Challenges of the 2014 Rut in Illinois

I am not an expert deer hunter. Working two jobs and living 800 miles away from my family’s small Illinois farm makes checking trail cameras, planting food plots and scouting impossible. So each year, I save up my money for tags and an airline ticket and block out a week of vacation days around what will hopefully be the peak of the rut, hoping I will get lucky. It usually works, and I have been fortunate enough to tag a few respectable bucks in years past. But not this year. There were too many difficulties to overcome and I didn’t have a plan in place to deal with them.

I tried adapting to conditions, but my moves still didn’t pay off. As they say, hindsight is always 20/20 and perhaps my post-hunt analysis can help you if you face similar challenges to the ones below.

1. Late Standing Corn

We only have about 100 acres of corn standing on our 250-acre property. But the property is bordered by a major farming operation and thousands of acres of standing corn could be seen from my treestand. This corn is often cut by early November, but due to wet conditions, the farmers were letting it stand longer in order to dry out. Usually, the freshly cut cornfields attract the does, and the bucks show up to court them. I am pretty sure the sea of corn was holding deer around the clock. They were holed up in it because it was an awesome bedding area with food right at their reach. I’m convinced that the 4-, 5- and 6- year old deer we normally see were doing all their bedding, feeding and pre-rut festivities inside the 10-foot high stalks.

After my first three sits and numerous encounters with small bucks outside of the corn, I knew I needed to get into the corn to find does and bigger bucks. So, from the cabin, I started researching on my phone and came across an article by John Eberhart. It pretty much confirmed my suspicions, but offered hope that maybe I could stalk the fields and get close to a bedded deer. But the conditions never cooperated. I needed some strong winds or rain to cover the noise of moving within the corn. I still tried creeping through it, but no matter how slow I went, the noise would make it impossible to sneak up on anything.

If you are battling the challenges brought by standing corn during the rut, read Eberhart’s article and wait for the right conditions to still hunt the corn.

2. Bulky Hunting Clothes

Although I never let a broadhead fly from the treestand, I knew I was dialed in. The first day at camp, I suited up in my cold weather gear and spent some time shooting at a bag target. I am glad I did because the extra layers of clothing, thick gloves and Balaclava messed with my form a little bit. If you haven’t shot your bow in a few weeks, sight in again with the heavy hunting clothes you will be wearing. In addition to that, if you are hunting while it’s snowing, be sure to blow the accumulation of snow from your sight pin housing and peep sight for a clear shot.

3. Calls Need Decoys

With no wind cover to allow me to stalk the corn, I thought maybe I could call and rattle a buck out from it. I set up a Montana Decoy before almost all my sits. It was fun to watch the younger bucks change their courses once I hit the grunt tube and they had a visual of the deer decoy. But the day I decided to do some blind rattling and calling over the cornfield, I didn’t set one up. I figured my stand was right on the edge of the corn and if a buck responded to the rattling, he would appear right from the rows of corn in front of me.

I was wrong and the one buck that came to investigate the calls showed up behind me. He came out of the corn and circled downwind in the timber. He never came closer than 70 yards. I think it was because he didn’t see the source of the calls.

I learned my lesson, as it was the only “shooter” buck I saw all week. I am pretty sure he may have come in and offered me a shot if I had my decoy up. 

I hope my trials and disappointment from the rut of 2014 may help your strategy. It was a grind for sure, but there was nothing I would rather be doing in mid-November than sitting in a tree.  And I will learn from the experience and try again next year.