8 Top Pre-Rut to Peak-Rut Setups
Match these setups to the terrain and conditions on your own property for your best chance at a giant-racked trophy this season.
By Doug Howlett
Most of the woods have yet to be trampled by gun hunters yet, with the smaller stick-and-string crowd still on the hunt and muzzleloader hunters finally getting their chance as well. Meanwhile, deer activity is starting to kick into high gear throughout much of the whitetail’s range. As big bucks leave their bachelor groups and begin prowling for those first does ready to breed, it’s also time for deer hunters to take time off from work and get into the woods. And when they do, these are eight of the best places for them to set up to have the best opportunity for a trophy this hunting season.
1. Crop Field Setup—Return to the soybean, or any short-cropped or recently cut (corn) field, where you spotted the most does in the early season and set up right along the edge. With beans at full maturation now or waste grains still littering the ground, you just might catch a big buck in the open chasing the plentiful does around the field, especially as the first ones pop into estrous. Hopefully, you set a stand there before the season after you saw all of those does so you can slip in with minimal disturbance.
2. Put Baby in the Corner—Patrick Swayze may not have wanted Baby put in a corner, but you might want to put yourself there. While a deer can pop out of any spot on a field, watch and you will see that they often prefer to enter near the corners. Pick a corner where you have spotted a huge-racked monster slip out just before dark or where large, deep prints litter the bare soil. Set a stand on the usual downwind side of that corner and be ready. That buck can pop out in a flash in his quest for a doe.
3. Fenceline Funnels—Unless pursued, deer are likely to follow a fenceline rather than jump it if there is an opening nearby. Find a tree or, if not available, set a ground blind within shooting distance of the gap in the fence and wait. This setup is purely designed for ambush so no rattling or calling necessary. The less attention you call to yourself here, the better. This is one of my favorite setups this time of year with deer on the move.
4. First-Year Clearcuts—With the infusion of sunlight and nutrient regeneration common to a clearcut or burn following its first full or even second summer, new shoots and plants spring up all over the place attracting feeding deer. The high protein greens deserve focus, as the new growth also provides just enough cover that deer feel somewhat hidden, but there isn’t so much you can’t spot them or even better, still make a shot on them. A bordering hardwood or pine makes for the perfect place to setup a treestand. These locations can work both morning and evening.
5. Pinch-Point Perfect—Deer are on the prowl big time right now and narrow stretches of woods that connect between two fields are as good a place as you can find to set up and intercept a bruiser cruising from field to field. This is a great morning and evening stand as well. Be careful to set up where you are concealed and not backlit by the open sky of one of the adjoining open areas.
6. Swamp Edge Ambush—Does will walk the edges of swamps and creeks, and you are apt to catch a buck tracking one, nose-down and unaware. Set your stand tight to the water or even better, in a solid tree in the water. Setup just off a bend, where deer will pop out and be immediately in range—ideally within 40 to 35 yards—but not so close that you don’t have time to get ready for the shot.
7. Hardwood Hangouts—Find a stand of oaks or an open hardwood ridge near a field of standing corn and you’ve found a big buck zone like few others. Does will bed and feed in the nearby corn, working into the hardwoods in search of falling mast. Bucks will work the open hardwoods leaving scrapes and rubs to mark their presence. Set up along the hottest doe trail between the corn and hardwoods and wait for a wallhanger to come work the sign. The mast crop looks to be a bumper one this season in many areas, particularly in the Northeast and East, so deer will never need to come into the open if they don’t want to. A deep-woods oak flat is also a likely all-day sit location with acorns dropping, hungry does feeding and rutting bucks seeking.
8. Thick Woods Hideaways—After a couple of weeks of getting harassed by bucks, does will attempt to shake the boys off their trails by vacating the fields and keeping close to grown up cutovers and deep woods thickets. The growing hunting pressure from humans also has this effect. Set up along the muddiest deer trail you find leading into one of these no-shoot zones and rattle and call to your heart’s content. You can be sure a bruiser will be checking the area.