How do you take advantage of the roe rut and avoid disappointment? Dominic Griffith presents his definitive advice
If there is one unbreakable rule that I observe in the rut, it is to be sparing with the call. Stalkers who go out calling does in June on the off chance of bringing in a buck behind her are doing themselves no favours at all. They also risk educating their roe to the extent that calling will no longer be effective, possibly ruining for everyone what can be the most useful tool for finding those really old bucks at the end of their rut. Does leave their young kids for a purpose during those first eight weeks after birth and there is nothing to be gained in distressing and confusing her through the pointless use of a call.
Even though you might see chasing as early as late June or early July, again show restraint and leave the call in its case. An opportunity for a shot might arise anyway and a whistle will stop a chase as effectively as a squeak from a call. Leave calling until that magic period from the middle of the rut, when bucks are in full testosterone and are actively seeking uncovered does.
While a few does will start to cycle early, the main activity will always be in the last week of July and first week of August, its intensity dictated only by the prevailing weather conditions. Windy and wet weather limits activity to a fraction of expectations; windless sultry conditions tend to bring the most success. Downpours of warm thundery rain can bring on the rut, but cold persistent rain suppresses it. Above all, windy conditions are the most disappointing and difficult to counter.
The principal advantage of stalking in the rut is the opportunity it presents to find the oldest bucks, those ones which otherwise spend most of their year in thick cover. It is also a tremendously exciting time to stalk – sometimes overwhelmingly successful, at other times crushingly disappointing. It can be extraordinary that on one day you can call a different buck every few hundred metres through the forest, but on other days you can easily convince yourself that there are no deer present for many hundreds of metres around you, so unresponsive do they remain to your plaintive squeaks.
But beware the good days, and show restraint when they happen, as you risk overexploiting the ground and potentially damaging the future. Selection criteria remain the same despite the intensity of the moment and the speed at which you frequently have to take decisions – seek the old and spare the middle-aged, look for the greasiness of coat that frequently signifies an old buck, look for sloping coronets and swept back antlers and try not to be taken in by bright white tines. Old forest bucks will rarely grow strong antlers.
There are many continental experts who don’t bother to go out at dawn during the rut, but wait for that magic moment between 10am and 2pm when the deer have sought cover after their morning feed and the bucks become more responsive to a squeak than they were when going about their business. They may be with a doe or they may be solitary – the squeak may bring the doe and the doe may bring the buck behind her. The buck might leave his doe and come in alone. He might spring to the call or he might respond more cautiously, taking up to an hour to slowly reconnoitre and approach. Or he might ignore the sound altogether!
To cover all of these options requires a plan and a technique if success in these very differing circumstances is to be ensured. Rutting behaviour can frequently be observed at sunrise and, in that respect, normal stalking can be effective. Rutting activity again often starts in the evenings after the heat of the day has subsided, and though calling can be effective at these times, it is most effective in bringing in deer that have gone to their daytime couches. Stalking dawn, dusk and during the day can be overwhelming after a day or two, so the first choice is just when to put in your effort.
Having chosen a wood through which to call, plan a route taking note of the wind direction and using forest tracks to minimise noise and disturbance. Have in mind a series of calling points that give you enough all round visibility to see an approaching buck, but with sufficient cover to give him the confidence to approach. Sometimes a buck will come from 500 metres, but at other times you will need to be very close indeed to gain the necessary reaction. A series of calling points will ensure a better opportunity of gaining his attention. Having reached the first point, wait – sometimes just the slight disturbance of your approach through the forest will be enough to arouse his curiosity. If not, begin with a very quiet series of calls, perhaps cupping your hands or even placing the call within a jacket.
Wait. Some stalkers say that you should wait an hour, and yes, an old buck might need an hour to approach. But why an hour – why not six hours? If you wait long enough, something is bound to come along in the end. My preference is to wait 15-20 minutes, because after all, the excitement of the rut is in the intense response that brings a buck racing to the call.
After 20 minutes, if nothing has happened, continue to the next point and complete the procedure. Calling can become louder and more frequent, and even very exaggerated in some circumstances. Generally though, if the time is right, the buck will come, but if you know you are after a particular old buck, perhaps give him more time than the 20 minutes I have suggested.
Sparing use of the call is the key to success, certainly before and at the beginning of the rut, but even at its height. At the end of the rut, around 12 August, my strong advice is to put your calls away until the next season. Calling at other times simply serves to educate the roe and risks making them unresponsive when it comes to the time you really want to make use of them. It’s a wonderful time of year to stalk roe, but one that can be compromised through unwise use of the call.