Published by archerchick on 06 Sep 2010 at 10:38 am
This lowa author has been
bowhunting whitetails for 15
Fars. He waited five years
before he was able to harvest
his first buck and since then he
has become more selective of
targets. “lt has only been in
the last three or four years that
the behavior patterns of trophy
whitetail bucks really started to
fall into place,” he wrote
Archery World. “The concepts
I dwell on in this article are my
own and have been borne out
by many hours in the deep
woods. l keep a daily diary
while on my stand, recording
many things including all deer
sightings and unusual
behavior.” So, here’s how they
do it in lowa. . .
Webster defines “rut” as a period of
sexual excitement of many male
animals. Deer biologists classify
the peak of the rut into a few days of active
breeding activity. Whitetail hunters see those
few days as their best chance of harvesting a
trophy buck. Although the peak provides an
excellent hunting oppornrnity, a buck’s sexual
excitement begins long before and lasts far
beyond those few precious days. Understanding
how a whitetail buck relates to these before
and after periods can extend your trophy
hunting prime time by many weeks.
I believe this time period, or extended rut,
can be divided into five semi-distinct time
periods stretching out to approximately 60
days. The beginning and ending of these
periods will vary of course, depending on your
geographic location. The following periods
relate to dates across the mid-section of the
country. Knowing when each occurs can give
the hunter a good indication of successful
Early Rut Starts in early to mid October.
During this period, the most vulnerable bucks
are those in the l-1/2 or 2-1/2 year old range.
Pre-primary Rut Starts toward the end of
October and extends through the first week of
November. Mature whitetail trophies may be
taken although generally not the area’s dominant buck.
Scrape hunting and antler rattling
are excellent hunting methods during this period.
Primary Rut Last about l0 days with the
peak occurring just prior to the middle of November.
Prime time to take the real buster.
Post Primary Rut Occurs about 10 to 15 days
immediately following the primary rut.
A good time to take a trophy buck.
Late Rut Begins after the Post Primary
and lasts until mid-December. Hard to locate
prime areas but can be an excellent time for
taking bucks during brief flurries of activity
in various isolated locations.
Most adult male whitetails are beginning
to “feel their oats” as ever decreasing daylight
causes changes in the deer’s hormonal
glands. Antlers have hardened and are being
put to the test on young saplings. Scrapes are
beginning to appear along held edges and major
woodland trails. This scraping tends to be
of two basic varieties. By far the majority are
made by immature bucks. Many are made after
dark at or near nighttime feeding areas and
often consist of only a few drag marks. Walking
the edge of a corn, soybean or alfalfa field
usually reveals many of these small scrapes.
Although seldom revisited during daylight
hours, the hunter can take advantage of their
location by setting on stand between the
nighttime feeding areas and the daytime bedding
areas. Look for heavily traveled trails with
tracks heading in the direction of thickets or
brushy areas within the timber.
The second variety of scrapes beginning to
be seen now are being made by mature deer in
the2-1/2to 4-1/2 year age group. These are
nearly always made at night and usually in
heavy cover or in secluded corners of field
openings. They always have an overhanging
branch that is scent marked with saliva. This
type of scrape is made up to and occasionally
through the primary rut with the express purpose of acting as a “calling card” for does
entering their estrus period.
Any trophy deer is difficult to lay claim to
now as most activity is nocturnal. Locate a faint trail paralleling
a major trail with some good size tracks and you have the makings of
a trophy buck stand. Care needs to be taken in
setting up a stand close to his bedding area
without alarming him and causing the buck to
change his habits. Extreme attention also
needs to be given to entering and exiting the
stand undetected. Well washed rubber boots
should always be worn to avoid leaving a human scent trail.
Some does will enter estrus during this
period, although few are actually capable of
being bred. Fawns born too early in the spring
have less chance for survival. An early estrus
is probably nature’s way of warming up the
doe’s inner workings for conception at a later
date. Scrapes that are visited by receptive
does during the early rut often are the hottest
scrapes during the primary rut. Although
generally futile to hunt over now, mental note
should be taken to recheck in about two or
The days are getting even shorter, the evenings crisper and the leaves are taking on an
earthy hue. The bucks are feeding less and in
different places. The trails hunted during the
early rut may be less productive now except
for a few immature bucks not into the “big
picture” yet. Actually, this is the best time to
take a mature 2-1/2 to 4-1/2 year old trophy.
These deer are making scrape lines in earnest
now. Their previous year’s experience has not
been in vain and anticipation of the upcoming
rut is running at a fever pitch. Daytime
scrape-making and wanderings are becoming
more prevalant as each day passes. The does
that came into estrus a few days earlier merely
kindled a deeper desire for what every mature
whitetail buck knows is in the offing. He
doesn’t want to be left out.
Stand hunting active scrapes during morning. and late evenings is an excellent hunting
technique now as both mature and immature
bucks will visit them during daylight hours.
Care should be taken to remain downwind
even if it means more than one stand at a
scrape. Set up as far away from the scrape as is
practical .considering your shooting ability
and existing branch cover. you are in the
whitetail’s living room and he knows the terra
firma and, flora well so shooting lane manicuring should be kept to a minimum. In several
instances, I have had bucks come to a nervous
halt, then turn and walk away when they approached a lane cleared several days before. I
now do most of my scouting during winter
and early spring before the woodland foliage
blots out the previous fall’s rut signs and finish my trimming by the end of summer.
Another hunting method that has a considerable chance for success now is horn rattling.
The pecking order for herd dominance is being established now and the hunter should use
this to his advantage. Smaller bucks generally
approach rattling out of curiosity, while larger
bucks are looking for a confrontation and can
be equated to a barroom brawler with a few
beers under his belt. There is no real secret to
rattling, as some people claim. Just imagine
two bucks fighting as you clash and grind”the
horns together. and stay downwind of the likeliest approach routes. I’ve found antler rattling most productive on clear, cold and still
mornings just prior to the primary rut.
The moon phase seems to have an affect on
deer activity during this period. A clear sky
and a full moon keep the bucks moving at
night and they disengage activity earlier in the
morning. However, mid-day is a good time to
be on stand now as they tend to-get up and
roam after a good morning’s rest.
An occasional flurry of light snow marks
the most eventful period of the dedicated
whitetail hunter’s life. Ice has formed along
the banks ofa bottomland bayou as the hunter
makes his familiar pre-dawn trek to his stand.
Does are coming into estrus now and activity
is elevating to a peak. A third class of buck is
getting heavily involved in the act now. Joining the immature and mature 2-1/2 to 4-1/2
year old bucks is the area’s true trophy – the
dominant buck. Depending upon hunting
pressure, this may be anywhere from 3-1/2
years to as old as a deer can get in the wild. I
once laid claim to a grizzled gray beard that
was aged by jaw/tooth method at 6-1/2 years
old but have heard of bucks that were much
older. At some point in the old fellow’s life,
antler growth and symmetry take a regressive
turn, but until that happens, the dominant
buck generally sports some pretty impressive
Most scraping is now being done by lesser
bucks who could be compared to teenage boys
visiting the local hangouts in search of
friendly girls. The big boys don’t have time to
mess around with such frivolous endeavors
when the does are receptive.
Active scrapes are still productive, al-
though the bigger bucks will generally scent
check them from a distance. Locate a faint
trail with large tracks downwind of an active
scrape (50 to 100 yards) and you should have a
trophy stand. Now is the time to take note of
the most used scrapes you found during the
early rut but which failed to see activity dur-
ing the daylight hours. You can bet your best
broadhead that the bucks haven’t forgotten
Does tend to move into traditional breeding areas as the rut approaches. Bucks travel
even farther distances to be with the does. At
this time of year, hunting an area with a large
concentration of females can be more productive than traditional trail watching or even
scrape hunting, as many scrapes are abandoned now. Bucks will tend to mosey around
with their nose to the wind, generally following no trail at all. They do move a lot during
the day and only past experience will clue the
hunter in as to where these traditional breeding areas are. I’ve hunted areas with very few
scrapes, and certainly no “hub scrapes”, although bucks could be seen chasing does
throughout the day.
If scrape activity is fairly hot, and then
tapers off to nothing during the primary rut,
it’s a good indication that the area has been
heavily cropped of bucks and the buck/doe
ratio is low. This presents a situation where
bucks do not require scrapes to locate receptive does and competition from other bucks is
Horn rattling is less effective now, especially for trying to entice the dominant buck.
It is virtually impossible to rattle in a buck
who is tending a doe. Rattling will, however,
still be effective in ringing the bell of the
lesser bucks of the herd.
The primary demise of trophy bucks at
this time is not necessarily because they lose
any of their innate caution, but they do tend to
make themselves vulnerable by moving
around more during daylight hours and often
their attention is focused on a nearby doe.
This is especially important to bowhunters,
who have to wait for a 20 or 30 yard shot.
Outdoor temperatures seem to play a bigger role than moon phase now. Although
bucks will move night and day with little rest
because of their sexual obsession, if the
weather is unseasonably warm, the balance of
breeding takes place during the cool of the
night. I recall one year with a warm November in which visual sightings were few but
fresh tracks had appeared around my tree
stand each morning. This is still the time to be
spending as much time as possible on stand,
no matter what the weather conditions are.
Most does have completed their estrus cycle and have conceived. Only the bucks with a
number of years experience under their belts
realize that the fun is over and retreat again to
their impregnable lairs. Most deer, however,
will still be on the prowl looking for willing
does. It won’t dawn on them until a couple of
weeks after the peak that they’re wasting time
and energy. With the odors of the rut still
fresh in their nostrils, the post-primary rut
may be the time a good estrus doe urine lure
will work to the hunter’s greatest advantage.
Leave scent trails to your stand and also
freshen previously active scrapes with the
urine. Antler rattling will again work well to
entice a trophy whitetail within range, although not as well as during the pre-primary
Most bucks will still be traveling the normal rut routes, but activity will steadily decline as this period progresses. Activity will
diminish to rhe point that it seems all the
bucks have disappeared. Then, the late rut
Stand hunting during the frigid temperatures at this time of year can be unbearable,
but with a little luck and a lot of fortitude,
trophies can be had. A few does did not conceive during the previous peak plus some
yearlings are experiencing their first estrus.
These deer again activate the area bucks into
another brief flurry of action. This can occur
anytime between the first of December until
the middle of the month. It will occur in small
isolated areas and last only a couple of days in
each area. It is easy to miss completely unless
one is very familiar with traditional breeding
areas and checks them on a regular basis. Occasionally the areas with the good early rut
scraping activity will get hot again.
Whitetails in the northern tier of states
may be heading to their winter yarding areas
at this time of year. A concentration of deer as
it occurs during yarding will surely result in
some breeding activity, perhaps even into January. Hunters familiar with such an area
should get some good results by setting up on
the downwind periphery of a yard. Most of the
bucks in the area will be chasing any doe that
comes into heat. As was the case in the early
rut, don’t expect to take a real buster as these
fellows are loners and generally won’t join a
yard until later, if at all.
Hormonal changes associated with the
early dropping of antlers in older whitetail
bucks have an affect on their sexual desires.
This could be nature’s way of preserving winter fat reserves in her prime breeding stock.
The late rut can still provide some good hunting for the hardy and persistent bowman.
There you have it – the extended rut. Bear
in mind that this is only a simplified evaluation and will do a hunter little good unless one
can apply the concepts to his or her own hunting areas. The best advice I can provide a budding whitetail trophy hunter is this: be in the
whitetail’s habitat as much as possible before,
during and after the rut. Blow the urban cobwebs out of your brain and try to progress into
a natural rhythmic flow. Little by little, the
pieces of the puzzle will all come together and
you’ll be one step up on putting a beauty on
the den wall this coming year >>—->
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