Published by T.R. Michels on 26 Jun 2009
Hunters often want to hunt “the rut”, but don’t know exactly when the rut occurs in their area, when the different phases of the rut occur, or how to determine which rut phase in in progress. As a result of my 10 years of study on the biology and behavior of white-tailed deer, I recognized eight different rut phases with their associated activities: 1. pre-rut, 2. dispersal, 3. pre-breeding, 4. primary breeding, 5. post primary breeding, 6. rest, 7. pre-late breeding, 8. late breeding, followed by the post rut. It is often difficult to distinguish when these phases start and end, because their activities overlap, and because dominant and subdominant bucks are on different time schedules.
(The dates given are approximate for northern areas.)
Pre-Rut / Rubbing Phase (Rubbing/Scraping) Sept. 1 – 25
During the pre-rut, when bucks are beginning to rub to shed velvet, most of their activity will be in or near their core areas that contain bedding sites and late summer food sources of mast, berries, succulent grasses, clovers and agricultural crops. Scraping often begins at this time, especially if nighttime temperatures fall below 45 degrees. Dominant bucks create most of these early scrapes. My studies show that bucks travel primarily at dawn and dusk during this phase. They may rub and scrape during the day in the cover of their core areas when there is a full moon.
Fall Home Range Shift / Dispersal Phase (Rubbing/Scraping) Sept. 15 – Oct. 15
With rising testosterone levels bucks become more aggressive and no longer travel in groups. Bucks in some areas may shift from a summer core area to fall core area, and begin to use larger home ranges as they search for preferred food sources to put on fat for the winter. They may travel through several doe home ranges in preparation for breeding. Scraping may diminish at this time. My studies show that bucks begin to leave core areas later in the evening, and go back to core areas earlier in the morning during this phase.
Pre-Primary Breeding / Peak Scraping Phase (Rubbing/Scraping/Chasing/Breeding) Oct. 15 – Nov. 5
Two to three weeks before the primary breeding phase bucks begin to travel their rub routes, making rubs and scrapes. Most of the scrapes at this time are still made by dominant bucks. While most scent marking activity occurs at night, bucks do travel their rub routes in cover during the day making rubs and scrapes. Rub routes generally lead from buck core areas in the evening, through doe use areas, to night time food sources, then back through doe use areas to buck core areas in the morning. Scrape activity usually peaks at the end of this phase. My studies show that bucks may travel to food sources in the early afternoon and stay there until late in the morning. During the full moon I often see bucks along their rub routes an hour or more before sunset. Some does may come into estrus and be bred during this phase. Because bucks are exerting dominance, they are extremely aggressive and will fight almost anything. Does that are not ready to breed at this time often run from bucks, hence the term “chasing phase.”
Primary Breeding Phase (Rubbing/Scraping/Breeding) Nov. 1 – 25
Once the does come into estrus the bucks will travel during all hours of the day in search of them. The bucks may stop traveling their rub routes, and follow doe trails instead. Rubbing and scraping by dominants usually diminishes at this time because the bucks are searching for and breeding does. However, subdominant bucks may create fresh rubs and scrapes because the dominant bucks are more interested in does than making rubs and scrapes or exerting dominance over the subdominants. Although the full moon may not cause increased activity during peak breeding, daytime buck activity will be high as long as does remain in . Generally there is above normal daytime deer activity during the two to three weeks when the does are in , no matter what the moon phase is. However, if the buck to doe ratio is low you may not see many bucks during this phase, because the bucks may all be with does. Some hunters refer to the lack of buck sightings at this time as “The Lockup”.
Post Primary Breeding Phase (Searching/Scraping/Breeding) Nov. 20 – 25
After most of the does have been bred some dominant and subdominant bucks the bucks may travel their rub routes, and visit doe use areas and food sources during the day, especially if there is a full moon. My studies show that bucks may move at any time of the day during this rut phase, no matter what the moon phase is.
Rest Phase Nov. Nov. 20 – Dec. 5
During the two to three weeks after the post primary breeding phase bucks that took part in breeding may stay in their core areas, where they feed on mast, any remaining green grass, leaves or clover, and agricultural crops or browse. Most buck activity will occur at night or in secure wooded areas during the late evening and early morning hours. The full moon may cause bucks to become active during the day, but I seldom see dominant bucks outside their core areas during this phase. Rubs and scrapes occurring outside buck core areas at this time may be made by subdominants.
Pre-Late Breeding Phase (Rubbing/Scraping/Searching/Breeding) Dec. 1 – 10
Two to three weeks after peak breeding some dominant and subdominant bucks may begin traveling their rub routes again, usually on their way to and from food sources. They may rub and scrape while they travel with, or search for, does during the day, especially if there is a full moon. When temperatures are colder than normal daytime activity may occur from two to three hours before sunset to an hour after sunset; and from an hour before sunrise to three to four hours after sunrise.
Late Breeding Phase (Rubbing/Scraping/Searching/Breeding) Dec. 10 – Dec. 25
Approximately a month after the primary breeding phase unbred older does come into a second ; and some older, and 1.5 year old does come into their first estrus. Dominant and subdominant bucks often travel their rub routes, making rubs and scrapes, and visit doe use and feeding areas in their search for receptive does. Daytime activity may occur from two to three hours before sunset to an hour after, and from an hour before sunrise to three to four hours after, especially when the weather is colder than normal and there is cloud cover. I often see dominant and subdominant bucks with the does as they travel to and from food sources during this phase, especially during the full moon.
Post Rut Dec. 25-Jan. 15
After the rut ends, and when food sources are limited, cold night time and morning temperatures may cause both bucks and does to travel during the afternoon and early evening hours. They may also feed late in the morning when there is prolonged severe weather. My studies show that when the temperature or wind-chill was below 10 degrees, and when there was limited food, three times more deer were sighted in the afternoon and evening than at any other time during the fall. When extreme conditions occur, the moon has very little influence on daytime deer activity.