About the last week of October, just as my brain starts focusing on the rut, I always make sure I have 4 tools packed in my bag. Without them I could cost myself a chance at a trophy buck. It’s enough just to be in the woods during the early rut. You have to be prepared to play the game. Using fool proof tactics to entice and attract bucks can increase your odds greatly at getting them into bow range. Here is my suggested gear list that will get bucks closing this distance during the early rut.
Rattling Bucks is not popular everywhere but it can be effective. Where I hunt mostly in Northern Michigan, rattling is thought to be a tactic that only works where a buck to doe ratio falls around 3 to 1 or better. This is not always true. Yes rattling is more effective with those conditions, but that’s not to say it won’t work in an area with poor management. How you rattle is most important.
Because Northern Michigan is not known for huge bucks, you would never find me in the woods with a trophy set of antlers, banging them together. A smaller set of antlers are more realistic and far more convenient to pack with your gear.
Rattling during the early rut is a challenge from one buck to another. Very rarely is it a fight to the death. Aggressive sparring is what some may call it and that’s what you should try to mimic. The epic clash of the titans sequence can be saved for the high fence bucks. You want to mimic what sounds like a couple young bucks sizing each other up. This will be more realistic and will catch the attention from more dominant bucks looking to prove their rank.
Rattling can be effective from the last week of October to the third week of November. Not to say it won’t work outside of that time frame but I would even consider its most effective time to be right around Halloween.
Unlike a fighting sound that rattling mimics, the grunt call can be used in many ways. It’s very effective with different sounds throughout the season. But for the early rut we are going to cover just two ways to use the call.
A social grunt can be used when hunting the exterior of a bucks bedding area. Three to four soft grunts could entice a bedded buck to come check who is in his area. This also works when a buck is working a scrape or a rub from a distance. Getting that buck’s attention with a grunt call could strike his curiosity and bring him into bow range.
Another call I like to use if a buck is within my sight but too far out of range is what I call a challenge grunt. Blowing into the call, as if saying “Tuck, Tuck, Tuck”, will mimic a buck that is vocally discontent with the other bucks presence. This is could make the buck feel challenged and bring him into range.
There is one thing to remember when using calls, if you get the buck’s attention, stop calling. That buck knows where the sound came from. The last thing you want to do is give your exact position away.
Tarsal Gland Scent
Tarsal Gland scent is a scent I feel most hunters use during the wrong time of the season. Rather than using it during the peak chasing or breeding phase, the early rut is when I consider the best time. During the early rut, bucks are more curious of each other rather of the does. This is especially true with your older bucks that know the does will not be ready to breed for at least a week or more.
Using tarsal gland scent is a good way to attract a buck from a distance or to even cover your scent down wind. A buck curious of his competition will investigate what other bucks are roaming the area. By the time the peak breeding phase arrives, bucks will seemingly avoid other bucks in fear of getting into an unnecessary fight. Unless there is a hot doe in the area, bucks are liable to skirt around your area just out of sight.
Unless you are lucky enough to have fresh tarsal glands straight from a buck, I suggest picking up a bottle of any leading brand. Use it as a drag going to your stand and once there, hang it about two feet off the ground from an overhanging branch. This has worked for me in the past and will for you as well if used the right way. Like any scent I suggest, use sparingly!
Buck urine can be used relatively the same way tarsal gland scent is used. It is a great scent to use if you are unsure of where the herd is in the breeding season. A buck smelling another bucks urine rather than tarsal gland will not feel quite as challenged by the smell. Buck urine is not specifically a scent used for breeding purposes. However, I suggest using a little buck urine in conjunction with the tarsal gland scent just to make the scene that much more realistic.
Putting them all together
In the perfect situation during the early rut, I would position myself in a transition area used by does. I would try to be within 80 yards or so from a good rub line. With the wind in my face, I would walk to my stand with a scent drag moistened with tarsal gland scent. I would dab a couple drips of buck urine on the bottom of my boots. Once I get to my stand I would hang the drag rag in a tree and climb in into my stand. After things have quieted down I would begin a soft rattling sequence every 20 to 30 minutes, followed with some soft social grunts. If I encounter a buck but he fails to close the distance, I’ll use a couple challenge grunts to entice him to come investigate.
I hope this gives you a good understanding of how to use these tools during the early part of the rut. If you are a non-believer in any these tools, I suggest trying them in the conditions I mentioned. I am a firm believer that if you have enough tools in you arsenal, one will work.