Dialing in bucks during the late november rut

Richard Brochu and Gord Ellis Sr. with a late season November buck.  Photo by G. Ellis
Richard Brochu and Gord Ellis Sr. with a late season November buck. Photo by G. Ellis

November is the best time of year to be a deer hunter. When the calendar flips to the dreariest month, weird things happen to the psyche of a whitetail buck. November is the breeding season for deer and bucks in particular get goofy. If there’s ever a time you’ll see a fully mature buck in a compromising situation it’s now. The drive to chase does - and do what God intended - makes bucks lose that usually keen ability to sense of danger. A buck on the rut is on the move, and not always thinking with his big head, if you get my drift.

When I think back over the years I‘ve hunted for deer, the vast majority of my most successful hunts have occurred from mid November on. A few years back I took a small 6 point in mid November, just moments after blowing a chance at a really big buck. Thankfully, the small buck just stood in a field and looked at me as I fumbled with my gun. I’m sure his mind was elsewhere.

Three days later, on a frigid, grey morning, I sat on a snow covered game trail near a fresh scrape and blew softly on a deer call. The weird burping sound of the grunt tube echoed through the woods. In short order, I heard the unmistakable sounds of a deer walking towards me. The deer would stop, and then start. When the buck finally appeared, its head was down on the ground, no doubt sniffing for the other buck that was apparently invading its space. When the deer finally looked up, it saw me staring right back at it not 50 feet away. Although the buck had me made, it stood stock still and just stared. I slowly drew up my rifle and was somehow able to take a bead on it. Any sensible deer would have run like the wind, but this big buck was loopy on love. My hunting partner sacrificed his tag on that 11 point, which was a magnificent animal.

Even big bucks make mistakes during the November rut. One of the most enjoyable thing about whitetail deer hunting during the rut is that the slowly walking through the woods can be very successful. Most modern deer TV hunting shows are focused on tree stand hunts, but mid November weather in Northwestern Ontario is not conducive to sitting comfortably for long periods. When it’s cold and windy, I last about 2 hours in a tree stand. Thankfully, a slow ramble through the November deer woods usually gets the blood moving again.

The key to still hunting during the deer rut is stealth. Use your ears to pick up unusual sounds and your eyes to catch movement. You can’t move too slowly when you still hunt deer, but you can definitely move too fast. Bucks in the rut are not as alert as normal, and will spend a fair bit of time with their nose down on the trail. This affords the hunter the rare chance to actually see and creep up on a whitetail buck. If you see a deer, move only when it’s looking away or down. If the buck catches your movement, you have two choices: Stand stock still and hope it decides you aren’t a threat; or slowly put your gun up and shoot. A quick movement is considered danger and will quickly snap them out of that rut haze.

I’ve become a big believer in calling for deer, and always stop to give a little grunt while on a stalk. If a rutting buck is near, it will not ignore a grunt call. Don’t over-use the grunt call though. Keep them spare and infrequent. I like the higher pitched thin grunt calls most of the time. The best tool for this type of finesse grunting is still the Quaker Boy Ridge Runner. It is not very loud, but if a big buck hears it and is close by, I’ll put money on it checking things out. A bleat or doe call can also be effective. Just don’t over do it.

Late rut bucks will be looking for does, so keep that in mind. If you see a lot of small doe tracks in a piece of woods, a big buck is somewhere close by. The does will often try to hide from the bucks, to avoid being harassed, but they never can stay hidden for long. The bucks sniff them out. Look for new scrapes in the snow or obvious signs of fresh rubs. If you have snow, and see that bark has been peeled off the tree on top of new snow, there is generally a buck close by. Rub lines are a great indicator of regular buck traffic.

Deer hunting doesn’t get better than the late November rut. If you love venison, it‘s time to get serious.