By Alex Comstock
Hunting the rut can be a different experience largely depending on where you are spending time chasing bucks. For instance, you will hunt completely different if you are in Iowa compared to the mountainous range of Pennsylvania. Speaking of Pennsylvania, I wanted to get an idea of what it might be like to hunt mountain bucks on the east coast, and today we've got a great Q&A with Beau Martonik from East meets West on all things mountain buck hunting during the rut. Beau has spent a lot of time hunting the region, and has a pretty darn good track record. His information provided below will no doubt help you if you are hunting this type of terrain.
Q: What’s the rut like in the mountainous area of Pennsylvania? What are some of the
similarities and differences between the rut in the more classic Midwest?
Beau: The rut is my favorite time of the year to hunt in the mountainous regions of
Pennsylvania. You never know what is going to come by your stand, since the deer
population is relatively low with a pretty good buck to doe ratio. The bucks travel far
and wide looking for does. The bucks tend to use the streams and creek bottoms to
navigate the terrain covering miles in a day. In 2009, I killed a buck that was almost 6
miles away from where I had photos of him during the summer. It’s similar to the
Midwest in that you never know what is going to happen, but that’s where the
similarities stop. With the low deer population, thick cover, and no real isolated food
sources, you can go days on end without seeing a single deer. When you do have a hot
doe or two in the area, it brings in bucks from all over and can leave you with a day
you won’t forget.
Q: Do you prefer hunting the rut over the rest of the year? Why or why not?
Beau: 100%, yes. As stated above, they feed mostly on browse which can be all over and
doesn’t create any real isolated food sources. Contrary to what most think, a lot of
Pennsylvania’s big woods don’t have oak trees. Early season can be tough, unless you
find a few apple trees that are producing or cherry trees with a good black cherry
crop. In addition, the leaves are usually off the trees during the rut making it much easier to
see in the thick canopy.
Q: Over your years hunting mountain bucks, what part of the rut have you found to typically be the best time of year?
Beau: There are a few time frames that I really like during the rut phases. The first cold front from October 24-31 has the mature bucks up on their feet searching for that first doe to come into estrus. I hunt close to buck beds in the mornings and evenings during this phase to catch them returning to their bed from long nights of looking for ladies. From November 1-7 you can have the best action, but I usually see the younger bucks running at that time. My favorite days for encountering the oldest deer are November 8th through the 15th. Unfortunately, our season tends to end somewhere between the 11th and 14th every year, which can be hit or miss. If I had one week of vacation to take off of work, it would be the last week of the season.
Q: What does your scouting regimen look like throughout the year when just talking about the rut? Are you hunting areas based off of scouting from the spring, fresh sign, trail cameras, etc.
Beau: My two favorite times of year to scout are directly after the season ends and in the spring. When scouting a new area, I like post-season to find the buck and doe beds that are fresh. Spring is great for seeing the rest of last season’s rut sign. I focus primarily on buck beds and community scrape areas adjacent to buck beds. In addition, I do a decent amount of scouting during the season as well. I look for what is hot right now, and hunt it as soon as possible. In the big woods, patterns are changing almost daily, so I take advantage of hot sign. I run all of my trail cameras on scrapes and creek crossings beginning in August. A lot of these cameras go unchecked all season to see how the bucks are using the area from beginning to end. I’ve found that certain areas get hot around the same time or weather conditions every year, by using this method. I compare the previous year’s trail camera data with the weather, wind direction, barometric pressure and calendar dates to help plan for the following year. Nothing trumps fresh sign, though.
Q: Give me your ideal stand setup with everything from access to stand location, terrain features, food, the whole nine yards.
Beau: I am a huge proponent on hunting creek bottoms during the rut in Pennsylvania. My ideal setup is sitting over a main creek crossing in a hemlock tree up against a beaver pond, with other travel routes running up and down the creek. The challenge of hunting creek bottoms can be the wind, but during the rut on a cold morning, your thermals are going straight up. As the sun starts to warm up the surrounding areas, it can pull your scent up the hills which isn’t ideal, but if you are sitting close to a beaver pond, the prevailing wind will blow your scent over the water which then immediately rises from the water temperature being warmer than the air. In addition, the creek bottoms provide the easiest travel passage for the bucks searching for the next hot doe. This has been my most successful rut stand setup. With that being said, this doesn’t work in really steep areas where the valleys are narrower. In that case, I hunt just over the edges of saddles near the top of the hill in the big oak timber, such as some areas of Pennsylvania and Ohio. This creates a natural funnel with the older deer liking to stay off of the skyline just over the edge. The bucks tend to bed out or near the points of the hills on this elevation, as well.
Q: In your region do you do much calling, and if so, do you do any blind calling or only when you can see how a deer would react to a specific call?
Beau: I’ve read a lot about how blind calling can be very risky on public land, but I am extremely aggressive with blind calling in Pennsylvania specifically. Although, it is one of the highest pressured states, the high buck to doe ratio in the mountainous areas tends to make the bucks more aggressive. The thick cover allows deer to slip past you within 100 yards and you may never even see them. My calls are strategic to the time of year and can be as often as every 20 minutes during the rut. For example, I will use bleat to grunting sequences to mimic chasing during the rut. In the open hardwoods, I still blind call, but make sure to check my surroundings prior to calling. When I see a buck that doesn’t seem interested, I will give him a deep, long grunt and get “in his face”. Overall, my calling is definitely aggressive, but not reckless.
Q: Let’s say I was to move from Minnesota to Pennsylvania and would be hunting an area similar to what you hunt. What’s the best piece of advice you could give me on how to be successful during the rut?
Beau: Look at aerial maps ahead of time and mark key areas: feeder streams away from drivable roads, logging clearcuts (new and old), and any changes in the canopy near these areas. Then, put boots on the ground even if you didn’t get here until the season was already in full swing. You need to scout and see it for yourself to make a move. Carry a stand on your back and get creative hunting the hot sign. Make sure you pick the tree you want to hunt out of, and not let your stand dictate what tree you hunt in. I use a small hang on stand with portable sticks most of the time, and will hunt 8 feet off of the ground, or use branches on a hemlock tree to climb into a position if I need to. Lastly, enjoy the process of seeing deer move through the large tracts of forest with minimal human interaction. You can learn a lot about their natural movements and gain overall woodsmanship from the experience.
To see more from Beau, be sure to visit eastmeetswesthunt.com