Play the Weather
Weather can be your best friend when hunting during the early season. Weather fronts affect big buck movement during the early season more than any other time. Watch your local forecast, use internet weather sources and apps for your phone to determine when a cold front is going to move in and drop the temperature significantly. (15 to 20 degrees) Although a temperature drop to cooler weather is preferred, big bucks will predictably get on their feet when the temperature drops even if that drop is from hot weather to warm weather. Play the weather and take advantage of severe drops in temperature and pressure.
Find the Bedroom
When they’re not feeding during the pre-rut, bucks are usually either coming from or going to their beds. Too many hunters make the mistake of hunting a bruiser too close to his bedding area during the early in the season. However, knowing where those bedding areas are can go a long way toward filling your tag. The pre-rut is all about predicting travel patterns. A good way to find bedding areas while scouting is to back track a trail from a food source. Food sources are more easily recognizable. Follow a heavily traveled path from a food source to a bedding areas. Bedding areas are usually contain heavy cover to protect deer from the elements and predators. Once you know where the feeding and bedding areas are, then predicting travel patterns can be a lot simpler. Use your trail cameras to find a stand location that puts the big bucks in front of you during daylight hours. This is why I prefer evening hunts during the pre-rut. If you are getting pictures of big bucks between 2-4am then you are most likely setup too close to a bedding areas.
Beware the Nose
Every experienced hunter has a story proving the old adage that a big buck’s nose is the most difficult thing to fool. This makes the pre-rut most important time of year to pay attention to scent control and wind direction. Bucks during the rut can be preoccupied with…. let’s just call it matters of the heart, but during the pre-rut they are on full alert. To get close to a bruiser this time of year you have to stay diligent about scent control and religiously adhere to your odor eliminating measures. During the Pre-rut, bucks are on the lookout in anticipation for a doe breaking into estrous. They will often walk tree lines downwind of fields using their nose to detect any whiff of a doe in heat. This keeps them protected from detection and exposure. Guys never wish to be busted while checking out a girl and the same concept applies to deer. If you get lazy with your scent control these cruising bucks will have no problem picking out your scent and avoiding your kill zone.
Scrapes and rubs are great places to set stands because it is clear that bucks are frequenting the area but don’t get your hopes up about a particular scrape. Pre-rut bucks might only visit their scrapes at night. Look for scrape and rub lines near doe trails and use mock scrapes to get those bucks standing where you want them to stand. (close to your treestand) Chose a doe trail that intersects another major doe trail to create mock scrapes. Use the intersection to help you make an X pattern of scrapes all within shooting distance of your treestand. Make your scrapes big. You want passing deer to know exactly what they are looking at and soon enough that bruiser on your trail camera will be coming in to check your scrapes and make them his own.
It’s Rattle Time
At times rattling can be a sure-fire way to scare deer away, but the pre-rut is prime time for rattling and grunting. During the pre-rut, bucks are establishing a pecking order and proving their dominance. If your technique is right (I recommend an aggressive series followed by some light rattling simulating a sparring session), big bucks will come running during the pre-rut. Feel free to throw in a few grunts during your series. Afterall, deer do grunt while sparring. Rattling is fun and now is the time to use your horns!
Pre-rut can be the best time of year for the hunter who puts forth the effort to pattern deer before the season begins. Rutting bucks are all too often distracted by…. again, let’s just call it matters of the heart and may leave your hunting area in pursuit of a hot doe and not return until the post-rut.
Use these 5 tactics to hunt the pre-rut. Stand time is critical. You won’t fill your tag sitting on your couch.
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