Entering the rut

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Hunting season is entering the best two weeks of this deer and elk hunting season. Many veteran hunters have spent lots of time afield for the last several weeks, but have been reluctant to pull the trigger on any deer unless it was a trophy buck. We have now entered the peak of the deer rut or breeding season, when mature bucks lose their ordinary wariness as they feel the need to mate with a cute brown-eyed doe.

For the first three weeks of this deer season, most mature bucks, with wall-hanging antlers, have felt the pressure of more human hunters in the woods. But they have generally played hard to get by staying in their day beds until after dark. They reacted to hunter pressure by becoming nocturnal.

During the last week or so, younger bucks have felt the urge to mate, so have been more active during daylight hours. This has gotten many of them shot. The lessons of survival in the wild can be fatal.

Wise older bucks knew that most does were not ready to mate, until now, so they stayed nocturnal. Now, as does become eager to be bred, buck change habits. Bucks move around more during day light hours, searching for does. When a doe is found, bucks will stick with that doe until their she is ready to stand for the buck.

It was traditionally thought that once a doe was bred, she would lose interest in bucks. But studies have shown that many does are bred more than once. With new DNA technology, it was found that many does with twin fawns, had fawns sired from different bucks.

So how do we hunt during the rut? To some extent, the best success can be expected we donít hunt bucks directly. If you want to kill a nice buck, proven success says hunt does. Because if you find does or hunt doe habitat, you will likely find bucks. You will likely find does in lower elevation habitats where there is more good food to eat. I like wetland areas where ground vegetation is sub-irrigated and more likely to be succulent and nutritious. I like to hunt the edge of that kind of habitat, especially if it borders thick timber cover where bucks may be bedded. My hope is that a bedded buck cannot stay bedded all day as he feels the need to breed. So, he will cautiously leave the safety of his thicket, looking for does. Iíll be waiting for him.

If you are moving at a slow pace through good doe habitat, even a wandering buck will likely see you first. Then, all you will see is a white flag. It is a better hunting tactic to pick a vantage point to sit and watch. Sit for an hour or so, then move on to another vantage point. Let the deer come to you.

While many bucks are on the move all day long, most of them will still move cautiously. So, you still need to be on full alert. Occasionally, if a buck is with a real hot doe, he will sometimes act absolutely stupid. Hereís an example. Two years ago, my hunting partner and I topped a ridge and spotted a red-hot doe with two bucks. They never saw us. My partner dropped for a kneeing shot and dropped one of the bucks. As expected, the doe and second buck ran off, then unexpectantly, they stopped a hundred feet away. The doe must have been in love with the down buck, so she came back to the dead buck and sniffed him. The second love-sick buck came back with the doe and stood with her. Bang, another shot, so that second buck paid the ultimate price for being over-crazed with that sweet doe.

So, get out there, finish the next best two weeks of deer season with lots of field time. Good luck and pray for snow! You may even get lucky and cross paths with a bull elk. Remember, the most important aspect of hunting is to enjoy the great Montana outdoors.

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