From North to South, there are ways to pinpoint the best days of the whitetail rut.
My wife and daughter are the only things more beautiful than a big, gnarly, bruiser buck. There’s just something about a mature deer grunting and snort-wheezing in my face. But that’s the rut, and I like being in the woods when this sort of whitetail behavior is at its peak. Fortunately, there’s ways to predict it beforehand, and to recognize it in the moment.
Avoid False Theories
There are many rut theories out there, and several of them seem to not be true. Some hunters subscribe to the ideas that temperature, the moon, and/or buck-to-doe ratios impact when the rut occurs. However, based on research, that just doesn’t seem to be true.
According to most studies, photoperiod is the answer, especially in the northern half of the country. The reason is multilayered, but the primary reason is that fawns must drop within a confined window to maximize the odds of survival. Born too early, and winter kills them. Or, they don’t have enough cover to hide from predators. Born too late, and winter kills them then, too.
Obviously, in the South, the rut is a much different dynamic. Peak rut dates range from July in Florida, to March in Louisiana. Here, winterkill isn’t an issue, though, and other factors, such as seasonal droughts and flooding, play roles.
Still, regardless of where you’re located, peak rut dates are virtually the same every year, plus or minus a day or so. It isn’t a fluctuating event. Weather and temperature can influence how much rut activity occurs during daylight, but it’s still on a fixed timeline.
All said, the rut happens at the same time each year where you hunt, and there are surefire ways to drill down on the best days where you hunt, and for most, that’s the week or so that precedes peak estrus dates.
Ask the State Biologists
The best way to determine peak rut dates where you hunt is to consult wildlife biologists that represent your area. Oftentimes, they conduct fawn fetus back-dating studies to determine exactly when does are bred. Interestingly, this type of research has been used to prove that does are generally bred within the same window each year, and it’s a good method to predict when deer will breed again this year. So, ask a biologist for data from the counties that you hunt.
Consult with Meat Processors
Other than scientists, there are other professionals to consult with. Call your local meat processors and ask them when the bulk of mature bucks are hauled into their shops. Gun seasons can influence this, of course, but ask them what they believe are the best days for rut hunting. They’ll likely have a solid response.
Talk to Taxidermists
Taxidermists are great resources, too. They see the best of the biggest bucks, and have a pretty good handle on when the rut is. Ask them what they think the peak estrus dates are. They’ll probably have an accurate answer for you.
Look to the Landowners
Next, talk to landowners, especially if they spend a lot of time on the land, such as farmers. They’re out there all of the time, and they see what’s happening. Call them and see when they typically see deer chasing and running hard.
Consider Past Observations
Another good measuring stick is yourself. Think back to past years, and put serious stock in rut activity you’ve witnessed. Whether observed from the stand, blind or on a trail camera, the information is completely valid for future seasons.
Recognize Real-Time Signs
Aside from reliable rut prediction methods, it’s also important to watch for real-time signs that the rut is heating up. You can do this in-person or via trail camera, but preferably both.
A cell camera with solar power capabilities is great for this, as you don’t have to invade the area to replace batteries or pull cards. Information collection methods aside, there are countless things to watch for.
Whitetail body language is a great indicator. Look for does with tails sticking straight out. That, along with frequent squatting and estrus bleats are solid signs they’re in estrus.
Spot a mature buck cruising? Whether bird dogging on hot on the trail, or hoping to cut a doe’s track, big deer start cruising just prior to the big dance. Remember that if you start seeing deer on their feet. And if scrapes go cold, or if you’re suddenly seeing more bucks than does, don’t discredit that as a sign, either.
Another sign is if a doe is running hard and not stopping. That can mean several things, but one of them is that a buck is somewhere behind her. Keep an eye out.
Also, if you’re seeing fawns without does, there’s a good bet that momma is shacking up somewhere with daddy. And they likely aren’t far away.
If you see bucks and/or does bedding in weird spots that they normally don’t frequent, such as sinkholes and other small pockets of cover, that could mean a buck has pushed them into an oddball spot to get them away from other deer.
Finally, if the number of roadkill increases within a short span, that’s a sign that the rut is cutting loose, too.
All rut prediction and real-time signs considered, try to pinpoint when the rut happens in your area. Knowing when this period is can help determine when to cash in those precious vacation days. Hunt smart, not hard, and fill that buck tag this season.
Article by Josh Honeycutt