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Hunting the 'trickle rut'

In many deer camps, rutting action is reported to be slower than normal. When such a "trickle rut" occurs, David Blanton gets even more aggressive with his tactics. 

Thanks primarily to mild weather conditions gripping much of North America's prime whitetail country, the annual rutting frenzy is, well, just a trickle of normal activities in many places.

Take the phone call I received earlier this week from my deer-hunting pal Steve Lewandowski, who hunts a big piece of whitetail rich ground in Missouri.

"Lynn, I don't know what's up," Lewey confessed. "Normally, we'd be seeing tons of deer on the move right now, but I'm not
seeing anything."

Based on similar conversations with other deer pursuers scattered around the continent, I think it's safe to say that a full-fledged "trickle rut" is occurring in many parts of whitetail country.

A mild-weather induced trickle rut — a term best defined by slow to virtually non-existent daytime movement of whitetail does and bucks — certainly presents a major challenge to hunters hoping to tag a big, rut-crazy buck.

"There are obstacles that we face that can seem pretty darn insurmountable, the biggest of which is warmer than normal weather," Realtree Outdoors' David Blanton said earlier this week.

"Nothing can suppress the rut more than warmer than normal weather. It can be very frustrating to us (as producers of an ESPN Outdoors television show), since it seems like these bucks hole up and don't move until dark."

Notice, however, that Blanton didn't say that the situation is an impossible one. Especially for the hunter who is willing to be proactive and not passive as the deer-hunting season quickly slips by.

"When we go somewhere, we try to make something happen and we will get very aggressive with rattling, grunting, and even now, using decoys more," Blanton said.

"Be very aggressive," he added. "I don't think being aggressive hurts an area. As a matter of fact, I've seen more does come into the rattling horns out of curiosity. They are not alarmed, they're just curious about what's going on."

"That helps to create deer movement and you need deer movement (during a trickle rut.)"

How else can you proactively hunt this year's trickle rut.

First, key heavily on a doe's daily need to put nutrition in her stomach. And, remember, wherever a doe goes during the rut, a buck is bound to soon follow.

"I'm going to get close to a food source, for sure," Blanton said. "I'll set up alternate stand sites to handle different wind directions and/or thermals on that particular food source be it a field, an acorn flat, or whatever."

Next, use deer-scent products to help lure bucks into bow, muzzleloader or rifle range instructs Blanton.

"When a trickle rut is going on or it warm, you can know that deer are hitting a field or a certain area, but it may be happening a lot at night," Blanton said.

How do you combat such nocturnal bucks on the rutting prowl?

"When you go into to hunt that afternoon, make a couple of big mock scrapes near your stand and doctor them up with doe-in-estrous scent. Leave out some Tink's 69 scent bombs, leaving the canisters out overnight hanging from a limb."

What do such mock scrape set-ups do during a trickle rut? Simple: It aggravates a buck, hopefully to death by arrow, muzzleloader ball or rifle bullet.

"When the bucks come through in the middle of the night, they come through and get a whiff of that scent and it excites them but it also aggravates them since there is no scent trail leaving the area," Blanton said.

"I think there registers something in their mind that there is a doe in heat, but they don't know quite where."

Hopefully, such an aggressive ploy on the part of the deer hunter will eventually prove to be the deer's undoing, even during a trickle rut.

"I think the frustration it produces for a buck may play into your hand," Blanton said. "They may be frustrated enough to think, 'I've got to go find out where that doe is and I need to come on down here before darkness falls to check for her.'"

Finally, during an autumn with a pronounced trickle rut taking place, Blanton urges hunters to be mentally tough enough to spend plenty of time on their stands.

"There's no doubt about that," Blanton said. "I'm a firm believer that when negative thoughts start coming into your mind, the chances of your hunt being successful diminish greatly."

The "Realtree Outdoors" executive producer and on-camera personality had to practice what he preaches just a few days ago while on a tough hunt in not-so-cold Canada.

"Our weather wasn't terrible, but it wasn't as cold as we'd like to see it, which is usually from zero to 10 degrees," Blanton said.

"We hunted from daylight until dark and would only see four or five deer a day, which is a very slow day. Mentally, that's a tough hunt, but you know that going in. The other side of that is the incredible quality of the bucks that you will see."

By sticking it out, the trio of Realtree hunters ended up tagging two good Alberta bucks despite slower-than-normal buck movement.

"You've got to stick with it," Blanton urged.

"Too many hunters hunt early and late in the day. But you've just got to get our there and hunt longer into the morning and even into midday."

Which may be the greatest lesson of all during a trickle rut: You can't kill a big, old buck unless you're out in the woods waiting when he saunters by.