The Other Hunting Rut
When the word "rut" is mentioned in a conversation among hunters, chances are the discussion will include talk of screaming bull elk, or big whitetail bucks, that for a brief period of time drop their defenses and act like teenage boys. There is another rut out there, however, that doesn't receive a lot of attention. This one affects the hunter rather than the animal and actually decreases our odds of success. Webster defines this rut as, "a fixed routine, procedure, way of acting, thinking, etc." In terms of hunting, it refers to continuing to hunt the same stands or the same areas day after day and year after year, despite results that fall short of your expectations. It is an easy trap to fall into, and a much harder one to get out of.
In the fall of 2002, I found myself in just such a rut. I had gotten into the habit of hunting one particular stand way more often than I should have. Despite having spent countless hours in this stand, I had yet to see a good buck. The thought of having to eat another bowl of deer tag soup that season was more than I could stand. I soon realized that the only way I was going to change my results was to get out of this rut and change my location.
After a brief midday scouting session, I decided to key in on a rub line along a secondary trail just 100 yards from where I had been hunting -- just the opposite side of a thicket. While it may have been a minor move, it was one that would pay big dividends. My first morning in that new stand, November 7th, 2002, was one that I won't soon forget.
Shortly after daybreak that morning, I caught a glimpse of movement from the corner of my eye. Turning my attention to the five-acre clover field to my left, I was excited to see that a buck was making his way in my direction. Not just any buck, but a good buck.
I watched in disbelief as the deer headed straight towards me, as if on a string. The only thing that separated us at that point was three strands of barbed wire fence. With an effortless leap, the big nine-pointer cleared the fence and stopped just 50 yards short of me to make a fresh scrape.
As I tried to regain my composure, I started anticipating which route the buck would take and the shooting lane that correlated with each route. My prayer of desperation was answered as the buck turned and headed down the trail that would bring him broadside at 25 yards. With a deep breath and squeeze of the release, I watched as the white and orange fletchings of my carbon arrow disappeared behind the right shoulder of the deer and buried deep into the ground on the other side.
The author's 2002 buck taken after breaking his own hunting "rut" and changing stand locations.
There is no doubt in my mind that that particular buck had been traveling through the area on a regular basis, but because I had fallen into the trap of hunting from "old faithful", I had never seen him from the stand. By finally recognizing the problem and overcoming my own personal "rut", I was able to harvest my biggest buck to-date.
So just what causes us, as hunters, to fall into the rut of hunting the same stands or same areas over and over even when the results fall short of our expectations? In my case, it was a combination of several factors: I had a long history of hunting that particular property, was extremely familiar with the area, and the farm was just a few minutes drive from the house. It also didn't hurt that I would regularly see deer from the stand there. I have found these same factors are often involved, in varying degrees, with others that have gotten into a hunting rut, regardless of whether they are hunting deer, elk, bear, or any other big game animal. Let's take a look at some of the factors that can lead to a hunting rut and just how it affects the areas that we hunt.
One of the main reasons that I was hunting on this farm, and continue to hunt this farm today, is because of the history I have with the property. The farm belongs to a good friend of mine, and I have been hunting on it since I was a teenager. On top of that, the place holds many special memories for me, including my first deer, my first deer with a bow, and my first buck with a bow.
There are plenty of other hunters, as well, that continue to hunt areas that hold fond memories of past hunts. For some, it may be the family farm, passed down from generation to generation. For others, it may be a certain tract of public land that they have been hunting for several years. Still yet, there are those who continue to hunt a property because they have shot a nice animal there in the past; sometimes long in the past. It is what I jokingly call the "I shot a big 'un there in '84" syndrome.
Limiting your hunting time in areas that hold fond memories can be difficult, but may be
just what it takes to get out of a hunting rut and harvest that trophy-of-a-lifetime.
Before you get too upset with me, I am not suggesting that you abandon these special areas altogether. They are a great source of fond memories, and hunting them on occasion can be therapy for the soul. If these spots are not producing the quality of game that you are looking for, however, then what I am suggesting is that you limit the time you spend on them.
Going hand-in-hand with one's history on a property is another potential means of getting into a hunting rut - familiarity. Now don't get me wrong, being familiar with your hunting spots is not a bad thing. In fact, knowing the terrain and how the animals are using it - bedding areas, travel routes, feeding areas, etc. - can go a long way in improving a hunter's odds of being successful. Familiarity only becomes a problem when we use it as a crutch and continue hunting unproductive areas.
Passing up an area that we know well in order to head into a new and unfamiliar place can be a daunting task. First off, it requires learning the lay of the land. This can be both a time and energy consuming process, requiring a lot of legwork if the property is any size at all. It can also bring up concerns that were not an issue on your former hunting spot - issues such as getting lost or wandering onto someone else's property. These are realistic fears and can play havoc on one's efforts to take on a new place to hunt.
In addition to having to learn the terrain, we are also faced with the task of figuring out just what the animals are doing on that particular property. Along with a lot of legwork, this may require extensive time in the field to truly get an idea of the local game patterns.
There is no doubt that learning a new area requires stepping outside of our comfort zones and making some sacrifices. And though the rewards may not come quickly, they can be great if the area is a good one.
FREQUENT GAME SIGHTINGS
Prior to my November 7th hunt, I mentioned that I had been over-hunting one particular stand. In my own defense, let me explain just why I was doing so. "Old Faithful", as I so reverently called it, was one of those stands that seemed to always produce deer sightings. It didn't discriminate based on the time of day, with deer frequently passing through in both the morning and evening hours. In my eighteen years of hunting, it was as close to a sure thing as I had found for filling the freezer with meat. The one thing that it did not produce, however, was big bucks.
If you have a similar area in which you frequently see game, then you know how hard it can be to bypass that area in order to hunt elsewhere. The reality is that areas such as these, ones that are frequented by does and small bucks, are generally not the best areas to intercept a big buck. The exception to this, of course, is during the actual breeding rut, when reason goes out the window, and all bets are off.
Let's face it - we all like convenience. Consumers spend millions of dollars every year on items to make their lives easier in one way or another, and hunters are no exception. In addition to all the gear and gadgets available throughout the pages of our favorite hunting magazines, we often look for convenience in the areas we hunt.
One way we do so is by hunting areas that are close to our house or our place of work. This gives us the opportunity to get into the woods quicker than we would be able to otherwise. That translates into a little more sleep in the mornings, or some additional time in the field in the evening.
Another way hunters find convenience is having a hunting spot within a short easy walk of where they park. The benefits to this are obvious. A close hunting spot equals less walking, less sweating, less of a chance of getting lost, and a shorter drag when you get an animal down. Makes sense, right?
As with the other factors discussed so far, these conveniences are not a problem in-and-of themselves. They only become detrimental when we use them as an excuse to continue hunting an area that is not meeting our expectations, thereby getting ourselves in a hunting rut.
A permanent stand like this could be an indicator that you are in a hunting rut. Permanent
stands limit your ability to change locations when circumstances dictate that a move may be necessary.
It has been said that the height of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over, expecting different results. Yet that is exactly what many of us do when it comes to deciding where we are going to hunt. We allow factors such as familiarity, past successes, and convenience to draw us into a hunting rut like the proverbial moth to a flame.
So just what do you do if one of these factors has pulled you into a hunting rut? First, you have to take an honest look at your expectations as a hunter, and how your current hunting spots fit into those expectations. If your goal is to shoot a Boone and Crockett bull elk and you are hunting in a unit that has never seen, much less produced a record-book bull, then there is a good chance that are you are setting yourself up for failure. You will need to either lower your expectations, or start looking in areas that are capable of meeting them.
On the other hand, if you feel certain that the areas you are currently hunting are quite capable of producing the quality of animals that you are after, then it may just be a matter of changing locations or technique, rather than moving to a whole other property.
The bottom line is this: If you are continuing to hunt a certain area, despite not getting the results that you want, then it is time to make a change. Getting out of a hunting rut, in time for the "real" rut could be just what the taxidermist ordered!
Brian Grossman is a wildlife biologist, freelance writer and avid outdoorsman from Mt. Washington, Kentucky. You can visit his web site at www.PoorBoysOutdoors.com.