– By Tyler Frantz
“On the twelfth day of Rut-mas, my true love gave to me, a broadside buck 10-yards from my tree...”
While this musical rewrite of the holiday classic might be a bit of a stretch, Pennsylvania bowhunters certainly are about to feel like Christmas came early with the gift of additional hunting days in 2020-21.
From November 9 through November 20, Pennsylvania bowhunters will have the opportunity to hunt deer for twelve consecutive days - a result of the legalization of Sunday hunting on November 15, 22, and 29, as well as the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s decision to tack a bonus week onto the back end of the statewide archery season, allowing it to run for seven weeks instead of six as in years past.
Never before have Pennsylvania hunters had a chance to bow hunt on a Sunday, let alone an extra week extending well into the heart of the whitetail rut, which is sure to result in some anticipatory and sleepless nights reminiscent of Christmas eves in childhood memories.
Surely some “holiday” vacation time will be manipulated to ensure at least a few workdays are traded for “woods days” during this opportunity to target bucks during peak breeding season.
Those looking to capitalize on rut-crazed bucks, as they focus more on primal desires than personal survival, can increase their odds by adapting their hunting styles to match this advantageous scenario.
For example, think about where and how you are hunting, bearing in mind that bucks will actively be seeking out does to breed, corralling receptive ones to secluded cover to “do their thing,” and potentially running off competing bucks in the process.
A good ambush location would be in a transitional area that links two or more bedding tracts together, but in close proximity to dense breeding cover. Ideally this area will funnel deer movement into a narrow and predictable, high-traffic zone.
Bucks will use ridges and benches, saddles (dips in terrain connecting two hillsides), fencerows, field edges and creek banks as travel corridors to constantly check for does approaching estrous. Once they locate a hot doe, they will stay on her (occasionally for up to two days) for breeding and will often lead her to seclusion away from other deer. This could be in a very thick patch of cover, such as a regenerating clear cut, laurel flat or dense hollow, or even in unsuspecting locations close to houses – anywhere a buck feels he has the doe all to himself.
The key is to situate yourself on the edges of these hot zones and catch the buck either on the move looking for his next girlfriend, or when he’s distracted by the one he’s currently following. The use of doe-in-estrous scent can be highly effective this time of year, as it will announce to cruising bucks that the opportunity for love is in the air. Scent drags can be laid down past your stand, by dragging a lure-doused cloth within bow range and hanging it slightly upwind of your location. As a buck passes, he will smell the lure and come in to investigate.
You can also capitalize by hunting active scrapes, as a buck will regularly revisit his scrapes to freshen them up and see if a receptive doe has stopped by to urinate in it, letting him know she’s ready to get frisky. Using estrous scents in these areas is a killer strategy.
Calling also can be effective this time of year. Bucks this time of year are often cruising looking for does, and this is when they’re most susceptible to the grunt tube. If you see a mature buck cruising around by himself, give him a few grunts on the grunt tube, as it will signal there is another buck encroaching on his turf, and he may get irritated and come in for a closer look. Doe bleats and estrous can-style calls can also pique their interest, as can rattling to simulate fighting bucks.
The most important thing is to put your time in, as bucks will be on the move looking for does around the clock this time of year. The rut is unlike any other period of the season. It is by far the most likely time to see bucks on their feet during daylight hours, and it can happen any hour of the day.
While it may be difficult to hunt every single day during this season’s 12 days of “Rut-mas,” those who take advantage of the extra time afield will drastically increase their odds of receiving that present at the top of their wish list – a gift-wrapped buck with a bow!
Tyler Frantz is an award-winning freelance outdoors writer from Annville, PA with a true affinity for bowhunting. His work regularly appears in Pennsylvania Game News, Pennsylvania Angler & Boater and Pennsylvania Outdoor News, in addition to other print and digital publications.
You can access his weekly blog, Youtube channel, and social media platforms by visiting www.naturalpursuitoutdoors.com. Please give his NPO page a Like on Facebook to keep up with his latest and greatest work.