John Crooks: Making sense of late-season archery hunting | News

Undoubtedly, there have been many articles and books written about hunting the later part of the first archery season and more specifically the mystery and mystique surrounding the phenomenon of the annual whitetail rut.

From wildlife biologists and researchers to both seasoned and beginner hunters, everyone has their own theory about when, where and why it happens.

The rut is essentially a time period when a normally slow archery hunting season with deer sightings often times few and far between suddenly changes drastically and bucks and does are suddenly running everywhere, searching, individual chasing and harassing does and does groups. Bucks are making rubs everywhere and the woods seem to come alive with deer action.
For the observant hunter, it’s very clear what is taking place and there will be no doubt in your mind when you see and experience the hair-raising commotion and fast action it generates.

Archery hunters should plan to stay in the woods for as long as possible when the rut begins and bucks are searching and chasing because a fast-approaching buck can suddenly appear at any time of the day, not just at dawn or dusk. Bucks relentlessly search 24/7 and travel for miles searching for does. I call these deer strangers as they are often bucks that I have never seen before or have trail camera pictures of. In our hunt area, I always have several trail cameras watching travel areas and monitoring scrapes which bucks are there.

Unfortunately, another ominous sign of the rut is the great increase in deer-auto collisions on highways and interstates. Road kills become an all-too-common sight.

When does the rut begin? I shot my first buck at age 14 in 1963 and have been trying to figure that out ever since. But with almost 60 years of hunting whitetails behind me, I’ve learned a lot about when and where to hunt big bucks.

In our hunt area I usually see the first, rigorous chasing on Nov. 10.

Over a few years, my last two big archery bucks were shot on Nov. 10—both chasing does. In this area, the rut can begin any time from early November and last well into December, depending upon each particular do, and often in January with younger ones doing.

This fall, we essentially had no great surprises in early bow season. My eldest grandson and I had been seeing an average number of deer and a few bucks and I had already passed up a smaller 8-point.

Trail cameras were showing a normal amount of small bucks and a few shooter bucks, so we were confident of seeing them eventually.

On the morning of November. 10 I saw one of them in daylight searching for does just out of range. He was trotting around the perimeter of a goldenrod field, wind-checking for bedded does.
After a quick strategy session, that afternoon we quietly slipped into two different stands within sight of each other and settled in for what we’d hoped would be another encounter with a buck.

Luckily, we didn’t have long to wait. After only about 15 minutes in the stands, I had a doe come running past me at 15 yards. She appeared to be out of breath and tired and I instinctively readied the bow for the buck I knew had to be chasing her.

A few minutes later, I heard him coming. He sounded like a bull moose charging through the leaves and brush and at 15 yards I stopped the 8-point with a loud vocal grunt and my arrow hit his lungs as he screeched to a stop.

After my shot he fell just out of sight and the doe continued on for the next 30 minutes making circle after circle, loop after loop, dodging around trees and over logs all around us with several different bucks chasing her. What a sight to hold! The rut was definitely on — a short time later I heard my grandson Chase shoot and his well-aimed arrow hit a 6-point still following that doe! I was able to see his buck as it disappeared out of sight.

A few minutes later, we saw him lying in a ravine. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. We each had a buck down within minutes of each other and only minutes in the stands. Another classic example of the rut – fast and furious action! Talk about making memories!

With the first archery season almost over, hunters are reminded that the rut can still continue into the rifle season, which is now only days away.

Many of my bigger bucks have been harvested with a firearm in rifle season chasing does! Firearms hunters can still utilize a few of the bow hunters’ tricks such as rattling antlers, hunting scrapes and the use of doe urine scents.

For those hunting in firearms season, remember to wear your 250 square inches of fluorescent orange clothing on head, chest and back; Adult hunters remember to count those points for three points high and try to take a young hunter with you.

You’ll both enjoy the camaraderie, friendship and the lifetime memories you make!

Good luck and safe hunting!

Cochranton-area resident John Crooks is a longtime outdoors writer.