© Othmar Vohringer
Much has been said and written about the rut and yet it still is an unsolved mystery for many. The rut is broken down into segments called “pre-rut”, “rut” and “late rut”. Some hunters are of the mistaken belief that these are three entirely separate events. That is not so. The rut begins when the females come into the first estrus cycle and ends when the last doe is bred or the buck’s antlers fall off sometime in late December. The activity pattern of the rut is related to the estrous cycle of the females. It is during the first estrus cycle that most rutting activity ensues because all older females come in heat more or less together. As the first estrus cycle slows down it takes 28 days for the remaining does that have not been bred the first time around to come into an estrus cycle again together with the younger females. This results in another spike of buck activity. This cycle of 28 day intervals continues until all receptive have been bred. Of course the more does are served, each consecutive estrus cycle level becomes weaker and buck activity slows down. That, in a nutshell, is how the deer rut works.
There is much hunter folklore and myth about the rut that still is in common belief today. I will attempt to debunk the most common one first. “The rut is triggered by the first full moon after the fall equinox.” It’s an old myth that has been completely disprove by science. The rut is triggered by the first females coming into estrous cycle and that is triggered by the change of daylight hours available and a number of other aspects such as climatic differences between south and north. Another long-held belief is that the best time to get a buck is during the peak of the rut. The fact is that this is the worst time of all. The best time to hunt bucks is right around mid-October during the pre-rut when bucks travel day and night in search of receptive females. Once the rut kicks in the bucks stay with the females and just wait until one after another come into estrus. However, they do not stay with the does in the open during prime hunting times. Bucks will hole up nearby in thickets waiting for nightfall until they join the does in the open fields and pastures. Here in BC we have so many does that once a buck finds them he just stays with the group of does, breeding them all as they come in heat. Because of that fact the best time to hunt bucks is the pre-rut when bucks still travel searching for females. A traveling buck is a vulnerable buck.
What hunting tactics you employ depends very much on the deer species you’re after. Mule deer are quite different from Whitetail deer. A Mule deer buck can be here today and somewhere entirely different tomorrow. Mule deer often travel vast distances in a single night. When I hunt for mule deer I like to get up high to a place where I can overlook a big area below me. There I sit for hours using my binoculars to look below me for any buck cruising around. Once I spot a legal buck the challenge is to get undetected within shooting range of the animal. With whitetail deer it is different. They are territorial and will stay in the same general area all their lives. My preference is to set up ground blinds or portable treestands that I set up along little-used trails in the thick vegetation near field edges and crossing points that show the typical buck signs such as scrapes in the dirt and rubs on trees. It is these secondary trails the bucks use to travel between female feeding and bedding areas to scent-check the does for their readiness.
So get ready for the most exciting time of the hunting season, plan on staying all day out, you never know when and where that lovesick buck will show up. Good luck to you all.
For more information on rut hunting tactics:
Scouting for hunting success
Mapping out deer hunting success
Understanding the rut
Rut myth debunked (Series)
Timing the whitetail deer rut
Using Decoys to bring in big bucks
Calls and scent for the rut