By Gerald Almy
Whitetails have consistent spots where they traditionally enact the "chasing" phase of courtship. By locating these chasing grounds and hitting them during the prime time when does are just about to come into estrous, you can be in the sweet spot for tagging a mature buck.
And usually within a few days of that date each year, you can find groups of bucks and does using the same spots again and again. Fortunately, different doe groups often come into heat at slightly different dates, perhaps because of age, elevation, hunting pressure or other factors. So once you pinpoint a number of chasing grounds on your hunting territory, you can chart them and be at the best one just as that group of does is coming into heat.
If you're familiar with your hunting territory, you can probably think back over where you've seen bucks and does actively chasing and figure out where these rut chasing grounds are.
If you're hunting a new area, search for "rut rubs" made hastily by testosterone-charged bucks just as breeding ensues, and also fresh scrapes. Some prime areas to find rut chasing grounds are fallow fields with some scrub trees and brush, the edge of feed areas, stream bottoms, plum or oak flats, benches just down from ridges, and small clearings in forests. Typical plant species would be honeysuckle, sumac, scattered saplings, greenbrier, mountain laurel, stray pines, cedars and warm season grasses.
What you're looking for is sufficient cover that deer don't feel exposed, but not super thick stuff. There are plenty of areas like this in Shenandoah County.
A doe might lead a buck back into denser thickets when she's ready to breed. But for now they're chasing and it's a courtship display ritual.
They're not trying to hide. In fact, it's a social activity. Does want to attract all nearby bucks. That way they can breed with the biggest one with the best genes.
These are prime areas all day when breeding is about to begin. The deer may chase for a while, then bed in a loose group before getting up an hour or two later to chase some more. Staking these spots out all day can be productive.
Lots of deer may be moving about quickly in this situation, so be careful. I've seen up to four bucks chasing one hot doe. Make sure you have the best one in your sights before you squeeze off.
You can do that if you're patient because bucks using rut chasing grounds typically run in an oval or circular route. It might be a short 100-yard circle or three times that.
Stay back at a distance to try to decipher this pattern. That will let you figure out your best stand location for a hunt the next day. Alternately, you may be able to sneak into a spot where the chasing deer will come past you in range after they move out of sight.
If you think about it, it's almost like hare hunting. Pick a spot along the circular route the quarry is running and ambush it when it comes back around.
If you decide to ease back out and try the location on a future hunt, make it the very next day. Rut chasing grounds often get hot for a few days, and then go cold until 28 days later when the does in that area breed again. Of course by locating several rut chasing grounds, you can simply move to the next one at that point, where the does cycle a few days later.
The process will repeat itself with bucks chasing unbred does a month later, around mid-December. It won't be quite as intense during that second phase, though, because many does will have already mated.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.