We have a lot of time before we get to Opening Day 2020, but I have been working relentlessly on this season's plan & outlook for our first archery-only hunting season as an operation. Like a scientific study, there are constant factors and variable factors. There are factors within our control and those that are not. If I could make a hypothesis, it is that this season will have all the prerequisites to be a stellar year for our bowhunters given that the weather and crop harvesting stays true & positive.
- CONSTANT FACTORS
1) The rut will happen regardless(variable aspect: normal peak rut; not trickle rut)
2) The moon phase is optimum for pre-rut & rut hunting
3) Stands/Blinds strategically placed on farms for pre-rut & rut
4) We will have hunters in above these setups during pre-rut & rut
- VARIABLE FACTORS
1) Timing of crop harvesting (corn & soybeans)
2) Unusual or untimely weather systems during pre-rut & rut
3) The actual deer movement in daylight & specifically, which shooters are present
4) The quality, volume, and location of food sources present up to & during the pre-rut & rut
I can't remember that last time that we had a full moon on Halloween leading to basically two full weeks of prime hunting moving toward the new moon on November 14th. If I remember correctly, 2017 was the only year that we had a textbook rut. 2018 was beyond that, but there was legitimate rut action from late October on with a break from about Nov 1st - 6th, making it a double rut. My favorite days of the rut, November 5th - 11th, should produce very well for us this season given the moon phase. Yet, we need more than that. Ideally, we need crops out on time, good cold weather with a barometric pressure ranging from 30.01" and climbing. Then, we should have the encounters that we expect during this timeframe.
This year, we will be covering all of our farms much more effectively than we have in the last two years. In 2018 and 2019, I sort of favored farms over others, and I think that cost us at least a few encounters. So, we will be covered properly in Zone 4, Zone 5, and Zone 6 unlike we've ever been. That alone as me anxiously excited to get after it.
Somewhere between October 19th through October 31st, we should see the pre-rut switch kick on with a cold front. This will be when our local bucks start venturing out, and new bucks will start visiting our farms. This could also be the time that we see an old friend show up after losing him around September 1st, if it is going to happen (usually, nocturnal though). It all depends on the crops coming out and when. The more crops that come out, the further bucks will travel during the rut. You can take that one to the bank. I would expect that we will have between 2 and 4 bowhunters start their hunting during this stretch, maybe more, and we will have some decent encounters. Like most years, I would expect a little "lull" at the end of the pre-rut before the rut light switch is flipped into the 'ON' position.
Depending on the timing of the cold front in mid to late October, the rut should kick on very close, within a day either way of November 5th. This will be when the switch is flipped, and the daylight activity picks up ten-fold. Depending on the farm, we should expect god burst at first light through about 8am, a down time from 8-10, a burst from 10-2, a down time from 2-4, and a burst from 4 until dark. Temperature and barometric pressure will influence this, mind you. Each day as we get further from the full moon, the nighttime movement will slow. This goes inline with a theory on how much and when deer move during the nighttime hours during the rut. Most would say that the activity continues throughout the nighttime hours, and I would agree with that. The more that the nighttime activity is restricted due to moon phase, the better our daylight activity will be. I expect to see bucks quite run-down starting about November 7th, 8th, or 9th.
HOW WE WILL HUNT THE PRE-RUT THROUGH THE RUT
This year, unlike any of our other years, we will be setup as well as I have ever been. Starting in the pre-rut, we will be in our "B" grade stands or "A" grade food source blinds. We do NOT want to start the pressuring on a farm too soon. We may get lucky and catch a shooter in daylight during this time in the food sources or checking scrapes. Yet, scrape activity in the pre-rut is usually nocturnal. "B" grade stands are somewhat more on the exterior of a farm versus the heart of the farm and play the wind like it was October 1st. Again, managing the pressure on the farm is key.
Once we see the rut kick off, we can get into better stands, if available, and we will hunt specific stands regardless of the wind direction. We will still practice our best scent control measures, but eventually we will have deer around us 360-degrees, so there will be no such thing as a "good wind" or "bad wind" on most of these stands. This is my "Zone Defense" that I like to refer to. Once the switch fires, we go into my "Full Court Press" hunting the best stands dark to dark so long as we can get in and out without spooking deer, which is a task within itself during the rut in southern Iowa.
As we start killing deer, we will have stands/blinds open up. I will try to identify if any of them are "Killing Trees" or the "Killing Blind" which means that it is the hot seat, and I have to keep someone in there at all times due to the recent activity and/or sightings. Every year, we tend to have at least one of these. Also, as we kill bucks, we will move guys around to different setups or even different farms in hopes of improving our odds. Yet, this is not what I consider "stand hopping" as we are doing it systematically with factual purpose behind the decisions made.
I hope that we are finished by then, but if not, the lock-down will gradually start, and the activity will come to a halt. We could still see big bucks in daylight, but the overall activity is just wiped out due to all the previous chasing & breeding already completed. This is where we strive to avoid at all costs. Yet, we can still produce shots during this time. It's just not as likely. If you're still hunting come November 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, and 17th, you will hit the lock-down phase at some point. Try to avoid it if you can. November 18th through the 30th can be much better than this stretch as it's an extension of the peak rut or it's the lock-down with a boost during daylight as temps usually start dropping more so than they did in early November.
BUCKS THAT SURVIVED 2019 SEASON
We will see what the cameras show us starting in late June & early July on throughout August. This is our most productive inventory moments, but modestly, this shows us the genetic range on our farm, and then we add 20-25" to our biggest mature buck and subtract 10-15" from our smallest mature buck. That identifies the range of bucks in our area. Yet, every single year, we are surprised. I know of a total of 20+ bucks whom are or will now be mature and large enough score-wise to shoot that should have survived the gun seasons, and that is not to mention a new farm that we added, and other farms we didn't even spend time on last year. With the overall success in southern Iowa being low last year across the board, from operations I know, people I know, and people I don't know, we should be sitting fairly solid on big bucks to hunt in 2020. Stay tuned for trail camera photos as we get into the summer months. I can't wait!