If you hunt the extreme eastern section of Area 1, now’s the time to be on your stand.
It’s no big secret that our collective attention spans are growing shorter. While the Internet is largely responsible for us not being able to digest information unless it is written in brief bullets, some say USA Today is what started this trend.
I’m not sure if that paper started the trend or if it just was the first to realize it, but the fact of the matter is that our stick-to-it-ness isn’t nearly as sticky as it used to be. Our inability to pay attention for any length of time has actually been diagnosed and labeled as Attention Deficit Disorder, also known as A.D.D.
Deer hunters aren’t immune to A.D.D. By the time Christmas rolls around, many of us get so caught up in the holidays, college football bowl games, the NFL playoffs (some NFL fans actually get to keep watching their favorite teams in January) or any number of other distractions that we push hunting aside.
And to top it off, it’s just too danged cold to get out of bed some January mornings.
These distractions may be acceptable in some parts of Louisiana, where the rut has wrapped up and the scrawny bucks have moved back to food sources. However, in Washington and St. Tammany parishes, anybody who gets distracted or sleeps in is missing out on the undisputed best time to be in a deer stand.
“We kill most of our big bucks from the end of December though the end of the season,” said Washington Parish resident and deer-hunting fanatic Mike Williams. “We don’t get what you would call the post-rut here; our real rut is actually at the end of the season, and we’ve actually seen bucks running does on into turkey season.”
While Williams spoke of his experiences mainly within the hunting club at which he is a member, he has hunted enough of Washington Parish to know that the same holds true outside his club’s boundaries.
“Once the rut starts, the bucks start running does, and they keep going until they’ve got everything bred in their area,” he said. “Then they leave their home security zones, and go find whatever other does they can find that haven’t been bred. When they start rambling like this, that’s what gets them killed.”
Just to the south of Washington Parish, Eric Dumas finds the same situation in St. Tammany Parish. While Dumas is known for his fishing skills on Lake Pontchartrain, he’s also an expert deer hunter who basically grew up in the parish’s woods and marshes.
“Our post-rut scenario would probably be in February,” said Dumas. “So using post-rut hunting strategies in this parish would be a mistake because the season is going to be closed before our bucks get done and move back onto the food sources.”
Since the post-rut doesn’t hit Washington and St. Tammany parishes until after deer season closes, Williams and Dumas said hunters should continue to employ rut-hunting techniques right up to the last day. Doing anything else might put some doe meat in the freezer, but it won’t help you kill the biggest buck of your life. In fact, both hunters agree that the key to killing bucks is to leave the does alone.
In Washington Parish where Williams hunts, the primary way of hunting is to set up on the food sources. Therefore, he didn’t recommend totally abandoning the allure of food during the rut. While the bucks might not be interested in eating at all, the does are. And if the does are in a food plot, you can bet the bucks will be close by.
“Food sources are the main way we hunt because the does come to them no matter what,” Williams said. “And when the does come out in a plot, they’re going to drag the bucks in there with them. If you have does on your food source when the rut kicks in, you’re going to have bucks in there with them sooner or later.”
Dumas agreed with Williams’ assessment of hunting food sources during the rut, and while he hunts some marsh trails during the rut, he passed along some helpful tips for hunters who are either only able to hunt a food source or just prefer hunting a food source.
“If you’re hunting food during the rut, you’ve got to let your does sit there,” he said. “Don’t mess with them. Let them come in at their leisure and leave at their leisure. If you shoot your does during the rut, there won’t be any reason for a buck to come in there. If you leave your does alone, that buck’s eventually going to step out.”
You can’t just actually leave your does alone, though. In fact, the most successful hunters in Washington and St. Tammany parishes pay them a lot of attention by observing everything they’re doing. Watching the does will let you know if a buck is nearby.
The main sign that a buck is near a doe during the rut is that the doe will continually look back at the woods behind her. If you see a doe exhibiting this behavior, you can be sure a buck is somewhere around.
The only problem is that if the doe isn’t entirely ready, the buck might not stick his nose out until right at dark.
“If the doe is ready to breed, it’s a different story,” Dumas said. “That buck will step out at any time of the day and approach the doe. She’ll break off of him, but he’ll follow her. He’ll keep bumping her, and she’ll keep running off until he finally breeds her. Then he’ll go off and find another doe.”
It is this going off to find another doe that makes hunters like Williams and Dumas continue to hunt hard right through the end of the season even after they have already killed a nice buck. The very idea that another buck might move in to breed a doe that missed out on the recently deceased buck gives them all the encouragement they need to make sure their attention stays focused on deer hunting.
“We have so many does in Washington Parish that some of them aren’t getting bred,” Williams said. “This is the result of getting overpopulated with does, which is something we’re facing here. Our bucks will run themselves ragged trying to breed all these does.
“You’ll see what was a 250-pound deer, but he might not weigh 175 from all that running, and he won’t even have one leaf in his stomach. That’s a deer that’s doing all it can to breed all these does. If you’re in your stand in late January when that deer runs by after a doe, you can kill a good buck. There’s not any post-rut hunting going on around here.”
While so many hunters’ blinds are sitting empty during January, now is not the time to get distracted because you thought the rut was over by Christmas. Good hunters like Williams and Dumas know that the rut on the northshore of Lake Pontchartrain is just getting started this month, so don’t try calling them over to watch the game.