Every year hunters look forward to the rut. Some hunters may not even venture into the woods until the rut is in full swing. When it comes to hunting rutting bucks, you either love it or you hate it. Surprisingly, numerous hunters don’t fully understand what exactly the rut is, or how it works. In order to be consistently successful, you must recognize these aspects of the whitetail’s rut in order to capitalize on their vulnerability. This is a quick break down of the whitetail’s breeding season.
Cold weather does not trigger the rut. You may want to re-read that again. Now write it down, post it on Facebook, do something to help you remember that. The rut is triggered by the photoperiod, and the behavioral changes a deer experiences during the decreasing amount of daylight. A buck’s testosterone has been steadily increasing since their velvet peeled and the bachelor groups disbanded during the late summer months. This testosterone peak coincides with the peak of estrogen levels in does, causing the rut. Of course, the drop in mercury does get deer on their feet, but this isn’t what causes the actual rut. The rut will occur no matter what the temperature, it may be suppressed but it will occur, even if cooler temperatures are not present.
Does will come into estrus and be able to be bred for approximately 24 hours. If no buck takes her up on her offer, she will cycle around and come back into heat a month later. This is where the infamous second rut comes into play. In reality, later-born fawns and skewed sex ratios can have a huge impact on the timing of the rut, hence the reason biologists suggest that in order to have a more intense rut you should harvest more does. In other words, to experience the best rutting action and have optimum herd health, a sex ratio that is as close to one buck per doe needs to be obtained. It’s all about antlerless deer harvest.
While we think of November as being the rut, there is actually a pre-rut, the actual rut, and the post-rut. The timing of these phases varies across the nation in different locales but we will use NC as an example. The pre-rut will occur in late October and into early November. While a buck will begin rubbing and scraping as soon as his velvet peels, late October and early November is when the rubs and scrapes become abundant. Scrapes and rubs are means of communication amongst other deer in the area. The actual rut is typically timed towards the middle to end of November. This is when the bucks have somewhat abandoned scrapes and are focusing on chasing does and checking bedding areas, searching for does ready to be bred. The post-rut is when only a few select bucks are searching for does. Usually by this time they have resorted to hiding underground and feeding primarily at night. While they are very cautious and skittish, their stomachs are calling the shots and for this reason a buck is much easier to pattern than he was when he was love-struck a few weeks prior.
Hopefully this has helped you understand the basics of the whitetail rut. In my next blogs I will delve deeper into each phase and present more information to assist you in tagging that buck of a lifetime. Until then, be safe and hunt smart!