The word “rut” is derived from the Latin “rugire” which means “to roar”. It is used to describe the mating season of mammals. It includes sheep, goats, deer, camels, bison, antelope, giraffes etc.
What does it mean when a deer is in a rut? In males, the rut is characterized by an increase in testosterone and increased aggression. During this period males show an exaggerated interest in females. During the rut male deer often rub their antlers or horns on trees or shrubs and even fight with each other.
As the peak of the rut approaches bucks are observed to increasingly chase and tend does. Tending Grunts are used for this purpose and mean a series of muffled grunts that bucks make while pursuing an estrous doe. It sounds like the buck is out-of-breath or trying to catch his breath in between grunts. Tending grunts are used by a buck to ask/motivate the doe to stop and breed.
The difference between Hunter’s rut and Biological rut
We have to acknowledge that there are different “stages of the rut,” but should careful not to oversimplify this as it could easily be misunderstood by hunters. The rut process is not a series of isolated, well structured, and clearly defined behavioral stages. One stage does not sequentially follow as the previous one ends.
Rut-related behaviors are better described as loosely arranged stages on a continuum of behaviors; resulting in breeding and conception. While we most certainly observe general exhibits of chasing, scraping, tending, etc., during a rut, buck behavior cannot be boxed into a fully predictable pattern. Bucks do not possess any given recipe which prescribes their behavior during a rut.
To complicate matters, there is a difference between the hunter’s rut and the biological rut.
The “Hunter’s Rut”
Hunters will define the “peak” of the rut to be when “does are being bred.” For hunters, it is characterized by:
- bucks marching by tree stands every hour on the hour,
- a dozen buck sightings in a single day,
- increases in mature buck sightings, and
- bucks frantically chasing does.
This is the best time for hunters to be in the woods as bucks are most active and highly visible.
It is the few days before most of the actual breeding begins.
The Biological Rut
Any deer biologist will describe the rut peak as:
- A 3-week range of time in mid-November (especially in the North).
- They will easily point to a 3-5 day period when “most of the does are bred.”
- To them, it means breeding and conception
- It generally continues for a couple of weeks.
The “biological rut” occurs after the “hunter’s rut” as more does come into estrus and will willingly be bred.
Why is it important to distinguish between the hunter’s rut and the biological rut? For any deer hunter getting the rut right is the most important thing that can be done since it will improve his chances of successfully hunting the mature buck. If you misread the rut by even a few days then you might have to wait for another year.
Triggering the rut
Rutting season is determined by Mother Nature. It all comes down to changes in photoperiod which occurs in early fall. Photoperiod is the amount of daylight a deer is exposed to in a 24-hour period. When these changes happen, it causes a fluctuation in deer hormones.
Rutting is well-planned by nature and for a good reason. A decreasing photoperiod triggers the breeding season. Its timing is precise for maximization of the potential of fawns to be born and survive. It is also critical to correlate breeding time and birth of fawn with the availability of vegetation which is at its peak nutritional value in the spring.
On a more technical side – decreasing daylight causes hormonal changes in deer are caused by decreasing daylight and this triggers “the rut.”
- With the onset of darkness-melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in deer.
- It induces estrus in does when reaching a specific level in the blood.
- In bucks, however, the decrease in daylight which produces melatonin, increases testosterone production.
Data shows that the rutting peak occurs in mid-November. But the rutting season varies from late October to late November.
RUT PREDICTIONS BASED ON BIOLOGY
Science can predict the rutting season since it is controlled by photoperiod – the amount of daylight. Studies published in Canada and the U.S. have indicated that the rut occurs at the same time every year.
Keep in mind though, that peak rutting or breeding time is not such a good idea for your rut hunting as this is when bucks are more likely to be tending does and thus being less active with a decrease in movement. However, the ten days just before the peak rut is ideal as this is when most bucks will show increased movement by cruising for does in estrus.
Calling and rattling can now be used but in a subtle way – not too profound.
Time Period: October 10-22
There is some controversy around the opening day and the pre-hunt period.
- For some, the period from opening day until mid-October is the pre-rut.
- For others, the period from opening day until around October 10 is the early season and the middle of October is the pre-rut.
However the time of the pre-rut is defined, it is basically the period when deer have transitioned from their early season patterns to their fall ranges. This period is best described as any time between mid-September and mid-October, but it usually happens by 10 October. This is the perfect time for most hunters to begin implementing pre-rut hunting tactics.
Deer activity increases during this time and we begin to notice rubs and scrapes across the landscape.
At this point hunters should no longer be hunting open areas and fields:
- Deer have now transitioned to their full range;
- Deer have moved to areas where they feel safer because of hunting pressure;
- Food sources are also changing.
One hunter’s tactic for killing one during this period is finding where the bucks are bedding and get between their beds and the best acorn crop. That’s the best shot at killing one.
Pre-rut hunting techniques
You might just tag a trophy during the pre-rut times for bucks become more active within their home ranges now. Rubs and scrapes are now becoming increasingly visible as they are looking for those first early-cycling does.
It is very important though, that you know exactly when to hunt during the pre-rut.
Read the Scrapes
Although bucks usually visit scrapes at night,” he says. “But there’s a very important exception in October.”
The general rule is that scraping activity happens outside of shooting hours but during the pre-rutting period this changes. Daylight scraping seems to become more active approximately five to seven days after the October full moon.
The type of scrape also plays an important part in the success of your pre-rut hunt. You would want to be looking for big scrapes in the timber close to thick security cover. Be on the lookout for large rubs in the area too. Since this period offers about 10 hunting days you cannot afford to miss any opportunity.
Your position in relation to the scrape is of great importance:
- Avoid setting up directly on top of a scrape as mature bucks tend to circle downwind to scent-check the sign.
- Your best position is 75 to 150 yards away from the scrape. Make sure it is in security cover as to intercept a circling buck.
Enclose the Scrape
There is a clever way to ensure a kill no matter which way the wind blows. According to Bill Pyles, your primary stand should be placed between the buck’s bedding area and the scrape and additional 3-5 stands should circle the scrape like spokes on a wheel.
Rattling and grunting pre-rut
Rattling and grunting can be used very effectively during the pre-rut. This is for sure the prime to use it since bucks are now establishing dominance and have not yet begun breeding.
If you want bucks to come out of the woods during the pre-rut you should make sure that your timing and technique is right. For example, start with some serious (intense) rattling and then end with some light ticks and taps. Deer often grunt while sparring so feel free to add some grunts while you rattle.
What scents to use pre-rut
Doe Urine – can be used effectively throughout the season but mostly before the rut. Bucks are now still found in bachelor groups and not yet competitive. During this time doe urine reassures deer that everything is all right and therefore makes hunting easier – relaxed deer is easier to hunt than one on edge.
Buck Urine – combine quality buck urine with scrapes as a successful transition attractant leading up to the rut.
Doe Estrous – We refer to the entire cycle as estrous. It consists of four stages of which one is called estrus. Avoid using high dollar doe estrus scents until you are within two weeks of the peak of the rut.
Tarsal Gland – There is nothing like a little tarsal scent from a buck and a doe in estrous to fuel both a big buck’s rage and sexual drive.
Hunting during the Rut
Best time to hunt the rut: November 4th – November 14th
Time Period: October 23 to November 1
During this period of time, the testosterone levels of bucks urge them to get active much earlier in the day. Mature bucks will now be walking in broad daylight quite frequently.
The time is now ideal for deer hunters to begin hunting mornings and evenings. You can continue to do so even throughout the post-rut. Calling and rattling tactics are now used very successfully.
Time Period: November 2-10
We have finally arrived at “the rut” – the most loved phase of deer hunting. Bucks are now chasing does even though actual breeding will not occur for a few more days.
Feel free to get aggressive with calling and rattling during this phase.
Time Period: November 11-20
This period is sometimes referred to as the “lock-down phase.” The majority of doe are now being bred. Hunting becomes really tough now as it is more difficult to find bucks. Your best option will be to set up in the fringes of doe bedding areas.
You can successfully use calling and decoying tactics during this phase.
Hunting techniques during the rut
Here are the best calls to use during a rut:
Doe Bleat and Grunt
A doe bleat and grunt can be used most effectively between late pre-rut and post-rut. Doe sounds are very effective at this time because bucks are looking for does to breed.
- A doe’s maternal instinct makes it easy to use fawn bleats successfully all season long. Any doe within earshot will make sure to investigate the mournful bleats of a lost fawn.
- You can also use a fawn bleat call in a distressed manner. For an effective fawn-in-distress call you should begin quietly before increasing the volume.
- The snort-wheeze is sound bucks make that is interpreted as aggression.
- Use snort wheeze calls in association with grunt calls and rattling.
- Rattling calls represent the sound of two deer clashing or fighting;
- It can be effectively used all season long, but really shines from the late pre-rut to the post-rut.
The best time of day to hunt deer
During the rut, deer seem to everywhere at any time of the day. Experienced hunters indicate that most deer can now be killed before sunset and even in the morning after 9 am.
There are no indications or proof that weather influence rut in deer. Cold weather does not seem to have any effect on breeding. It is true that more deer will be observed moving around in cold weather, but it does not mean temperature triggered the rut – they simply feel more comfortable in cooler temperatures.
Time Period: November 21-30
While some people refer to everything after the peak as the post-rut, others choose to call the time around November 21 until then of November the post rut. Everything after that is then referred to as the late season.
By now most of the doe is bred, but some does will still enter estrus during the last few days of November.
Time Period: December 1-15
Deer hunting gets pretty tough now as most of the does are bred. Bucks are now less interested in chasing doe and it gets harder to catch a careless buck on its feet. The second rut is now near which means bucks will be making mistakes again.
During the second rut, mature does that were not bred during the first rut will cycle through 28 days after their first one. Doe fawns that reach the goal weight to become sexually mature will now also enter estrus. Bucks will be looking for these does near food sources and will follow them wherever they go. You might just get a good opportunity for a killer shot as doe fawns, not having enough experience, will easily stay out in the open.
The tactics to focus on during this phase are bed-to-feed buck patterns as well as bed-to-food doe patterns.
Buck Behavior during the Rut
Fluctuations in hormones cause behavioral changes in bulls during the rut. They will now start rubbing and raking their antlers in shrubs and trees. These are important actions necessary to strip the velvet and strengthen their neck and shoulders in preparation for the rut.
The rubbing also serves as a call for does, as glands leave a scent behind that a passing doe can recognize.
Doe Behavior during the Rut
The females go into heat for a 24 hour period and in the northern portions of their range, this happens in November. Mating season starts October and lasts until December. However, in the southern parts of their ranges, whitetail deer will not mate until January or February.
A distinctive set of hormone concentrations happens in the short period of time of 2-3 days and production of these hormones are on a 28-day cycle.
Signs that tell a doe is in heat
- TAIL IS’NT HANGING – Normally their tails are hanging downward in a relaxed position. When does are ready to breed their tail remains either parallel to the ground or straight up in the air.
- SQUATTING A LOT – Does in estrous squat numerous times a day as they urinate a lot.
- BEDDING IN AN UNUSUAL PLACE – Estrous does tend to avoid other deer so we often spot them bedding in unexpected locations for bedded deer. Estrous does will most likely be found bedding in fencerows, brush piles, ditches, etc.
- ESTROUS BLEATING – Bleating is the sound made by estrous does to indicate that she is looking for a mate.
- RUN FOR IT – If you see a doe running as if its life depends on it then it is probably because something is after her: a bull.
Make a Useful Mock Scrape
Where to put your mock scrape – look for a high traffic area where bucks are for example between the bedding area and the feeding area (ideal areas are around acorns, in a food plot, by crops)
Find the right tree – you want to put the mock scrape right in the buck’s way, a tree that a deer would be traveling by or close by.
Prep the tree – decide exactly where under that tree you want to place the mock scrape. Remove all other low-hanging branches; you do not want the deer to use any other branch on that tree or any tree nearby. Leave one branch that he would have to use and that is where you will put your mock scrape.
Establish the scrape – prepare the ground directly underneath the licking branch which you have isolated.
Make it real – mimic some deer tracks in the mud using an old deer hoof. Rub glands on the licking branch, those that you have kept from a previous shoot. Use doe urine, buck urine or doe estrus in the scrape itself.
The rutting Moon
So what is the rutting moon? In order for a synchronized rut to occur, three things align around November 1st:
- Doe estrogen levels peak;
- Buck testosterone levels peak;
- The rutting moon occurs near November 1st.
Synchronized ruts will cause much more intense rutting behavior and activity.
What time of the year do deer have their babies?
Deer give birth to their young during spring and summer – from April through June. They typically have between one and three babies, two being most common.
How many times a year do deer have babies?
Once a year – mating takes place from September to November and the main breeding time occurs in October. Babies are born seven and a half months later between late May and June.