When and How to Hunt the Rut for Deer

Learning the many aspects of the rut and how to hunt it can be fascinating. Today, deer hunters have a decided advantage over the hunters of yesteryear. Deer hunting seminars, videos, and printed literature abound.

Fortunately, the mass communications industry has not provided a quick fix to becoming a successful deer hunter. It still requires a sound background of what I call white-tailed woodsmanship — a keen knowledge of the animal and its environment.

Over the years, I’ve been asked a multitude of questions about how to hunt the rut. These questions ranged from how to hunt the weather fronts to how to locate a primary scrape.

From these dialogues has come a feeling that hunting the rut almost has a certain mystique about it. Hunters often appear to be trying to find the one secret formula for success. As a result, they sometimes become easy targets for hunting gear manufacturers.

Hunt the Rut for Deer

Rutting Behavior of Deer


Everything from ultra cam bows to super-hot, doe in-estrus buck lures confront hunters from every direction. Though the hardware may help them score on a buck, nothing can replace getting in the woods and learning through experience.

Therefore, learning what to expect from a whitetail during the magical days of November can help make one a more successful deer hunter.

What is the rut

Rutting a deer is something that a male deer does to a woman deer to show its interest in females. This includes something in between aggression of sex to dimorphisms with increased testosterone.

For deer, the aggression is playing with the horn and other organs to attract the females. The male often rubs their horns with a tree or fight with another deer to appeal to the females.

Deer Rutting Season: When is Deer Mating Season

It is essential to realize that a white-tailed buck is not the same animal in November as August or will be in February. From a physical standpoint, a buck enters the month of November as a magnificent specimen.

Deer Rutting Season

Also, a buck’s hormone production reaches its highest annual level with its thyroid, adrenal and testicular glands at peak activity. This, coupled with the does coming into estrus, causes the rut. With bucks appearing to be “wired tight,” all kinds of predictable and unpredictable things occur during this time.

During most of the year, a buck confines his activity to a relatively small area. But during the rut, this changes and often drastically. In the northern farm belt, a buck’s rutting range may approximate three square miles.

How to Hunt Rut in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi

However, in-country with big timber, like Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and New York’s Adirondacks, a buck may cover 15 square miles in his pursuit of does. The critical thing to remember is that the buck you frequently observed in late August and early September may move out of the area as the rut approaches.

It is essential to search out early scrapes and pay close attention to them because some will become breeding scrapes during the peak of the rut.

Where he went is not always easy to determine, but it’s safe to say that his sex glands kicked into high gear, and he’s on the move. The number of does in an area also plays a big part in where the bucks are. Concentrations of does will eventually mean concentrations of bucks as the rut approaches and then reaches its peak.

Role of Doe

The role of the doe cannot be underestimated, for she creates the peak of the rut. Bucks can breed from the time they shed their velvet, but until they come into estrus, a buck’s life is little more than days of roaming the forest in utter frustration.

What is the Peak of the Rut?

Pinpointing the peak of the rut is something all deer hunters wish they had a handle on. Several factors play a role in determining the peak. The length of daylight hours represents the critical factor, but sudden cold snaps and the number of serviceable does in an area also influence rutting activities.

How to Hunt Rut in Warm Weather?

How to Hunt Rut in Warm Weather

During unseasonably warm Novembers, deer hunters often speculate that the rut is running late. This is not so. During warm November weather, the breeding and related activities take place during the cool of the night rather than during daylight hours.

Photoperiodism determines the time of the year in which the rut takes place, and temperature determines at what time of day the activity occurs.

Though the actual peak is impossible to pinpoint from year to year, an approximate date is possible for northern whitetails.

Parallel Peak of the Rut

Many scientific studies have shown that at the 45th parallel, the peak of the whitetail’s rut occurs around November 15 each year. Knowing this can benefit the hunter while pre-season scouting and can help determine strategy as the rut approaches.

Pre-Rut Phase

From a statistical standpoint, the most popular study, by L.W. Jackson and W.T. Hesselton of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, showed that 63 percent of the does were bred between November 10 and 30, with the peak being November 15.

During the pre-rut (one to three weeks before the rut’s peak), the white-tailed buck starts to let his guard down. He becomes increasingly more careless as he roams the woodlands. This carelessness shows in the form of the sign he leaves, with rubs and scrapes being the most obvious.

Identifying the Rubbing

Hunters have long been confused by the part rubs play in the rut. Don’t overlook their importance in deciding how to hunt during this time. Contrary to long-standing beliefs, rubs represent more than random trees and shrubs where a buck chooses to rub his antlers.

Generally, a buck creates rubs as signposts within his home range. Also, areas containing active scrapes generally have more runs than other areas. Rubs may also reveal the direction of deer movement and the relative size of the bucks that made them.

How far do Bucks Travel During the Rut? Scouting for Bucks Travel

How far do Bucks Travel During the Rut

When scouting or hunting, examine closely the rubs you find. If most appear on the same side of the tree and in a reasonable line, it will be obvious how the buck travels typically.

These rub lines are carefully laid out along travel routes, and often, the rubs and scrapes appear where a buck’s trail intersects the main trail.

Deer rarely do it in their home area. Different research shows that a deer can travel from 20 to 28 hours from its home for mating with a female.

When is Deer Mating Season? When Does the Rut Start?

Depending on different years and are, deer mating season can differentiate, but we can count from September to November to state it. It depends on the behavior of the doe when the deer will mate.

So, when does the rut start?

As mentioned earlier, the mate’s timing and peak are determined primarily by the doe, for without the doe coming into estrus, there would be no rut.

The healthy, older usually does come into estrus earlier than the younger does and trigger the bucks’ rutting activity. Many times, I have seen this take place in my pursuit of whitetails.

What typically happens is that the doe approaching estrus urinates more often than at other times. Where her estrous urine falls will usually be where a buck makes a scrape. Often these early scrapes appear along well-used deer trails, forest edges, or any other place whitetails frequent.

This first rut (mid- to late October) is often referred to as the false rut and is more a prelude to what’s to come. But what this false rut does is trigger the bucks into a bit of a frenzy, a frenzy that will peak sometime in mid-November.

How long does the rut last?

After starting the rutting, a deer goes through different stages of rutting. These stages consist of these sessions:

  • Starting off the pre-rut session starts on October 1
  • Seeking for the female deer can be started at the last of the October
  • The chasing session can start from November 11 and 14
  • Peak deer rut session starts on November 10 and can last for 6 days
  • This period the deer will lockdown the doe (from 20-25 November)
  • The post-estrus stage starts from December

In different stages of rutting, it can vary from two and a half to three weeks of rutting, so in short, the rut lasts for three weeks.


Hunting with Scrapes

Hunting deer with identifying scrapes is another good technique. It is part of the deer rutting, and here is how you can find them:

Breeding Scrapes of Deer

It is essential to search out these early scrapes and pay close attention to them because some will become breeding scrapes during the peak of the rut. Because near these breeding scrapes, the actual breeding occurs. It has been my experience that every breeding scrape has a licking branch over it.

The licking branch is a low branch, usually broken at a right angle to the ground, hanging directly over the scrape. Generally, these will be live branches, though I have seen bucks frequent the same branches on dead trees year after year.

Bucks Approach

When a buck approaches a scrape, he doesn’t always paw the ground. He will, however, nuzzle the branch in his mouth and rub his preorbital gland (the gland in the corner of the eye) and sudoriferous gland (the gland at the base of the antlers) on the branch. In this manner, the buck deposits his scent on the overhanging branch.

It should also be pointed out that more than one buck and doe may use a scrape. Hot breeding scrapes are like bus stations. Every area has them, but because deer can be very nocturnal, they are not always easy to find.

Where will You Find the Scrapes Generally?

Scrapes along forest edges and logging roads are usually not very productive. Scrapes found in natural funnels or passageways, where deer frequently move, have the capability of becoming breeding scrapes.

If the does coming into estrus use the scrapes, bucks will frequent them more often. Repeated use like this often creates large breeding scrapes.

Usually, as the doe comes into estrus, she’ll urinate in the scrape, nuzzle the licking branch, move off a short distance and wait for a buck to come by if she doesn’t have a buck already in hot pursuit.

To a buck, the doe’s estrous urine is potent, and for this reason, few mature bucks will ever walk directly into a scrape in broad daylight.

Instead, they often pass 40 to 75 yards downwind of the scrape and scent-check it as they pass through the area. On the other hand, Yearling bucks are often careless and foolhardy and usually walk right into the scrape without taking any precautions.

Tips and Techniques for Rut Hunting

For perfect deer and whitetail hunting, you can apply some specific guidelines and tips we are discussing here:

What is the Right Time in a Day for Hunting Rut?

Knowledge of thermal currents helps to understand how to hunt whitetails during the rut. Perhaps the best way to explain thermals is that they are slow-moving air masses brought on by temperature change. Warm air rises, and cool air descends.

So, as the sun warms the cool night air in the morning, the thermals move uphill until the cool air is warmed. The opposite

Rut Hunting Tips

occurs in the evening. Thermals are destroyed when there is significant wind velocity.

The Thermal Currents for Deer

Before the daytime winds start to blow, thermals can pose a tremendous problem to a deer hunter. Thermals are like water, and when the wind is absent, they flow in every direction imaginable. They are not only very frustrating, but they can also ruin a hunt.

I prefer to hunt when there is a slight breeze and only have to worry about my scent going in one direction. But in reality, the prime hours to be in the woods are the first and last two hours of each day, and usually, day winds aren’t blowing then, so thermals must be taken into account.

As a result, the better hunters make it a point to know which way the thermals are moving at all times. Two very successful hunters I know use different methods for determining thermal movements, and each works very well.

One tie sewing thread on branches around his blind to detect air movement. The other uses a small squeeze bottle filled with unscented talcum powder. By periodically spraying a puff of the powder into the air, thermal currents can be seen.

If more hunters understood thermal currents, their success would undoubtedly increase. All too often, hunters fail to check and recheck air movements while deer hunting and end up being unsuccessful because the whitetail spends nearly all its time scent checking the air.

What Weather is Best for Hunting Ruts?

Another key ingredient to the rut is the weather. Cold snaps and stormy weather set the bucks into a frenzy as mid-November approaches. The best time to be in the woods will be before a weather front moving in, particularly a cold west one.

A whitetail’s senses are finely tuned, and when the barometric pressure starts to fall, they know a weather change is in store. Consequently, they’ll be on the move feeding. Hunting these frontal patterns during the peak of the rut increases one’s chances for success dramatically.

Cold and Overcast Condition

Successful hunters also know that cold, overcast days during the peak of the rut mean the deer will be on the move throughout the day. Days with drizzle or a few snowflakes are some of the most productive days in November for northern whitetails.

Unfortunately, too many hunters exit the woods when the weather is poor. Personally, my choice of optimum hunting conditions during the peak of the rut is a cold, overcast day with little wind. Such days get my adrenaline pumping because, over the years, I’ve seen more big buck activity when these conditions prevail.

Knowing and learning about rubs, scrapes, thermals, and weather are all a part of hunting the rut. But the fun comes when you’re able to piece all the information together and determine where to ambush the buck you’re looking for.

It is always a good idea to prepare two stand sites when bunting in the vicinity of a hot scrape. This prepares you to adjust quickly when the wind direction changes.

Making a Strategy for Buck Hunting

When planning your hunting strategy, it’s essential to know what you want from the hunt. If any buck is your game, then setting your blind 20 yards downwind of the scrape or trail should put you in a position to score.

Mature bucks are different, however, and require different methods. Because most mature whitetails rely on their nose more than their other senses, they’ll scent-check scrapes from a distance. Therefore, when hunting for such animals, your blind or tree stand should be placed 40 to 75 yards downwind of the scrape.

Prepare Two Stands Rather Than One

If you’re hunting over a hot scrape, possibly you’ll want to erect two stands. Erect one 40 to 75 yards downwind and one 40 to 75 yards upwind.

Why? Because, just as sure as the sun rises in the east tomorrow, you’ll head for your favorite stand some morning and discover the wind is blowing out of the east instead of the west. When that happens, you can move to the other stand instead of wasting a valuable day of hunting time.

Correct Height for Bow Hunting

If you’re a bowhunter, the stand should be 12 to 15 feet high. Higher than 15 feet will give the arrow a poor entry angle if the buck is within 10 yards when you shoot. And shooting at too steep an angle can cause the arrow to penetrate only one lung instead of both lungs.

Also, in most woods, being higher than 15 feet causes too many branches in the way for a clear shot. So, most of the time, 12 to 15 feet is a sufficient height if you’re hunting on reasonably flat ground.

How to Hunt the Rut Using Ground Blind Wisely

How to Hunt the Rut Using Ground Blind Wisely

Ground blinds are different than tree stands when it comes to location. Make sure you are far enough downwind from the scrape or trail, so the buck doesn’t spook if you have to move when he

shows up. if you are using rifle scope and rifles, then a good height is important.

Too often, a hunter erects his ground blind too close to where he expects to see the deer. Also, on damp, still days, human scent saturates an area and causes any nearby deer to spook.

Locating the Area for Deer Hunting

Probably the most important thing to remember is never locate your stand or blind in a buck’s bedding area. Instead, locate it between his feeding and bedding area. By scouting the area, you intend to hunt, and you’ll be able to determine where the deer are bedding.

If you’re spooking deer in midday, you’re probably in the bedding area. Nothing will move a buck out of an area faster than activity in his bedroom. The purpose of using a blind is to take the buck by surprise, and if you continually spook him, your chances of successfully hunting him are greatly diminished.

Don’t Put the blind in the Bottom of a Gully

If you expect to ambush that buck of a lifetime, don’t put your blind in the bottom of a gully or ravine. You’re just kidding yourself if you do. The wind will change so often in such locations that you’ll get dizzy trying to figure out which way it’s going to go next.

I’ve seen some outstanding trails crossing streams in the bottom of gullies and been tempted to erect blinds there, but I haven’t because experience has taught me otherwise.

Last Few Words

Hunting rutting whitetails is genuinely a challenge wherever they are found and requires all the savvy a hunter can muster. It’s vitally important to learn as much as possible about the animal and the terrain you will be hunting.

Like anything else in life, success in deer hunting is directly proportional to the time and effort expended. Successful deer hunters are not born, nor can they purchase success in a store or through a mail-order catalog. No, they are made through trials and experience, and that is the way it should be.

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