Solving the Mystery of Post Rut Bucks
While the intense action and excitement of hunting the peak rut may be over, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to eat tag soup. You still have a good chance of finding post-rut bucks and making it happen. But in order to do that, you will have to use hunting tactics for the post-rut specifically. Sitting over the same spots you did earlier in the season likely won’t produce many daytime sightings. For an even better chance, try using trail cameras to catch post-rut bucks unaware and provide important intel for your hunt.
Habits of Post-Rut Bucks
First, it’s important to understand what post-rut bucks are going through to recognize why their habits change from earlier in the season. Throughout the rut, they often run themselves ragged chasing does and sparring with other bucks, with very little time for food and rest. As a result, they can lose substantial bodyweight – up to ¼ of their pre-rut body size. Their breeding desires have started to dwindle by this time as well, although some does will still enter estrus and bucks will still breed with them. But by and large, their primary interest again revolves around food, food, food. Combined with colder weather and hunting pressure, post-rut buck behavior changes significantly and they prefer to spend a significant amount of their time feeding and resting in a safe bedding area nearby. Many hunters fail to recognize this change in habits and end up writing the season off. But if you change your tactics for post-rut buck hunting, you might be surprised.
Locations to Find Post Rut Bucks
From a high level, post-rut bucks are focused on feeding areas and bedding areas, with as little travel between the two as possible. It’s beneficial for bucks to bed adjacent to food sources since they can use minimal calories traveling and maximize their time feeding. But the right bedding cover isn’t always available near corn fields or other food sources. Whitetail habitat has changed a lot by December, and the landscape is a lot more open and exposed. This may push bucks to seek out thermal cover in grassy areas (e.g., CRP fields, ditches/sloughs, cattail marshes) or dense conifers that shelter them from the cold winds and predators (human and animal alike).
Depending on the effects of hunting pressure, they may also be willing to travel further and hide out in a remote or inhospitable place where hunters rarely venture. This might be a slight hummock in a marshy swamp or a secluded thicket with plenty of cover. When they feel pressured, they may spend most of their day in one of these bedding areas, getting up only to browse around them. If you’re looking for the best place to hunt mature bucks in the post-rut, focus your search near bedding areas as that will produce the best opportunity for daytime sightings.
Where to Hang Trail Cameras
While there’s something to be said about dumb luck when doing a hang and hunt in a new area, it’s also helpful to stack the deck in your favor. You can do this by hanging some trail cameras in the key areas where you expect to find some post-rut bucks. If you switch things up from your rut camera strategies, you should be able to catch a few daytime pictures of reclusive bucks.
Close to Bedding
Hunting bedding areas and pinch points/funnels coming from them can be a great tactic. While sneaking in close to a bedding area this time of year has its risks (i.e., you could spook a buck out of his bed), there are conditions where you can do it successfully. Wait for a day where the wind is steady and in your favor (e.g., in your face and coming out of the bedding area) or when there is a fresh layer of snow on the ground to muffle your footsteps. Still hunting bucks on your way in might make sense too – after all, if the conditions are right for allowing you to sneak in, you may just get a shot at a bedded buck.
In these situations so close to a sensitive area, the obvious choice for a trail camera is a wireless/cellular trail cam. This allows you to sneak back out and check your pictures remotely without disturbing the area again. Stealth Cam has several different cellular options to choose from, including the ability to send videos with audio to your phone. Once you start seeing regular daytime pictures or videos of a mature buck, it’s time to make a plan. Sneak back in when the conditions are again right, and try to hunt all day. Near bedding areas, you’re likely to see bucks moving around throughout the day.
Adjacent to Food
Although food is important to post-rut bucks, feeding areas aren’t necessarily the best spot to hunt them. Most mature bucks have been pressured after being chased by hunters throughout the archery and firearm seasons, so they won’t always be keen to be exposed during daylight hours. As a result, they won’t always be great hunting locations for mature bucks. But in some cases, these areas can still pay off. Some good spots might include remote food plots with lots of cover around them, back corners of unharvested corn or bean fields, or even recent clear-cuts re-sprouting with young trees and shrubs. As long as the food source can be accessed by a buck during daylight hours without being too exposed or if a thick bedding area is adjacent to it, there’s a chance they will be out there.
Even in these conditions, though, bucks aren’t likely to be using these feeding areas throughout the day. You have a good chance at putting out a normal trail camera and being able to check them regularly without spooking bucks. The DS4K trail camera is a high-quality camera capable of taking 4K video and 30 MP pictures. Hang one of these cameras on a field edge near a common trail or on the field corners where deer are likely to enter or exit.
Using these tips, you should be able to find bucks during the post-rut this season. Once you find them, it’s all a matter of setting up the perfect stalk or hunt. With any luck, you’ll be able to pull off a late season hunt to remember.