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Bowhunting Public Land Before the Rut Rush

October bow scene

Heath Wood

While hunting a family friend's private lease property, I was told to walk a fence that separated the public land from his lease when I was done with the morning hunt.

It was the opening day of the Missouri firearms season, and I had encountered several deer, yet not the one I wanted to use my precious buck tag on. At approximately 10:30 a.m., I decided to call it a morning and head back to the farmhouse for a warm lunch. As instructed, I began my journey back to the road by following a barbed wire fence that followed the ups and downs of the Ozark hills. To my surprise, after walking a mere fifty yards, I saw a hunter-orange vest sitting less than one hundred yards on the public land side of the fence. I gave a quick wave and continued toward the parked vehicle I had left on the gravel road. After walking an additional hundred yards, another orange hunter was again facing toward privately leased land. On the way to the road, I saw six hunters equipped with comfortable chairs, a warm blanket over their laps, and a bright orange vest and cap that stood out for any nearby hunters.

After meeting up for lunch with my friend, I shared my unusual public hunter encounters. At first, I became aggravated at all the hunters positioned so close to our private land and at the thought that they may shoot the buck I had been watching for the previous month before the season began. Luckily, after getting my stomach full of warm food, I gathered my thoughts and let my selfishness subside, and instead reverted to plan B, which involved hunting a different location that afternoon.

Hunting during the rut on public land can be a daunting challenge. With pressured deer and an influx of hunters, success may seem elusive. But fear not; there are still strategies to enhance your odds of a fruitful deer hunting experience.

Understanding Late October Buck Behavior

buck scrape

As late October approaches, it's crucial to understand what bucks are up to. They're transitioning from their summer habits to early pre-rut activity. They focus on food sources, so locating these areas can be a game-changer. In the age of technology, hunting apps have become invaluable tools. These apps offer maps, weather updates, and even deer movement predictions. Use them to scout and locate big bucks discreetly. Recently, I have been using Hunt Stand, which has a Rut Cast feature that strategically predicts the best days of the rut for hunters to be in the stand.

As with my experience on the opening day of firearms season, mid-November is well known amongst hunters as the peak of the whitetail rut. The public land honey holes will have a hunter sitting at each ideal location during this time. To help increase my mature buck odds, I have, in recent years, focused on the pre-rut that occurs in mid and late October to spend my time bowhunting. To avoid the rush of hunters during the peak rut, focus on the pre-rut. Bucks are more active during this phase, seeking does and marking territory. This is your window of opportunity for success.

Choose Your Days Wisely

Hunting success can often come down to timing and being selective. Consider factors like weather conditions and moon phases to choose your hunting days wisely. Have a "one chance attitude, making every outing count. As a rule, most public land hunters will hunt on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays when they have time off. Hopefully, you saved up a few vacation days to take a day here and there when needed. By taking advantage of rut forecasts such as the one on the Hunt Stand app, hunters can see when the best days to hunt will be several days before. During the pre-rut, I love finding and hunting scrape lines. When I find fresh scrapes on public land, I keep a close eye on the weather, particularly the wind. If a cold front is near, and the wind is right, I cash in on one of those vacation days and hunt in the middle of the week when fewer hunters are out and about. Many times, after an October cold front, the mature bucks will be on their feet during daylight hours, checking their scrapes to see if there are any does who are seeking a companion early, as well as getting a sneak peek at what the area has to offer for them in the following weeks when the peak rut occurs.

Leave No Trace Of Your Stand Location For Others To See

When hunting smart on public land, using climbing tree stands and tree saddles is the way to go. These things are all the rage nowadays because they let you move around without being noticed and won't give away your favorite hunting spots. The beauty of these gadgets is that you can set up shop on the spot in no time, just before you start your hunt. And when you're done, you can pack up and vanish without a trace. That means other hunters won't even know you were there.

They do not present the trouble as with permanent tree stands, which can attract some unwanted attention. Your gear might get stolen, or, worse, you could show up and find someone else already perched in your stand. It's not being selfish; it's just wanting to enjoy the rewards of your hard work in peace. So, go ahead, hunt your way, and keep it on the down low.

Bowhunting on public land before the rut rush requires careful planning and a strategic approach. By understanding late October buck behavior, utilizing hunting apps, employing stealthy gear, being selective with your hunts, and targeting the pre-rut phase, you can increase your chances of a successful hunt.

Read More: Six Signs the Rut is On

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