Art Helin gives a breakdown of the seminar he gave at Iowa Deer Classic about the seasons of deer vocalization used during all four phases of the Rut to harvest mature bucks. He talks about the different types of calls used, and why they were effective and why they weren’t. He also shares insights with land management and says it’s broken down into four different parts: food, water, cover, and sanctuaries. He believes the last puzzle was food sources, and that hunters need to quit acting and thinking like farmers and become deer farmers.
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Phases of the Rut – Art Helin
On this episode, we welcome Art Helin. Art has traveled around the United States giving advice on how to grow great bucks. He also is a known author in Petersen’s Hunting, North American Hunter, Wisconsin Sportsman Magazine, just to name a couple. He is also a platform speaker. I ran into him at the Iowa Deer Classic. Art has great stories, and he’s got great insight on what it takes to grow mature bucks. Pay attention and get your pad and paper out because he’s going to give you some insights you might not have heard before. He’s going to talk about the phases of the Rut. Art, tell us what’s going on at Iowa Deer Classic.
Iowa Deer Classic has been amazing. I didn’t get in until recently due to some other things I had going on, but speaking here and just looking at the crowd, it’s just been a steady crowd all day long and it seems to be good. Everybody seems to be in a good mood and spending money and having fun.
How many people do you think are here at Iowa Deer Classic?
I’m not good at guessing like that, but if it’s average, I’m guessing they have to have 4,000 or 5,000 people or more here walking through these doors.
I was fortunate enough to listen to Art in his seminar. Why don’t you just take us through a couple of snippets? We’re going to talk a lot about whitetail deer hunting here in the Midwest. Run us through the high points of the seminar that you gave actually twice.
The first seminar was on deer vocalizations. I broke down the seasons of deer vocalizations, on when and when not to use different things. If you use rattling, if you use a social grunts and different calls throughout the wrong time of year, they’re not going to be as effective. We tried to break down dates and seasons as far as pre-Rut, Rut, post-Rut, and as far as early season, when deer is starting to come out of velvet, and break down the different calls used anywhere from doe bleats to estrus bleats to rattling and social grunts to tending grunts and your challenge grunts. That seminar, we broke things down into different phases throughout and talked about the different types of calls used and why they were effective and why they weren’t.
The second one I did was on land management the foremost at which we broke down into four different parts of food, water, cover, and sanctuaries. We talked about timber stand improvement work throughout and the difference between hinge cutting and stump cutting. We talked about stump sprouts and which ones are good for deer and which ones aren’t, and how they create different cover and different bedding areas. We broke down water and why there are certain areas of water or types of water that are better than others, and why do you walk through creeks to go to certain man-made small mini ponds that are 15×15 feet or 20x20x4 feet deep. Working with different aquatic biologists and foresters, gathering all that information over years of time trying to find out why they did certain things, and then finally bringing it ahead and explaining to people why they’re doing what they’re doing.
About sanctuaries and why you need to stay out of them after July. At the end of July, deer come in and what they do is they’ll start breaking out of their batch of groups and go back to their home ranges or finding new home ranges. If you’re in these certain areas and you’re pushing these mature deer out of there, these mature deer are going to move 20, 40, 60 acres away, which may not be on your property anymore. There’s the importance of having certain sanctuaries and what to do in the sanctuary. The last puzzle was food sources and why we as hunters need to quit acting like farmers or think we are farmers, and become deer farmers. Look at more 365-day a year food sources instead of just straight corn and beans. If we want to use corn or beans, supplement that with clovers and brassicas, chicories, and different food sources to make those deer want to come back to those certain areas to feed that full 365 days.
If somebody wants to get a hold of you Art, what’s the best way to reach you? Social media? Do you have an office phone or email address and website?
There are a couple of ways. On Facebook, you can go to my Art Helin Outdoors Facebook Page. You can also email me at Art@ArtHelinOutdoors, or even check out my website which is www.ArtHelinOutdoors.com and on that you can get to the contact page and get a hold of me.
Let’s give a little shout out for John O’Brion. John’s a good friend of mine and I know you’re doing some work with him. What part does John play in what you’re doing?
I met John and started working with John on food sources, once I figured out his agronomy background and we started talking. I’ve worked with some good guys in the past, but when John started breaking down mineral content, plants, protein in plants, and how at certain times of the year he does certain tests to do things, he was way over my head. Everything that I’d ever known about it and stuff, the things he was saying, I couldn’t even comprehend them. I sat down and talk to him and said, “I need somebody like you because if I don’t know the answers to why something’s not growing in a certain area even after soil tests, can you help me?” We talked for a while and then decided that it would be a great relationship to work with John because he has such an extensive background in brassicas, corns, beans, all the agronomy stuff, and minerals. He is fabulous to work with and able to help. When I myself don’t have answers, I know I have somebody that is extremely knowledgeable and can help me get the right thing into my client’s hands.
John O’Brion, Grandpa Ray Outdoors is a good shout out for him from Whitetail Rendezvous and Art Helin. Let’s go back and talk about the four phases. If you spend any time on the woods, you’ve heard deer do some strange things and make some strange noises. Art’s going to break it down for starting in September and going through November.
If you get into September, which I call the second phase, deer antlers have already hardened. When their antlers are pretty much fully grown by the end of July. What happens after that is they start going through a phase where the antlers start to harden, then the velvet starts to shrink. Once the antlers are fully hardened then the velvet shrinks, then it becomes itchy and they rub this off. Though this whole process, their testosterone starts to build. As that testosterone builds, there are changes going through their body and so their vocalizations are telling them different vocalizations. Once you get into that first part of September, mid-September, and into the first part of October, what happens is these bucks are doing that and their testosterone levels grow. They start doing some sparring or they have a lot of social grunts. The reason that they do a lot of social grunting and light sparring at this time is because it’s like your freshman year of high school, trying to find out who the big kid on the block is. You want to find out who the biggest senior is, so you might have a couple of kids sitting there fighting and then the senior walks in and breaks it up and says, “This is my hallway. Stay out.”
It’s no different with these deer. What he’s doing is because he has found his home range, and it might have been his home range for years, is he wants to know who’s in that or he wants to know who’s in his bedroom. As soon as he hears those antlers start tickling or he hears the social buck grunt, that older mature deer is going to walk into that area to curiosity to find out what buck is there so he can show them certain postures and certain body language to tell them that, “I’m the bigger, more mature deer here. This is my territory. You’re welcome to stay, but just so you know, this is my area.” During that timeframe, there are a lot of the social grunts and light sparring, and once you’ve made contact with that deer, it’s not like later on in the year when you can actually call. You don’t do a lot of blind calling and have it successful; this is more close-range. Once you make that contact with that deer, then you start calling this to try to draw that deer to you.
Let’s talk about tickling and soft grunts. Do you do any leads at all during this first phase?
Earlier in the season, I try to do some fawn bleats because his testosterone starts to rise. He tries to push those fawns off that doe because the sooner they quit nursing, the sooner that she comes back into heat or so he thinks. She’s going to dry up and come back into heat. His natural instincts are trying to push those away, so again the curiosity doing that. Your fawn bleats along with some real soft doe grunts, that curiosity. If you get past that and into a little bit later into that phase, when you start doing more of your social buck grunts and you’re rattling, you don’t want to go crazy with it. You want to have either a small set of antlers and you want to have a rattle pack or something small like that that’s going to sound like two one and a half or two-year-old deer. You want to sound smaller and you don’t go all out, maybe 30 seconds, a minute, minute and a half, where you’re just going to lightly tickle those antlers together and maybe throw in a few social grunts. You’re not going to be long drawn out on challenge grunts or anything like that this early in the year.
We’re going to transfer into the second phase and things get a little bit more serious now.
There’s a phase in there in between, which is the October Lull. Not a lot of guys like the October Lull and the reason is because of the October Lullis more focused on protein for those deer and trying to put weight on, so calling doesn’t work really well unless you’re real close. On October Lull, you still get out there because your chances of shooting something are obviously better on a tree than they are on the couch, that’s the way it works, but once you get past that, you start looking and you get into that October 25th to mid-November timeframe. This is a fun time of year. This is what I call pre-rut. This is when things start to change on deer because they know that the rut is right on the corner and things are going to start getting serious. You look at the rut prediction tables, and every year it’s pretty much the same time. Things that affect it, like moon phase and things like that, will affect how the deer move throughout that timeframe. The reality is it’s all triggered on the length of day the rut is, and then everything works around the moon and it works around the weather and how they’re going to move throughout that timeframe.Things that affect it, like moon phase and things like that, will affect how the deer move throughout that timeframe. Click To Tweet
Let’s stop and talk about how many articles there are starting in June all the way through the fall. “The rut’s going to happen in your zone and this date.” What is all that about?
What they do is they look at it and they are right, but when they look at the moon phases and stuff, that’s when the deer are going to move the most throughout those days. But if you look at it, the rut, because it’s all focused, it happens around the length of a day. If you look at articles, that’s when the time of the day hits a certain length, and every year that might change by just one or two days or three days, and then it all focuses around the moon phase. It’s really going to all be within the same couple of days every year of when it’s actually going to start, but what they’re talking about is how the moon phase and the weather are going to affect that rut when they’re going to be on their feet during the best days of that timeframe when the days are real short.
The best thing I can tell you is go to DNR and ask them, “In my area and in my zone, when do the fawn drop?” Then you can very easily cut all the way back to when they were impregnated and then you correlate that with the moon and length of day the sunlight available to them, put it in a pile, put it in a pot, stir it up, and that should give you a week’s time or five days’ time.
It usually gives you a little more than that because the transition there is slower. If you look at that pre- rut, you’re going to get a couple of weeks in there, but then the actual breeding is usually eight to ten days. There’s always the anomalies, there’s always something that’s a little different here and there. One might come in earlier, we’re talking to the highest percentage, the 90% to 95% range and higher because there’s always that one that will throw it off. As soon as I say “This will never happen,” it happens. They’re wild animals, so there’s nothing that you can ever say that never happens because when you say that, it will happen to make you look like a fool, but I like the numbers where if you look at that and compile that year after year, you’re going to be in that 90% range every year at about the same timeframe.
Thanks for that because I know some people and they’ll swear, “I’ve got to be in my tree these three days and no other days during the rut.” Sometimes that’s silly because a lot of things change, especially the weather.
That’s why rut prediction is nice on that because what they’re looking at when they say, “These three days,” that might be when the moon phase is the best, but if the weather is 70 degrees or 80 degrees, that plays a huge factor in it too. Then you have to look at it and say, “What’s the next phase?” Because the colder the weather, the more they’re going to move throughout the day. Depending on the moon phase, that will make them move more throughout the day and the night. That’s what you’re looking at when people say, “I need to have these five days or these three days,” is look at the moon phase first from the shortest days when it gets to that, say October 25th to 28th, and then up to November ninth or tenth, you look at that and say, “These days here are going to be my best days out of that ten-day timeframe or twelve-day timeframe,” and play it around that with the moon phase and the weather then.
What about the lockdown? What’s that all about?
Usually when it gets into lockdown frame, locked down gets your most mature buck, and not always your most mature, but your breeder bucks, they’re going to take that doe, and they’re going to grab her and they’re going to take her out a way and they’re going to lock her down. If she’s close to breeding or wanting to be bred, he’s going to take her off and he’s going to hold her down. It could be as short as an hour, I’ve heard people say up to 24 hours. You’ve seen them actually run out and hold that doe in place or not leave her, and sometimes they’ll take them to the most secluded places you can find them. I’ve seen them take them out of the hardwoods and different places to the middle of the set-aside field or one tree on a fence line that’s the farthest away from anybody that they’re not going to get interrupted until they’re done breeding. That buck you’ve been chasing all year, you don’t know where he might be on lockdown, gone with a dose somewhere locked up or he could have run her a mile away and not even on your property anymore.
How do we hunt a lockdown buck?
To backtrack just a hair on to that first season before you get into lockdown, you want to use the intimidation factor during that time frame that I call the pre-rut. During that timeframe you can use every call possible. At that time, I like to use snort wheezes, challenge grunts, tending grunts, estrus bleats, long-drawn out buck fights with larger antlers so you sound like that more mature deer when you’re doing that. The thing with the snort wheeze, I never liked to do that until I made contact with that deer because they’re mostly a mature deer call and if you use it at the wrong time or use it blindly, they’d try to get down wind to you.
Once you see that, you can try to draw him to the right wind side of you if possible. Once you’re done with that phase and having fun and calling and doing all this stuff, then right towards the end of that, when they start getting into lockdown or what a lot of people call rut, which is the breeding season, you have to look at the jealousy factor of a deer, and you’d try to make him jealous. A lot of your calls starting the ninth, tenth, twelfth, somewhere right in that ballpark, if you’re using those dominant calls anymore and trying to rattle and trying to do challenge grunts, a lot of those bucks won’t respond anymore.
What happens is those deer have one thing on their mind because the days are getting shorter and the days are shorter so they’re like, “I don’t want to fight anymore. I’ve done this since day one. I know where things are.” All of a sudden you switch gears and you say, “I want to make him jealous. I’m in here with his girlfriends.” That’s when I switch over to doing more tending grunts, estrus bleats with tending grunts and again. Once in a while, even throw in some fawn bleats with that doe because their mind is playing tricks saying, “She shouldn’t have fawns at all with her at this time of year, so I’ve got to get those fawns away from her.” You play on that factor of that deer and say, “I want to use these calls during that timeframe.” A lot of times that timeframe, you’re going to be that tenth of November to the 20th, 25th of November. A lot of times, a lot of states, rifle season will start. Once rifle season starts, opening day, you may have a chance to still calling some deer if you’re in pretty secluded areas, you can do it for a while, but then a lot of times if you’re in the heavy pressure areas, you’re pretty much done. That’s what you got to look at is how you’re breaking those two down and saying earlier, you can get aggressive because those deer are already patterned and you have them on the pattern. You can call them off that pattern to you and get super aggressive. Once they get into that lockdown, if you see that buck chasing that doe and he’s doing a tending grunt as they’re going chasing that doe, every step he takes, he’s making a short little grunt, then he’ll try to get her to stop and then we’ll go right back into that popping sound. If you hear that and watch them physically doing that, you can play that and try to hit him with an estrus bleat. I’ve got the Knight & Hale that I just turned over and you turn it over and let it do its thing. Then I’ll go from there and start calling with my tending grunts and try to make him jealous and pull him off that doe. Because if she’s close, he’s not going to pull off her, but if she’s not ready and he’s been chasing her, he knows it. His jealousy factor is in, “Who else? If there’s another doe that’s hot in here, who’s tending to her because this is my territory?” Drop him off for her and make him come find out who it is.
You’re hearing Art say this, there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle and at the Iowa Deer Classic I’ve heard Bill Winkie and a few other guys expound on hundreds of years of collective knowledge. If you get a chance next year, come on out here because it’s shown out until a couple of weeks after the show. Stop by and checkout Iowa Deer Classic. Let’s move around to your second part of your seminar.
As far as the land management work, when you look at a piece of land, there are four puzzles or four pieces to that. There’s your timber, there’s your food, there’s your water, and your cover. When you look at your timber, there are a couple things that you look at. If you’re working with certain foresters, lot of foresters don’t like hinge cutting. Hinge cutting works and is great for certain areas, it’s great for funneling deer, doing certain things. Down South, it works a little better, but working with a lot of foresters and having some forestry background stuff. I listened to these guys and they would rather do what’s called stump cuts. Because when you go into an area, you find trees that aren’t any good. Iron woods, you find elm trees, you find a stunted oak trees, and dogwood. These trees aren’t good and you want better trees.
If you want more production out of your good oak trees, if you want walnuts or you want maples or different things, then what you have to do is you need to go in and stump cut these and get rid of them. What we do is when we stump cut that tree is I cut it and I just leave it lay. The reason is that you want to do that between January first and April first, because when you are in there stump cutting, which is different than hinge cutting which you do later on. What happens is when that comes back to life as if saying, “There’s nothing here,” it shoots a whole bunch of new sprouts out of the stump. That is your new browser, that’s your new cover, that’s your new trees for that area. For the first couple years, that creates all this new habitat for bedding, for browse and food, all in one source. You got to look at how and where to do your certainty TSI areas or your timber stand improvement work, then we move into different water sources. I’ve looked at water, I’ve worked with a couple of aquatic biologists and we did some studies on why you’re walking through streams into ponds into these small little 10×10, 15×15, 20×20-foot water sources that are 3.5 to 4 feet deep. We found out that there’s a couple things.Once the water hits 39 degrees, it turns over and pulls all those natural minerals out of the soil. Click To Tweet
One, usually in a creek, they put their nose into it, so they’re getting wind swirl, they’re getting noise from the creek, so they’re not as comfortable in there. These ponds you can build that I’m talking, you can put those up on top of ridges, you can go in with a skidsteer or you can dig it. In certain areas you can either put Bentonite and if you’ve got a lot of clay. Otherwise I like to use liners that’s a woven weave. It’s a woven liner, very thin. It’s got a twenty-year guarantee that they’re not going to poke holes in it and then put a little mat on top of it. We leave that in there and once you get that at a certain depth, you make it look as natural as you can. Put the dirt on top of it, you can get certain aquatic plants to grow to keep your water temperatures right. Because once water hits 39 degrees on the bottom, so you have to be over that 3.5 feet deep in order to get it right. Once it hits that 39 degrees, it turns over and pulls all those natural minerals out of the soil, plant proteins that had been in there all year, and brings those back to the top and the spring.
That gets your deer, your turkeys, your animals in there, and it’s healthier for them. You’re giving them a lot healthier water. If you’re using certain other materials to build them, you need to clean those. If you’re using kiddie pools, things like that, every two years or so, you should be cleaning those out and digging those out and cleaning them, otherwise you get so much bacteria growth in them because they’re so shallow and gets so warm. They grow a lot of bacteria in them and then becomes non-healthy, so each year you can watch the numbers of deer that actually come to that diminish. Do they work? Yes. I’m not saying they don’t work because they do, but just make sure that you clean those out over time.
When you get done looking at those food, food is a big thing. I touched on sanctuaries a little earlier, but with food, the biggest thing with that is trying to build a full 365-day food plot. Because so many people think as farmers, what happens is all of a sudden that food source, the first part of September or mid-September, first part of October, the leaves have fallen off the beans because they’ve become mature. The silk on the corn is hardened up, the milk stage has gone in the corn, so to those deer it’s not as appetizing to them. They want those leaves, they want that silk, they want that milk stage, what else can you give them at that time? Because that’s the time that we’re out there hunting. I try to divide food plots up or larger food plots. One part of it I always like to put in clover mixes, chicory, and things like that because then right away in the spring, throughout the summer, they have that as the other plants are growing.
Then as I go in, I plant my beans and my corn. What I’ll do is, especially Grandpa Ray’s just came out with a new bean this year that is a very early maturing bean. The leaves actually fall two to three weeks earlier than they normally do, which is nice because then I can get in and over seed to get in all my fall brassica mixes. When I get my fall brassica mixes then, what’ll happen is those mixes then rose. Those beans become non-hasty. For the deer, they just don’t like them as much during that timeframe, which they want those again later on in the winter. During this timeframe, they want that green because they need that tonnage to get them through winter, so I’ve got to find as much green as I can. Sometimes clover and chicory just isn’t enough and doesn’t have enough tonnage in it and so I look at brassica mixes that have grape, turnips, Rutabagas, there’s winter weeds and different things in there so they get that green.
All of a sudden, even with that clover becoming dormant, we get some good hard frost and it becomes dormant November, all of a sudden you have all these other greens and turnips and stuff like that that the deer just migrate to that and stay on the same food source. You have food sources that bring them from spring through summer into that mid-fall, and you have leftover stuff with your turnips, radishes, corn, and beans for the rest of the winter to get them through until spring. When you go start tilling that ground up, you’re right back over to the clovers and the chicories again keeping those deer there. You start thinking like that full 365 days. Think like a deer farmer instead of a farmer.
You’ve heard this before on Whitetail Rendezvous. If you want to get into this game and hunt mature deer, one, you’ve got to have mature deer in your property and hold them there. You’re going to have some other deer come and go during the rut, but for the most part, if you have food, shelter, and water 365 days a year, you’re going to keep the holding capacity on your land. Art, thank you so much for being on the show. Why don’t you give a couple of shout outs and then we’ll wrap the show?
Thank you. I thank you and all the guys here at Iowa Deer Classic for having me out here to speak. I’ve got a few other shows that I got to go do. I’ll just say thank you to all the listeners on Bruce’s show and everybody that I’ve dealt with and the companies I deal with. The biggest shout out I got to give to my wife because she deals with this day in and day out. She travels to all the shows with me and help with the seminars and everything else together, and she haunts and loves to hunt and fish. My biggest shout out has to go out to her. I thank you, Bruce and I appreciate your time.
On behalf of Whitetail Rendezvous onsite at Iowa Deer Classic, Art Helin, thank you so much for being a guest. I look forward to another show possibly in Madison, but we’ll catch up to you someplace down the line.
On the next episode of Whitetail Rendezvous, we’re going to visit with Nick Percy. Nick is the owner of Killer Food Plots. What’s so killer about Killer Food Plots? If you’ll listen to the show, you’re going to find out. Nick has spent his lifetime growing big deer, preparing the soil and as he says, “You reap what you sow,” and he sure does reap some big bucks. Listen up. It’s going to fun.
About Art Helin
I began hunting over 30 years ago under the instruction of my father and grandmother. What started as small game and deer hunting in my home state grew to an obsession to hunt nearly every big game species across North America. Thus far, my adventures have allowed me to successfully harvest many animals including six different big game species and four turkey species. Although I enjoys any type of hunting, I am crazy about whitetails and turkeys!
My hunting success and passion for teaching others has led to my pro/field staffer positions for Realtree, New Archery Products, Knight & Hale, Moultrie and Vortex. I promote these and other companies and the great outdoors by working trade shows, attending retail store grand openings and providing in-store training to their employees, conducting seminars, and writing stories for outdoor media. My wife, Michelle, and I have filmed for the Archer’s Choice and The Choice TV shows and Archer’s Choice Media and Double Bull Archery video series. I have also been featured in many articles in magazines such as Wisconsin Sportman, Petersons Bowhunting and North American Hunter.
When speaking with people, I draw upon my own past experience, successes and failures, as well as the over 150 days per year in the field hunting, guiding and scouting. To assist me in scouting, I take advantage of the tools and technology available including aerial and topographical maps and trail cameras. I have planted food plots for years, which started out small and often failing, and now just keep growing and getting better year after year! I practice woodland management on our 40-acre property and have recently completed timber stand improvement and pond projects, and I’m eager to share what I’ve learned with others.
I am busy promoting archery and hunting in the Dodgeville area when I’m not afield. I am president of the local National Wild Turkey Federation chapter, which hosts a highly successful, award-winning Learn to Turkey Hunt event. Since it began in 2003, the event has grown from 9 to thirty new turkey hunters each year, primarily women and youth. Participants have also included children with chronic or terminal diseases from the United Special Sportsmen’s Foundation. I also teach classes as a National Bowhunter Education Foundation instructor.
I live in rural southwestern Wisconsin with Michelle, and our daughters, Alana and Elizabeth. While I love hunting, what I have really come to enjoy, even more, is hunting with family and friends. My proudest moment came when Alana shot her first longbeard turkey. When I’m not in the woods or working as a real estate appraiser, I enjoy fishing, watching football and UFC, and driving my motorcycle and ’67 Mustang.