Late Rut Bucks From The Rough

November 19th, 2008 / Posted by
Late Rut Bucks From The Rough

By Bill Winke
The author took this buck by concentrating on how deer use the terrain while traveling during the rut. The buck grossed 160 points.

Deer hunting should be simple. Not only does that appeal to simple minds like mine, but big bucks are too unpredictable to follow a complicated script. I’ve also found that it’s a lot easier to have confidence in a game plan you can understand. In the simplest terms, there are only two basic ways to hunt deer with a bow: you can focus on buck sign and try to unravel its complex secrets, or you can simply study the terrain and let it dictate stand sites.
The second method produces the most consistent action for me, especially during the rut. But there are still times when I need more information before narrowing the options down and choosing one tree out of a forest of thousands. That’s when I take advantage of buck sign to fill in the final important pieces of the puzzle. The buck I arrowed late in the rut last season is a good example.
The Stage
I was hunting a big drainage system – call it a wide ravine – cutting through rich soil in the heart of the corn belt. A creek run down the middle of the draw between two picked corn fields. The creek’s banks are steep so that any deer moving back and forth across the draw are forced to cross at only a few points. For nearly half a mile the creek is bordered on one side by a ridge that’s serrated by a dozen small draws that widen and deepen as they drop down toward the creek.

“In ridge country, deer prefer to bed on the points between the draws with the wind at their backs.”

In ridge country, deer prefer to bed on the points between the draws with the wind at their backs. They can see any danger coming from below and smell anything approaching from the ridge. It was my idea that bucks would be cruising the main ridge between points as they checked each bedding area from estrous does. After sneaking in with my stand, I was surprised to find only scattered buck sign and little in the way of a trail on the ridge top. Without a defined travel route to hunt over, bowhunting can be very frustrating.

My original plan was crumbling like a stale cookie. I’d have to come up with Plan B. It was time to fall back on the terrain for options. From where I stood pondering, I could see the top edge of three different draws. Then it struck me. Bucks would use the path of least resistance to reach the ridge from the creek bottom – they’d use a draw. But which one? The third draw I looked into had a half-dozen thigh-sized rubs, a couple of them fresh.
Taking A Stand
I’d boiled my search down to one draw, but that still left a lot of trees to choose from. I had three choices. If I hung my stand at the top of the draw, where it met the ridge, I’d have the most steady wind flow but I wouldn’t have anything to funnel the deer past my stand. If I hunted down in the draw itself, I’d be close to the sign, but that wasn’t really a priority because I knew a buck wasn’t likely to come through and hit the rubs while I was there. More than likely they’d move randomly up through the draw and it was too wide to cover from a single tree.

That left only the creek at the lower end of the draw. I usually don’t like to set up in a bottom because of swirling gusts, but the forecast was for light winds, making the prospect a little less risky. Besides, bowhunting and bottlenecks go hand-in-hand, and the crossing at the bottom of the draw showed signs of heavy use. I put the stand up in a big oak tree right on the bank of the creek and left, waiting until the next morning to hunt it.
The Pay-Off
As the morning progressed I watched several deer come down from the corn field and walk the creek bottom until they came even with the part of the ridge where they wanted to bed. Here, they crossed the creek and followed a draw to the top. I saw a couple of decent bucks but nothing big enough to have made those rubs. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, because none of them used the draw I was guarding. Nearly two hours after sunrise the action was really tapering off when I was cattle-prodded to full alert status by a deep grunt from behind. Standing on my side of the creek was a big, brute of a buck with a massive ten-point rack. My heart rate spiked. I could almost hear the adrenaline squealing as it sped through my system. This was definitely the kind of buck that could’ve made those rubs.

The buck was maybe 50 yards away – too far to shoot – so I waited for him to make the next move. He turned and dropped down into the creek on a little used crossing, grabbed a quick drink and then climbed the other bank before stopping – still out of range. He appeared to be trying to decide what to do next. Maybe I could help him make up his mind. I huffed softly twice into my grunt call. The buck was way too cool to whip his head around like a youngster. Instead, he slowly swung it in my direction – like he owned the woods. Which he probably did.

After several long seconds of silent suspense he began walking slowly my way along the other side of the creek. I had a narrow shooting lane in that direction and when he stepped into it I strummed the release’s trigger. The hit was a little back so I waited several hours before coming back, but easily found him lying dead 200 yards away.
Strategy Wrap-Up
In rough country, the lay-of-the-land has the greatest affect on how bucks travel during the rut. It pays to look for natural funnels which present the path of least resistance for traveling deer. In this case, I took advantage of two funnels, the draw and the creek crossing. Study the terrain first for possible stand sites and then fall back on buck sign if you have to narrow down your options.

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