It’s that time of the year again. Trail cameras are being strategically placed over mineral licks. Shooter bucks are adding inches of bone every week. Excitement and anticipation grows as you begin to locate more bucks! In some ways the pre-season is as much fun as the actual season. Unfortunately, your hard work and preparation can be in vein if you are make this one common mistake.
Arguably, your best chance at getting a mature public land whitetail buck is during the rut. The mature bucks are out cruising for hot does during this time of the year. They let their guard down and move during the daylight, giving you the opportunity you have been waiting for.
In order to capitalize on this once a year vulnerability, you are going to need some serious discipline and strategy. For this article, we are going to discuss the benefits of saving your honey holes for the rut. Let me preface this article by saying there is never one right answer to any hunting strategy and/or tactic. Guidelines are meant to be broken with a thorough analysis.
The most common pitfall I see many whitetail archery hunters fall into, is over hunting their best spots too early in the season. Your basic strategy for taking a mature buck needs to change throughout the season. I have seen it time and time again where a hunter will find a scrape, hang a camera, get a brute on camera, then hunt that spot day in and day out from the first day of the season until the last.
The problem with doing this is you will likely tip the buck off to your presence before he even starts moving during daylight. A lot of guys don’t give these animals the full respect they deserve. A mature buck has survived at least four and a half years in an extremely unforgiving environment. This seemingly short time is truly impressive when you realize that every second of every day of his life something was trying to take his life. The threat could be coming from a bear, coyotes, competition for food, hunters, or just the harsh environmental condition (drought, extreme cold, disease, etc…) He is trying to survive and pass on his genes. You are entering his domain, he is a master of survival. If we can have this mindset and respect, we are able to make more educated decisions.
With all that in mind, understand that every time you enter the woods, you are leaving behind signs of your presence. He will eventually pick up on these and vacate the area. You are trying to harvest a trophy, he is trying to survive, and the consequences of his mistakes are death. The consequences of your mistakes are a tag sandwich.
To mitigate pushing the buck you are chasing out of an area, its best to avoid that area until you have the best odds. Your best odds are during the rut. I will break this rule, but only under very specific circumstances, like a major change in weather systems, the first big cold front of the season, or Halloween (just because I’ve had a lot of luck hunting on the day of the dead).
My biggest Pennsylvania public land archery buck to date was taken in violation of this rule. It was only October 20. It was the just beginning of the pre-rut but a major low pressure system was rolling through our area. As the temperatures dropped I made my way back two and a half miles to the spot that I had deemed the middle finger. I was saving this spot for the rut but the temperatures were set to drop nearly twenty degrees in one day and the wind was perfect. I made my way back to my stand doing my best to leave the woods undisturbed. After two groups of doe and two hours in the stand I hit a light rattling sequence. Doing my best to imitate a non-aggressive sparring match between bucks who recently broke from their bachelors group.
Fifteen minutes after setting the pack rack down I heard the distant “crunch, crunch, crunch” of an approaching deer. I could instantly feel my heart thumping through my chest. As he made his way through the beach brush I knew he was a shooter. He walked right into the shooting lane I had prepped in the pre-season. At 35 yards my arrow went straight through his heart. Man! I love it when a plan comes together. 148 inches on PA public land whitetail is considered a giant in my neck of the woods.
I was able to be successful by limiting my access to this spot. I found the spot during a summer scouting session, laid a mineral lick a few hundred meters away, pulled the camera, hung a stand and prepped a lane. Then I waited patiently. I had been in there five total times, and none within the past month prior to taking that buck. So in summary, have enough discipline to save your best spot for the perfect conditions. Rushing into your honey hole early season with the wrong wind will almost always result in ruining the spot. If you do this seemingly simple tactic you will have more consistent success out of your best spots.