(Editor's note: Bert Phillips is a Guntersville realtor and a highly accomplished deer hunter. He's taken more than 250 deer in the last 30 or so years, most of them in Marshall County.)
Deer hunting the rut is like the 3 rules of real estate: location, location, location.
If you're not in the hot spot , your not going to get the best “BANG” for your buck! You have to be where the most desired inventory is located to find the best deal. Food, water,and shelter all must be present in that location for your hunting success to be successful on a year after year basis, and of course, deer. Sure, you will get a good buck in a mediocre location once in a while but we are talking about taking good bucks on a regular, consistent basis every season.
Location 1: There must be deer present in your area in large enough numbers to pursue. Without an adequate deer herd, the chances are almost slim to none for the average hunter. I use infrared game cameras to get an inventory of resident deer that live within the boundaries of my hunting area. The main tactic is simple during the rut: make sure you have several does at your location. Even if there is not a resident buck on your property, once the rut hits, he will be pursuing the resident does. The doe count determines if I want to hunt an area or seek out a new one or add additional locations during the rut. I don't worry if there are no rubs or scrapes in the area, as my dad used to say, “They have to travel to get to those particular spots and all you have to do is intercept them."
Location 2: Food, water and shelter all fall into one group as for the essentials for life and sustainability at your hunting location. A mixture of hardwood mast crops along with food plots and dense cover will ensure the location will hold and maintain a decent deer population. Supplemental feeding now plays a big role in keeping deer on your property and it is now legal in Alabama to hunt over feeders to draw deer. If you don’t have these 3 essentials at your location, you can create them by planting food plots, allowing an area to grow over or make a cutover by felling or harvesting some timber, build a small pond or use a cattle watering trough, and planting some mast crop or fruit trees. I am always planting seeds for the future whether it’s for in the real estate business or deer hunting. You have to be in it for the long haul.
Location 3: Your stand or shooting house location is critical. This is critical for your success . Know your property and know where your deer bed down for most of the day and the wind direction. Once you establish this, you can place your stand or shooting house in a location that will least disturb the deer while entering that location. There's nothing worse than to bump a big buck off your land and to have your neighbor show you a picture of him on the back of his truck.
This actual happened to yours truly many years ago when my dad and I were entering a thicket and the buck jumped up. Anthony Campbell happened to be on a nearby property walking back from a hunt and the big 7-pointer ran right through his property. I knew who had taken that big buck once I heard the shot. We both were hunting that same buck that season. Also, once you reach your location, stay put. Don’t scout during the weekends while others are in the woods. Most of all be patient. Your time will come if you are persistent and don’t give up on yourself. Don’t get discouraged when your neighbor kills a good one (easier to say on paper), because it could be you on the next hunt .
I have done most of my hunting within a 30 minute radius of my hometown of Guntersville for 35 years now and I usually take at least one good buck if not more every year during the rut in January.
The pre-rut starts in Marshall County about the first week of January, but if your are going to take vacations days to hunt the full rut, do that starting the 10th of January to the end of the month.
My most successful times have been the days of the 20th-31st. One season, I got 3 rack bucks in three different spots three days in a row.
Now the season has been extended to Feb. 10. I see this time as a post-rut where does that have not been bred or young does will come into season at this time. It is slow but can be productive. You don’t have to have a large area to hunt. I killed one of my largest Marshall County bucks on a 6 acre tract of land on one windy, rainy January evening when a big buck was following a doe within 20 yards of the stand.
Be persistent and go hunting and you will be successful. I have never killed a buck in my recliner watching a football game. They just don’t show up in my living room.