Elk Hunting in Colorado: Pursuing Majesty
December 7, 2023 •iSportsman Staff
As a former whitetails columnist for both Outdoor Life and Petersen’s Hunting it was incumbent upon me each year to interview some of the top hunters in the nation to try to determine the six or seven best days to be in the deer woods…a challenging task of prognostication for sure given the many variables that affect deer movement from place to place. Deer rut intensity, cold fronts, winds, temperatures, moon phases, hunter pressure, local deer numbers, the prevalence of acorns and the simple fact of whether your land boasts the right mix of habitat to hold deer or simply sucks can all play a role on whether or not you see deer on these so-called optimal days or any day for that matter.
But there is a method to the madness and given the breadth of heavy knockin’ whitetail experts that often weigh in on those most likely days to be in the woods, they have their years of experience to present some legitimate windows of deer rut time you’ll want to consider as a deer hunter.
The gun season in your county may open on a particular day, but other than that being the first opportunity to squeeze a trigger on Donner or Blitzen, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be the ideal day to be in the woods. (Though, just for the record, no matter what anyone says, don’t miss opening day if you don’t have to, even if it’s forecast to be 80 degrees with 30 mph winds. It is, after all, your first chance–if you’re not a bowhunter—to hunt as-of-yet unpressured deer.)
Outdoor Life and Field & Stream remain two of the most authoritative sources to try to tackle this annual conundrum: What are the best deer rut days to score a big buck? This year OL put veteran deer slayer and whitetail expert Mike Hanback (a friend and my biggest mentor) from Big Deer with Mike Hanback and Big Deer TV fame on the task. Hanback based the top days for 2021 on his and fellow hunter’s experiences mixed with the key influences of the phase of the moon.
Hanback’s best rut hunt day picks are Oct. 20, Nov. 4, Nov. 11, Nov. 19 and Nov. 27. For his full explanations and rationale for selecting these dates and understanding why you should be out there, read his predictions in the full OL article here.
Meanwhile, over at F&S, whitetail columnist, deer expert and heck-of-a-good hunter and nice guy, Scott Bestul, who also brings a lifetime of experience hunting whitetails across North America, offers his insight and advice on which days success-oriented hunters will want to be in the woods. For 2021, Bestul likes Oct. 24, Oct. 31, Nov. 6, Nov. 10, Nov. 20, Nov. 26 and Dec. 7. For Bestul’s full prediction details, check out his story at F&S here.
So, you probably notice, while many of their suggested days fall close together, none of them match perfectly. They are predictions and speculation based on a variety of factors after all. But in each prediction, there is a rationale hunters can glean and apply to their own hunting environment and come up with their own likely best days where they hunt.
Without question, in my experience hunting throughout much of the Southeast and parts of the Midwest, and particularly in my home state of Virginia, if I could only hunt one week each fall, that week would be Nov. 7-14 with my core effort focused Nov. 9-13.
Why? These days simply fall right at the heart of the seeking phase of the rut, when big bucks are on the move looking for does to breed. If the weather is cool, they’ll move more throughout the day with peak activity during the usual peak activity time, first light and just before dawn. If it’s warm, that activity will take place at night, with many hunters suggesting the rut hasn’t started yet.
Trust me, it has. Renowned wildlife biologist and premier whitetail consultant Dr. Grant Woods once told me during an interview that in his decades of studies the whitetail rut in an area falls at the same exact time, the same days, every year. Weather, hunting pressure and some hunters would argue the moon phase (though most researchers would disagree) may force much of that activity to the night when it’s less visible. But it is going on.
Whether you choose a block of time in late October or November to fill your tag, or scatter your days based on the experts’ choices or simply go on the weekends when you can, one thing is certain, you can’t kill a buck sitting in the shop, the office or your home. Just get out there. That’s the one tactic that always improves your chances of success.