Why pre-rut is the best time to tag a hitlist buck

This might sound crazy to you, but the rut is not the best time to tag your hitlist buck.  Actually, it might be the hardest time to tag him.  How many times do you hear stories from friends and neighbors about a buck they had on camera all season long that ended up getting shot 2 miles away during the rut?  A fair amount probably. I know I hear it several times each season, and those are only the bucks we know about.  Usually, these stories revolve around big deer because they are the ones that spread through social media and are identifiable.  What about that 140” 10-pointer you never saw again after last year’s rut?  He’s a dandy buck, but he’s not sweeping across Facebook like a 170” buck shot in your town.  So, what happened to him?

If you’ve got a hitlist buck you’re after, here are 4 vital reasons the pre-rut is your best chance to wrap your tag around one of his 6-inch bases.

Deer hunter using a grunt call

#1 – He’s Still Home

You can’t shoot your hitlist buck if he’s not around.  One of the only times a buck will venture from his home range is during the rut, hence the stories of another hunter shooting him miles away.  Pre-rut is the magical time when you’ll find that buck being more daylight active, while still respecting his home range boundaries.  Day-to-day testosterone levels are rising in bucks, the closer we creep towards peek breeding, the more he’ll be willing to leave his comfort zone (a.k.a. home range) in search of a hot doe. The last 10 days of October are the days you should be looking to tag your hitlist buck north of the 35th parallel.

#2 – He’ll React to Calls

If a buck makes your hitlist, he’s probably pretty big.  That buck isn’t stupid, he got big for a reason, but he also knows he’s big and probably thinks he’s the king of the jungle this time of year.  Bucks spent September and the first half of October gently sparring, rubbing, and scraping as a means to sort out dominance.  All out battles have been few and far between…up until now.  With testosterone levels ramping up and bucks still caged in by their home ranges, a call from a challenger won’t be taken lightly.  If you see your hitlister out cruising, hit him with a challenger grunt and prepare for a shot.  Calling works best when you’re set up near some thick cover or something obstructing the bucks view.  This way he’ll have to come closer to investigate.  If you’re in the open, consider using a subordinate buck decoy to give life to your calls.

While grunting at your hitlister is an effective way to draw him into bow range once you actually see him, rattling is a good blind calling technique due to its volume and reach.  Don’t be afraid to crack the horns together every 30 minutes or so during this time of year.  You can follow up your rattling sequence with a couple challenger grunts and a snort-wheeze to liven the fight.

#3 – Cold Front Commotion

By now you know you should be hunting any cold front that moves through during the season, but you really can’t miss a late-October cold front.  Again, it comes back to rising testosterone levels – combine this with a cold blast of air and things will be on fire in the deer woods.  History says there will be at least one major cold front during the final week of October.  This is a must hunt situation!  Your hitlist buck won’t be able to resist the urge to move during daylight, so you need to be there waiting for him.

#4 – Crops are Coming Off

There are a lot changes for a whitetail buck during this time of year, but the one change that may be most advantageous for us hunters is crop harvest – specifically corn harvest.  The second half of October is when most crops are harvested throughout the Midwest and Northeast, which equals lots of waste grain and lots of lost cover – both advantages for the hunter.  Now, bucks are forced to bed in woodlots and travel out in the open, making them much more predictable. Also, a freshly cut corn field is practically a gold mine this time of year and can instantly knock the bucks out of that “October lull”.

Yes, the rut is exciting as hell, but the pre-rut is something you shouldn’t undersell – especially when you’re trying to tag a hitlist buck on his own turf.  Don’t wait until he’s running around on someone else’s property, get out there and hunt him down.

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