin to show up on food plots and agricultural plots. During this period, the mature bucks will still travel mainly by night, but they will begin to show themselves only to eat. Rarely do you see a mature buck just walking or running around in the summer time daytime hours. Once falls begins to hit, they carefully inch their way out of the woods a little more each day.
The most important suggestion I would make in hunting before the rut would be to watch how much hunting pressure you put on the deer. If you hunt everyday, make sure you arrive and leave without the deer knowing it. Many times this means leaving long after dark has set in or long before daylight hits. Keeping the hunting pressure down, will ensure that you will see more deer and the deer will want to stay longer on your property. As always, make sure you leave no traces of being there. Even though it’s about to kill you, only check your cameras during this pre-rut period when you absolutely have to. I try to only check my cameras during the pre-rut when I am hunting. I’m already scent free and usually quiet! Making sure you leave the area as you found it without scaring any whitetails off is key. Hunting during the pre-rut can be very rewarding but it can also be a time of patience and preparation for the rut hunt. Remember good preparation leads to success.