If you’re sitting in a group of hunters and the topic of discussion is the best time of year to kill a mature buck…almost without fail the rut is the go-to answer. This is by far the worst answer…before you begin typing a rant all about how wrong I am…read and absorb…you can always tell me how wrong I am later on.
Early Season Magic – Early October and in specific that first week is one of my favorite times of year to get after a big buck. It is, of course, opening week but the excitement of opening week is far from the real reason to be excited. Bucks in this time period are still in that summer pattern. If you’re like me you’ve been doing your homework for a long time…maybe done some glassing…and you can bet your bottom dollar those bucks will come and go that first week just as they have for the last 12 wks. You know right where to be…and when to be there. The odds stand as best they will be ALL year right now! If you can operate mistake-free and the weather holds…this could be your best shot!
Late Season Legends – By now the last remaining hunters have either tagged out or said the hell with it. The teeth of winter rip and tear at any man fool enough to gear up now. It’s December…your hopes are all but dead…but in truth…you have more cause to be excited again than you have in a while. The orange army has stood down and everyone but you is sitting next to a warm fire. The woods are still once more. This plays heavily to your advantage. As the pressure subsides and snow / cold temps force deer into ever-tightening travel routes and dwindling food supplies your chances once again begin to get better. The snow provides excellent intel on current patterns…you don’t have to be a genius to figure things out at this point…but you do have to have guts and some good cold-weather gear. Precious few days are all you have…there will be a mad dash to gather up the few easy to get calories left on the landscape and then it will be time for the annual migration trail. This makes your life easy, things are predictable…just hard to get to.
Repeating A Lie Doesn’t Make It True – Many hunters will rant and rave that the rut is by far the best time of year to take a big buck. I just don’t find that to be the case. Sure, they’re more mistake-prone at that time…but…they range far and wide, and they are virtually unpredictable in that time frame of the season. The swamp ghost making mistakes 8 miles down the road is of no help to you on your 40 acres. The rut can be a lot of fun, there’s so much going on and things can get wild quick…but I find it to be far from the best option to harvest a mature buck. I suppose if your goal is mindless devotion to a single stand site 12 hrs a day for a month…maybe you’re onto something…but if you’re looking to actively hunt the freshest sign and put yourself in the best position possible every trip out, you simply have to be adaptable and be willing to do the work. The rut has certainly seen its share of monsters slain over the years…but I would contend that is simply a byproduct of the greatest volume of hunting pressure all year in that time frame as opposed to an indicator of “the best time” to take big bucks. Now go ahead…tell me how wrong I am.