Young hunters know the signs of pre-rut season

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deer rub

After an unusually warm month of October, sugar maples were finally lighting up with their brilliantly red hues, and the temperature was dipping below 50 degrees. Amber oak leaves were scattered across the trail, and one lone hunter sat in his deer stand deep in the woods.

A doe went right under him, prancing along the trodden path. Then he heard more leaves rustling and the sound of another animal approaching. It sounded bigger; he braced himself and gripped his bow in preparation.

For a brief moment, his breathing stopped when he realized it was a massive buck. He couldn’t believe his luck that it came within perfect range for him to shoot it. Unfortunately, the buck’s keen eyes noticed a slight movement. It crouched low and jumped high as the arrow went underneath it.

“It jumped straight up … all four legs at once,” the novice hunter would later describe the movements. His words were heavy with agitation and disbelief.

I tried to keep a straight face, but laughter broke through. I was picturing an eight-point buck jumping straight in the air as if on coils.

Not surprisingly, the incident was not recorded on a trail camera. There wasn’t even a single photo of the perfect buck that got away. The legend of the Air Jordan of white-tails was told many times that week.

Before the rut

“What exactly is the pre-rut season,” I asked my oldest son. “Well pre means before, so it’s before the rut,” was his straightforward response. I had to chuckle at his very literal answer.

Obviously, I understand how a prefix works in the English language. I wanted to understand the signs and know how the pre-rut differed from the regular rut season.

I continued to ask more questions in order to string his short replies into one monologue that really described the pre-rut. My husband took notice that our young hunter was starting to blush.

He had to add to the conversation by using words like “hormones” and “attraction” repeatedly. He described how bucks leave signs and scents for “their lady friends.” He went as far as to say, “ready to breed.”

At this point, we were all wishing the conversation would have stopped with the short English lesson in prefixes.

After that wonderful dinner-time conversation around the table, I surmised that pre-rut is basically just the beginning of the rut season.

Deer are starting to change their habits and establish their territory. Their antlers have transitioned from velvet to hard antlers. In farming areas like ours, rubbing and scraping can be seen at first along the edges of corn and soybean fields.

Scouting hike lessons

My husband started taking our kids on deer scouting hikes when they were young. The hardest part was keeping them quiet.

In an attempt to make it more enjoyable for them and quiet for him, he had a game using made-up sign language to signal when they spotted a sign of a deer.

Their hands on their head with fingers facing out meant they spotted a tree that was rubbed by a deer’s antlers. Dragging their feet meant that they saw a scrape or a wallow from a deer on the ground. Squatting meant that they spotted something that looked like cocoa puff cereal on the trail, but was not edible at all.

Now that the boys are old enough to hunt, those early walks have prepared them to be observant hunters. They are able to study the habits and changing travel patterns of deer in preparation for the early youth hunting season.

The time most deer hunters get excited is during the legendary rut season. Large bucks can be seen out chasing does making themselves more vulnerable to hunters.

In our family, hunting on the farm is a tradition. Generation after generation has grown up walking the woods together. They used to hunt mainly rabbits and pheasant before the deer population exploded.

Although the animals have changed, the time spent with family will remain treasured as much as the biggest trophy buck.

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