October 16, 2023
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I realize you have a job and that it’s important. Perhaps you’re even the type of person who invites the boss over for dinner. But November is coming. Would you rather spend the next year thinking back on a positive performance review, or remembering the big buck that charged into your shooting lane all bristled up, nearly causing you to soil yourself?
I know which I choose, and if you picked the other one, we’re probably not meant to be friends. Work will survive without you for a few days, but this part of deer season won’t last long. Get your calendar out and use a big, red Sharpie to set aside some days for this year’s Rutcation.
But which days? Every week of November is a good one to hunt whitetails, but depending on the experience you’re after, schedule your vacation carefully. Most of the country has a “Midwest” rut timing, meaning that peak breeding and fawn conception happens right around Nov. 10-15 every fall, regardless of the weather. This is written with that assumption, but also with the understanding that some places—especially down South—have a rut that’s later by a week, month or more. If you live in such a place, just add a little time to this schedule of events. The point is to time things based on phases of the rut and associated deer behavior, not rigid calendar dates.
Shoot, if you can extend your Rutcation clear into the New Year, we might become good friends after all. Now, get planning.
Nov 1-7: Bowhunter's Choice
This is the best week of the year for a bowhunter to be alive, and it’s when I schedule my own Rutcation every fall (though to be fair, I hunt the rest of the month, too). The plan this week is simple and fun. Set up before daybreak in a good pinch point. Deer are moving right now, and you simply want to wait in a spot that funnels them into bow range. Ridgetop saddles are good places that get a lot of attention. Personally, I prefer to be on a hardwood hillside—it needn’t be steep—with good shooting down into a flat creek bottom on one flank, and a food source like cut corn, soybeans or a food plot on the other.
You can count on action from the field—often bucks bumping does—at first light. But does are still moving in family groups at this time of year, and they scutter out of the open to bed in cover shortly after daybreak. That’s when the real action happens. Bucks begin cruising with urgency right now, and they’ll use easy travel routes—like field edges and open creek bottoms— between food and bedding cover to scent check for does. They’re tuned up and ready to scrap, so bring your deer calls, use them and don’t be caught playing on your phone when a buck lopes into chip-shot range. I’ve arrowed Tennessee 8 pointers from the same tree on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 at midmorning the past two years. Both bucks came to an aggressive grunt sequence.
Stay here until early afternoon. If you don’t get a shot, eat a bite of lunch and maybe climb down for a power nap. Then change stands and set up on the edge of the hottest food source in the area, be it a white oak with acorns still on the ground or a rank brassica plot. Hunt the spots where you’ve recently seen big numbers of does. In a few days, those ladies will leave the open areas where they’re visible, and in the days ahead of that you can see why—bucks will positively aggravate the hell out of them. Sometimes getting a shot is difficult, but the spectacle is worth the trouble.
Expect to see a lot of little bucks during this phase of the season, but know that some good ones will be on the prowl, too. The fun is in the action.
GEAR PICK: MILLENNIUM M125 HANG-ON STAND
I’ve used a lot of different lock-ons, and this one is my go-to for personal use and for sitting clients on guided hunts. It’s a little heavy, but roomy, and the seat and footrest are true assets for a long sit. It secures to the tree with a chain, and comes standard with a safety rope for climbing (something that ought to be included with every lock-on stand sold, but isn’t). ($132; millenniumstands.com)
Nov. 8-14: The Slog
This stretch can be tough. Some does are in estrus during the entirety of it, and most of them are for a portion of it, so mature bucks stay locked down for breeding periods of 24 to 48 hours per doe. Because breeding pairs of whitetails don’t move far and all but abandon visible food sources, you can hunt long stretches without even seeing a deer during this time frame.
But that doesn’t mean the deer aren’t there. Moreover, the record books prove that this is a consistently productive time of year to shoot a big deer. If the doe gets up to stretch her legs and nibble browse, you can bet the farm that buck is going to follow her—it doesn’t matter if it’s 7 a.m. or noon. Patience and time spent on stand near a known bedding area is key.
Back your setup away from the fringes that you were hunting last week and hunt closer to thickets. Isolated patches of cover should get particular attention. Bucks frequently lock down with does in fence rows, dozer piles and in the middle of CRP fields. I shot one of my best Kentucky bow bucks a few years ago after watching him tend a doe for more than an hour on the edge of a thick creek bank just 100 yards away. The thicket was bordered by water on one side (I boated into the stand) and a food plot on the other. The tangle wasn’t more than an acre in size, but it was in a place that the buck could defend and where the pair could stay hidden. Eventually, the doe stood to stretch her legs and happened to walk my way, with him right behind her. I remember the sun being pretty hot when I shot him.
Some rifle seasons are opening now, but whether bowhunting or gun hunting, my strategy is the same—pick a thicket full of deer sign, pack a lunch and settle in.
GEAR PICK: MOULTRIE MOBILE EDGE CAMERA
This week more than any other, a recent picture of a mature doe on her feet is the cue you need to make a move and kill a buck. I’ve long been a fan of Moultrie Mobile’s app—it makes managing cameras and photos easy—and the cameras themselves have gotten better with the new Edge model, which captures 33-megapixel images, 720p videos and has built-in memory so you don’t have to use an SD card. The camera automatically uploads photos to the cloud—which offers unlimited storage—and it manages space appropriately to make room for new photos. ($100; moultriefeeders.com)
Nov. 15-21: Gun Season
Though a few of the best Midwestern states have late, abbreviated gun seasons, most of the country is open to firearms hunting by mid-November. You don’t typically see the frenzied chasing and cruising now that you did the first of the month, but for pure odds of success on a stomper buck, this is the best week of the year. In most states, more bucks are killed on opening day of gun season than any other day of the year.
Even if the season starts slow, stick with it as the calendar flips to the latter half of November. By now, many does have already been bred, and it seems the deer herd in general just settles down a bit—probably because the neighborhood young bucks aren’t causing pandemonium down at the food plot every evening. Not only are does becoming a little easier to pattern, big bucks know their time to breed is running out and will let their guard down. Revert back to classic bed-to-feed tactics and setups. In the morning, I like to be on a hardwood ridge 100 yards or so off a primary food source. You can get set up before daybreak or, with a rifle in hand, sleep in and sneak into your stand carefully at first light. I’ve killed a couple good bucks from the ground doing just that. On cold, still mornings, you can expect better deer movement once the sun rises a bit and burns off the frost anyhow.
Cool evenings are meant for sits over big fields this time of year. Fresh-cut corn is choice if it’s available, but in many areas, cover crop wheat will be sprouting by now—and the young shoots can attract big numbers of deer. A few years ago, my dad shot a big 8 pointer from a box blind that followed a doe into a winter-wheat food plot in front of him. That was on Nov. 18. A buddy of mine came in to hunt a few days later, and I had him climb into the same stand the first evening. He shot a near identical 8 point to my dad’s buck that followed a doe into the same food plot, but from a different trail. Could’ve been the same trouble-causing girl.
Point is, find food, set up where you can watch and, if you’re seeing does, stick with it. It’s only a matter of time.
GEAR PICK: BROWNING X-BOLT PRO LONG RANGE 6.8 WESTERN
Down South, folks used to rely on heavy “beanfield” rifles for just this style of deer hunting, and thought nothing of spending a couple house payments on a good rifle. The X-Bolt Pro Long Range would please them. Chambered in the signature 6.8 Western cartridge, it shoots a little flatter and hits a little harder than the classic 7mm Rem. Mag. with about the same bullet weight, but in a short action with less recoil. ($2,380; browning.com)
Nov. 22-30: Thanksgiving Break
You’re off work this week anyhow. Last year, we scheduled family meals to celebrate Thanksgiving early—like before Halloween. When the holiday proper rolled around, the wife, kid and I ordered Cracker Barrel takeout and hauled ass to central Texas. Supposedly the rut was already over, but you wouldn’t have known it by watching all the bucks fighting and chasing does next to every feeder. Michelle shot a nice, wide 8 pointer the first afternoon.
True enough, the peak breeding and all the frenzied behavior that happens just prior and following it is about over by late November. But it’s still a good time to catch a big buck on his feet, sort of like late spring is the time when you can finally get an old gobbler to work to a call. As cold weather sets in, does will begin gathering in winter herds and transitioning to true late-season food sources and patterns—and bucks will follow them there, for a little while longer anyway.
Those foods can be very location specific, and so you might have to scout hard to find them. Last year, as soon as we got home from Texas, I hunted over a big Tennessee red oak that was drawing does like horseflies at a petting zoo. I was planning to shoot one of them, until a heavy 8 pointer with a palmated rack scattered them like quail, and so I arrowed him instead. That was my last buck tag for the season, and I filled it on Dec. 1—technically a day longer than I meant for my rutcation to last, but I was having too much fun to quit.
GEAR PICK: BERGARA B-14 HUNTER
Looking for a premium rifle for less than a grand? Bergara’s B-14 Hunter has the brand’s legendary barrel and accuracy guarantee paired with a molded synthetic stock made of glass fiber reinforced polymer with a SoftTouch coating. I’ve got one in .308, and it shoots as good as it looks. ($900; bergara.online/us/)