by Eric Hall
Work smarter, not harder! We have all heard this before. As we age, this concept becomes clear and we begin to adapt to these principals. It’s not that we are lazy but simply seeking efficiency. Putting our efforts into activities that produce the most results. Mature whitetail bucks are no different. They adapt as they age and truly work smarter, not harder during the rut. Hunters need to acknowledge this and adapt their tactics as well. Understanding how mature whitetail bucks seek an estrous doe will help refine your set up and increase your odds.
A whitetail doe is not driven by the need to breed except for that period when she is cycling into heat. Instead, they stay on the need to feed cycle and that drives their daily behavior. The doe groups move from food to bed and from bed to food just like any other time of the year. Bucks know this and will seek out the bedding areas and food sources to locate an estrous doe.
Nothing stated before should be a surprise to most whitetail hunters. Honestly, that is rut 101 in the whitetail world. Let’s consider for a moment how age class can influence rutting buck behavior.
Immature bucks are on their feet early and running, bumping every doe group in sight. These are the bucks we typically see bursting into open areas, following doe trails in and out of bedding areas and food sources. They are inexperienced in the rut and seem to throw caution to the wind. These are typically the deer willing to expose themselves regardless of a doe’s status in the estrous cycle. They see a doe, go check, see another and go check and run frantically through the timber from place to place. This inefficient and dangerous behavior leads to the high mortality rate of lower age class deer. They are the ones seen and thus are the ones killed.
Mature bucks are a totally different animal, altogether. Don’t get me wrong; they still have the drive to breed, but they use the security of cover and are smart about how they pursue the ladies. Yes, there are exceptions, but usually the only vulnerability of a mature buck in the rut is that he is on his feet more during daylight hours. Often this is a short, 14-day window of opportunity, but they are out of their beds and on their feet. Nothing more, nothing less; he is on his feet and that is his one and only mistake.
Adapting your strategy to take advantage of the behavior of an older age class deer will greatly improve your odds of success. Mature deer will not be the ones exposing themselves to danger on the off chance that a doe may be in heat. Many times, you will find a mature buck will walk perpendicular to doe trails between the beds and food sources checking each trail for signs of an estrous doe. This is both efficient and safe. Safe because they will stay on an edge or just inside an edge and check each trail without exposing themselves in a field. It is efficient as many times multiple doe bedding areas converge on a food source. Once the field is full of doe, the buck can check each trail leading out of the bedding. He is checking each doe group without actually expending the time and energy to enter the field on the chance that a doe is in heat. They work smarter, not harder.
Look for faint trails just inside the edge that bisect the doe trails from bed to food. These are the trails mature bucks will travel in search of a hot doe. Keeping the wind in your face, you want to set up adjacent to multiple doe trails just inside an edge. Edge can be CRP to timber, tall grass to marsh, etc., any place where two types of cover or habitat meet. Try and locate the narrowest section inside the edge and hang your set.
Hunting mature whitetails drive the passion of many hunters. It is challenging, exciting, and frustrating all at the same time. It is why we do what we do. Try fine-tuning your sets to take advantage of how mature bucks use edge cover to walk perpendicular to doe trails. It is another trick for the arsenal to try this fall.