The breeding phase for white-tailed deer is an annual occurrence referred to as the rut.
For deer hunters, the rut is the most exciting time of the year because during the rut, bucks throw caution to
the wind and move about during daylight hours in search of receptive does.
This time of year, the majority of every state’s annual harvest takes place, and it’s generally when the biggest bucks are shot.
There are different theories on what triggers the timing of the rut. Depending upon which expert you believe, geographic location, weather and lunar phases all take part in scheduling the year’s rut.
From the northern border of the U.S. down through the Midwest, the peak of the rut typically occurs during November. It can occur as much as a month later in the South.
The time period just before the peak of the rut is referred to as the pre-rut, and the time period after the peak of the rut is referred to as the post-rut.
To stack the odds of success in his or her favor, a deer hunter should know how to hunt each of these phases.
With proper planning and a little luck, hunters will have a good chance to put a tag on a wall-hanger whitetail during the rut this season.
Around mid-October, white-tailed bucks begin gearing up for the rut. During this time, bucks will work on establishing their hierarchy and territory. They’ll mark their range by rubbing t
heir antlers on trees, scraping away the bark and depositing scent from glands on their head. These “rubs” are signs announcing a buck’s presence. Finding rubs lets you know a buck is in the area.
As the pre-rut progresses, bucks will begin searching for does coming into estrous. With their hormones raging, they’ll travel much further than normal to find that first doe ready to be bred.
Hunting the pre-rut is best accomplished by placing a treestand or ground blind in a high-traffic corridor. Examples of such are funnels connecting two blocks of timber, along the edges of crop fields and at major creek crossings.
Using calls and scents, such as grunt calls, rattling antlers and doe-in-heat urine, can be effective at luring mature bucks into range during the pre-rut.
2. Peak rut
The peak of the rut occurs when the highest number of does come into estrous at once. This is a busy time for bucks, as they have only one thing on their minds. Many will even forgo food for days as they seek out and breed as many does as possible.
During this time, bucks can become difficult to locate because many are bedded up with does. Calls won’t usually work on bucks that have already found a receptive doe.
Your best bet for locating a buck during the peak rut is to hunt a location close to a known doe bedding area in hopes that a hot doe will be hosting or leading a buck to her bedroom. Once a buck is through breeding, he will move on in search of another doe.
Bucks make scrapes on the ground with their hooves. These circular areas are scraped clean so a doe can
urinate in them, announcing her estrous cycle has begun. She will leave a scent trail for bucks to follow. Hunt near a scrape long enough during the rut, and there’s a good chance a buck will show up to check for scent from a doe.
Once the peak breeding activity has wound down, a few does, often younger ones, will come into estrous. Bucks will still be looking for mates, but they won’t be as aggressive about it as they were before the peak breeding cycle.
By the time the post-rut rolls around, bucks are worn down and in need of replenishment. Look for them to be in picked agricultural fields where does often congregate. The post-rut is also a great time to hunt secluded food plots.