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How To/Pro-Tips

Hunting The Pre-Rut Period

Keep your eyes open for the first signs of the oncoming rut because the pre-rut period is one of the best times to bag a buck. The first rubs signal that bucks are getting interested but are not yet quite all the way "there."

At this period, buck grunts work well but keep your calling subdued. Rubbing your rattling antlers on trees and just lightly "tickling" them is the best play early on. I like to occasionally rap a tree or the ground sharply to simulate the actions of rubbing bucks early in the pre-rut.

As the pre-rut period advances you may become more aggressive in your grunting and rattling and start to simulate full-scale buck fights. Adding doe bleats at this time also is a good idea.

What you are trying to accomplish is staying in synch with the natural progression of buck behavior during the pre-rut period. Coming on too strong, too early, may spook rather than entice bucks that are not quite territorial yet.

Early-Season Hunting

In most archery seasons and some early gun seasons, the deer's preferred food sources are changing as summer moves into fall, and many plants start to dry out. If there's one sure bet about deer, it is that they prefer the most succulent foods available. It doesn't matter how many deer you saw feeding in the edge of a pasture back in June. If that grass is starting to dry out, the deer are looking elsewhere.
Many soft mast crops such as persimmons, dogwood berries and other berries and fruits are becoming available at this period. In some areas, maturing agricultural crops such as soybeans and corn are attractive to deer. Many forest plants remain succulent into the early fall.
The bottom line is that, until rutting activity kicks in, food sources are your best link to deer activity. During this rapidly changing period, deer food preferences change and you need to know what's preferred next and where to find it to stay ahead of the game.

Selecting Waders

Modern waders are marvelous. Not only are they more durable these days, they also offer waterfowlers many comfort options.

Neoprene waders fit like a body suit and greatly reduce bulk for easier movement. They are available in various degrees of thickness, which add additional insulation. They are both waterproof and quite warm, allowing many waterfowlers to do away with at least one layer of insulation that they would normally wear.

The old-fashioned, loose-fitting boot-foot waders are still popular. Their looser fit allows more air circulation for hunting in warmer weather. However, these too are now constructed of modern materials that are more resistant to ozone cracking.

The newest styles are based on Gore-Tex

Binoculars for Bucks

Binoculars have always been important to western hunters, but eastern deer hunters are now finding them very useful. With much whitetail hunting property under quality deer management programs, hunters have to be very sure what they are shooting.
These quality management programs stress protecting the younger age classes of bucks, setting minimum sizes that can be shot. Many of these programs also encourage the shooting of does to keep the sex ratio in balance. However, small "button" bucks without any emerged bone antlers look very much like does. Shooting a button can draw a hefty fine.
Good binoculars allow you to size up a young antlered buck or identify a button buck before you shoot. You are not scanning the countryside; you want a close look at the deer's head. I prefer the higher powers of 8x to 10x for this. The mini-compacts are very convenient but are dim in low light. Larger glasses, such as 10x50s, are bulky but let in more light.

Hunting the Scrapes

Scrapes are made by bucks to attract does. The buck paws out an oval or circular area and urinates in it, letting the urine flow over his tarsal glands. He also usually marks an overhanging twig with his mouth and forehead scents.
A passing doe, coming into estrus, will also urinate in the scrape. When the buck returns to check, he will pick up her scent and try to track her down.

All scrapes are not equal. Sometimes bucks make spontaneous scrapes that are seldom if ever visited again. Once things get serious, the buck lays out his scrapes in a pattern and checks them regularly. Often, he checks them by scent alone, passing downwind of the scrapes without actually going to them.

When hunting scrape lines, I position myself downwind of them rather than right over them. If I find a rub line paralleling the scrapes on the downwind side, so much the better. This tells me the buck's normal path while checking his scrapes.

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