By Alex Comstock
Hunting during the rut can produce some of your best mature buck encounters of the year. But how do you exactly hunt the rut? For the most part, I think guys focus on the classic pinch points, funnels, travel corridors, etc. But one thing that I think is drastically overlooked, is hunting bedding areas.
Recently, I set out to learn a little more about hunting bedding areas during the rut specifically. The first person that came to mind was Dan Infalt, who is notorious for killing big mature bucks by hunting bedding areas. I reached out to Dan, and he was nice enough to help me put together a Q&A post with him, and let me tell you, he contains a wealth of knowledge. With that said, here is how he hunts bedding areas during the rut, get your notes out, because this one is good.
Q: At a high level, how important are bedding areas to you during the rut? What changes for you from October to November when it comes to hunting bedding areas?
Dan: Bedding areas are always in the equation. My biggest and oldest bucks taken during the rut were shot in relation to bedding areas, not funnels. Generally the younger bucks, 1 and 2 year old's, run the ridges and funnels. 4 year old's and older bucks do not get that old by running through funnels during the rut. They most likely have learned some hard lessons about running around in daylight. That doesn't mean they don't make the occasional mistake, it just means that for older bucks, you need to hunt different.
Every Tom, Dick, and Harry out there is hunting funnels, or sitting over a scrape or rub. How many giant bucks are these average guys shooting? If you hunt like everyone else, expect results like everyone else.
I just finished a hunt in a large area on a hunt where you draw for areas. I was hunting with a young hunter who drew it for most of the season from early September through November. I just drew the 1st couple weeks of November. He was hunting all the classic funnels, pinch points, points leading into the swamps, and the rub and scrape lines that were popping up everywhere. He was going over his frustration with me that he was seeing lots of deer every sit, but no shooters. He only saw one shooter from his treestand the whole time he had been hunting. Meanwhile, I was seeing very few deer, but about one shooter every two sits.
So what was I doing different? I was out in the swamps hunting off the ground and out of small trees in water, in the doe bedding areas. Bucks change their patterns during the rut and go to the does. But they keep them corralled in thick cover. During the pre-rut, I often find them shifting to what I call rut beds. These are usually located adjacent to doe bedding, where they can monitor the does as they come and go from bedding.
Another thing that is a golden tip, is if you have a primary bedding area where a scrape shows up in staging within 100 yards of lots of bedding, that's one scrape that should be sat over. My two biggest bucks came from scrapes within 100 yards of two bedding areas where competing bucks would stop by every evening after getting out of bed.
Q: During the rut, how do you identify a bedding area? We hear the term all of the time, but I think some guys have trouble knowing exactly what to look for, and if anything, what changes once the rut starts.
Dan: That's a tough question to answer. Easier to show. If you do a lot of spring scouting, and looking at bedding areas, and where you saw deer during the season, you start to get real good at looking at terrain and making an educated guess. You're going to be wrong sometimes, but you need to get over that and just keep moving till you get onto the buck you're looking for. The spots he beds during the rut are going to areas the does were bedding before the rut, with the exception that bucks will try to get the does into thick cover if the are is not so thick. In pressured areas, I would look at a map and look for thick or wet areas other hunters rarely go. Water is a big key in a lot of pressured areas. Big bucks and even smart old does love to bed and hide in areas surrounded with water and brush. Not only do people stay out, but water also keeps coyotes and wolves from pestering them.
Q: When hunting near a bedding area, how tight are you getting to where you actually expect deer to be bedded?
Dan: The answer really depends on a few things such as terrain, and if I know exactly where the beds are. If you're not occasionally bumping bucks and swearing at yourself, you're too far back. A lot of the big bucks I have shot have been within 100 yards of bedding and it was just minutes before closing time. Any further back, and I don't see them in daylight, any closer and they spook.
In marshes, swamps, and farm country, I like to be within 100 yards of known bedding, in open woods or wooded hills I often can't get closer than 200 yards. In areas where I am guessing bedding, I like to hunt from a position where I might get a crack, but it's more of an observation stand, and if the deer is seen, a move is made the next day. If nothing is seen, the next day is a move to the next observation until I see the target animal.
Q: If you are hunting the downwind side of a doe bedding area, is there a certain time frame you'd expect bucks to be checking them?
Dan: 1st off, it's not always the "downwind" side. If you hunt doe bedding during the rut a lot, you will notice that bucks often cruise the side where the doe trails go in and out of the bedding and smell the trails rather than the actual wind from the doe. Best results come from hunting a doe bedding area where those trails are also on the downwind side. As far as a time frame, it could be anytime, but generally, cruising bucks tend to wait until the does are bedded before they cruise. I personally like to hunt buck bedding at 1st light, cruising from 9:00am-2:00pm, then sit parallel trails that skirt doe feeding areas just before dark.
Q: What is your ideal access route to a bedding area stand site during the rut? Is there any type of entrance or exit route that can give somebody a greater advantage for success?
Dan: The best access will have the hunter never walk where the deer walk and there will be an obstacle the hunter shoots over like a fallen tree, a creek, a fence, etc. That way the deer don't know he was there and he might get another sit or two out of that spot before the big boys have him patterned. Another good way to access a stand is to walk in down a trail or walking path that everyone else uses. Deer get used to that and accept it. It's when you get human scent where they don't want or accept it that they freak out. So taking the trail as far as possible before breaking off is a good entrance.
When a mature buck enters his bed, he almost always circles around and comes in from downwind, gets to the bed, then faces his scent trail. It's a great access because there is only one line of scent. His scent trail, and wind are in the same line. What we can learn from this is that when we access a stand, if we go straight into the wind to the tree (when possible obviously) our ground scent and wind scent will be in line and therefore a deer can only bust in one area, rather than two.
Q: Does anything change for you when it comes to hunting bedding areas between the very beginning of the pre-rut to the end of the post-rut?
Dan: Beginning of the pre-rut, I'm hunting buck bedding areas with lots of sign, rubs, and scrapes. During the actual rut, I'm hunting buck rut beds, and around doe bedding, and after the rut, I'm back to buck bedding, and if it's late season in the north, I usually hunt good buck bedding near food.
Q: If you could only give one piece of advice to somebody who is trying to kill a mature buck by hunting bedding areas during the rut, what would that be?
Dan: Don't focus to much effort in one spot. If the buck disappears, you need to move on. A buck will spend two or three days with a doe, and then he will move on to the next one. You need to keep hitting bedding areas until you have action, and be able to let that spot go when it goes cold, and relocate to the bedding he moved to.