How to Bag a Trophy Buck During the Pre-Rut
Hunting the whitetail pre-rut can be a roller coaster of activity, full of highs and lows. If you’ve done your homework right this time of year can be some of the best hunting. For the most part the bucks are still executing their normal early season daily activities, but they are also on edge waiting for the first doe to come into estrus. Below are the top tactics a savvy hunter will use to get a shooter in bow range during the pre-rut.
- Find their bed and their food.
Early season deer activity consists of a constant movement in between bed and food. The bucks won’t be out cruising for does quite yet, so it’s important that you identify their primary food source and then figure out which bedding area they are coming from. This can be a challenge for inexperienced hunters. Once you find out what food source the buck you are targeting is frequenting you can start to back track to where he came from. Set out some trail cameras to get a general direction and then put boots on the ground. During this time of the year rubs should be able to aid you in your search. You are looking for rubs heading into a bedding area. Once you find what appears to be the entrance to his bed drop another camera and back out. If you want to learn more about using trail cameras to locate shooter bucks check out this article on TRAIL CAMERAS.
- Set up an ambush close to his bed.
Many mature bucks are going to be doing most of their movement under the cover of darkness during the early season and pre-rut. The closer you are to their bed the more likely you are to catch them moving during shooting light. This is a dangerous tactic that requires extreme discipline, but the reward is worth the risk. To be successful, scent control must be used with extreme attention to detail. Above all, the wind must be right. The closer you are to the bedding, the higher the probability of seeing the buck during daylight, but it also increases the chances that the buck picks up on your presence. I like to try and infiltrate using a creek to cover my scent. When that not available I try to approach from different angles and I will stalk into my stand.
- Hunt your best spot when the conditions are right.
The more times you hunt a stand next to a buck’s bedding the higher the probability he was notice you have infiltrated his domain. Only hunt your spot when the wind is perfect. Additionally, take advantage of drastic weather changes. If the temperature drops drastically head to your spot early. If the barometric pressure is making drastic changes in either direction do the same. Changes in temperature, barometric pressure, and precipitation can get the bucks out of their bed early. These days are limited and need to be taken advantage of.
Calling during the pre-rut is a delicate balance that requires restraint and patience. Luckily if you have followed the above tips you will be in a prime location to call a buck in. During the pre-rut, calling sequences should be less aggressive than during the rut. Essentially you are trying to replicate a light sparring match roughly an hour before the sun sets. Start up your calling sequence with a few grunt calls of different tones. After fifteen or twenty minutes hit the grunt tube again and start a rattling sequence. Keep the rattling light, just touching the tines loud enough to be heard. After fifteen or twenty minutes start your sequence over again this time slightly more aggressively. Be patient, you aren’t necessarily trying to call a buck in right now. You want him to hear the sparring match and investigate right before the sun goes down. Every one of these tactics are focused around getting a buck within bow range during shooting light.
- Scrapes and mock scraped
Bucks tend to have scrapes set up on their route in between their bedding and food source. Best case scenario is that you can locate one near his bedding that is close enough for him to check during daylight. This is a great place to hang a camera to verify the buck you are targeting is using this scrape. If you cannot locate a scrape close enough to his bedding for him to be checking it during daylight you can set up a mock scrape to bring him in to your ambush. I’m not going to dive into the details of how to set up a mock scrape, but I will stress two points on the matter. The first is setting up a good licking branch, the second is maintaining scent control as you set up your mock scrape.
- Scents and attractants
I don’t use this technique frequently but there are some unique circumstances where using scents that replicate a doe in heat can turn the tide in your favor. If the buck you are chasing is using multiple exits out of his bedding and you can’t get him in bow range, you can use a scent drag with doe in estrus on it. Once you have a scent drag tied to your boot you can walk the edge of the bedding to your stand. In theory if the buck comes out of the bedding in an area away from your stand he will pick up the scent and follow it. I’ve used this to great success in the past, but once again scent control is paramount for this tactic to be successful.
The hardest part about bagging a trophy buck during the pre-rut is catching one in shooting light. The above tactics are effective and lethal when employed with discipline. If you can place yourself close to their home, you are more apt to lure that nocturnal monster out during daylight. Like anything with deer hunting, hard work and discipline trump all. If you are looking for the absolute best ambush on a back country, big woods buck, check out this article on THE PERFECT AMBUSH.
Remember, having the desire to become successful in hunting, takes a mindset change and that is the hardest part in this endeavor. We can help you with changing this mindset, and once you have changed you will appreciate the hunt more, and start understanding what being a sportsman/woman is all about. Remember our mission is to redefine tradition. Challenge traditional thinking and push others to do the same. We must dedicate ourselves to hone in on our primal instincts and combine them with new methodologies and technologies to truly master evolution.