The rut is finally here. You’ve waited all year and counted down the days to your weeklong vacation that begins in early November, just as the rut is getting into full swing. You’ve imagined sits in your favorite treestand locations, covered up in deer. Unfortunately, the cruel reality for many whitetail hunters is drastically different than the highlight reels we watch from our favorite hunting personalities on outdoor television or YouTube. The truth is simple — the rut can dish out feast or famine. Mental toughness is critical if you find yourself on the wrong end of the rut hunting equation. There are a few ways to embrace the grind and make the most out of this special time of year.
Persistence and stubbornness are often traits shared by successful bowhunters. During the rut, the elusive moment you’ve anticipated all season can unfold in mere seconds. The rut, a time of heightened deer activity and unpredictable behavior, is nature’s way of testing your resolve. Those who dedicate long hours on stand stack the odds in their favor to be in the right place at the right time when a rut-crazed buck finally walks within bow range.
On a recent episode of the Wired to Hunt podcast, Virginia bowhunter Nathan Killen said, “Every day I don’t kill a buck is a day closer to filling my tag.” Killen’s outlook might seem simple on the surface, but it’s true — the most persistent bowhunters are often the most successful.
As the season progresses, hunting pressure mounts, and whitetails become warier. Treestand locations that were productive earlier in the season can go dormant, resulting in minimal deer sightings and long, frustrating sits. Sound familiar? If so, it’s time for a change of scenery.
Harness the power of digital mapping software to e-scout and identify areas that demand effort to hunt. These might include steep hills, water crossings, or spots far from the parking lot with no designated walking paths. Look beyond the obvious and consider overlooked properties with seemingly less-than-ideal habitat. Sometimes, hidden gems exist in places others overlook.
I found myself in this exact situation just a few days prior to writing this article. The first few days of my 2023 Wisconsin public-land rut hunt resulted in crowded parking lots and run-ins with other hunters. On Nov. 4, I took a gamble on a property that didn’t fit the traditional bill of an ideal spot to find a big buck. It was open, void of cover and with few trees, but I decided to give it a try on an afternoon sit. After a few hours hanging in one of the only trees suitable for a treestand, I was surprised to see a heavy antlered 10-pointer cruising the fence line. When the buck ignored my grunts, I grabbed my rattling antlers and threw the kitchen sink at him. After an aggressive rattling sequence, he flicked his tail, turned my way and ran right into bow range. Seconds later, my season was over and I was thrilled to have killed a beautiful buck on public land.
Any bowhunter’s psyche will be challenged after consecutive days without seeing a deer. This unfortunate reality can lead to fatigue, frustration and dwindling enthusiasm. Recognize when a reset is in order. Taking a day off doesn’t signal defeat; it’s a strategic move to recharge your mental batteries. Sleep in, catch up on much-needed rest, or tend to projects around the house. A well-timed reset day can be the antidote to burnout. It allows you to step back, regroup and return to the woods with a newfound vigor. Remember, hunting is a marathon, not a sprint, and knowing when to hit pause ensures you’re in it for the long haul.
Mental toughness is not just a tool in your kit; it’s the very essence of success. The tenacity to persist through the toughest moments and wisdom to hit reset when needed are hallmarks of a mentally tough bowhunter. When you’re feeling hopeless, challenge yourself to rise above. When the going gets tough, the tough get tougher, and mental toughness is your answer to overcome the grind of the whitetail rut.