As the temperatures begin to drop across North America, something else is heating up. The whitetail deer rut is a staple of fall, much like pumpkin spice and changing colors of the leaves. There’s nothing like bowhunting during the rut. It’s that special time of year when anything can happen, and the big bucks let down their guard.
With the rut right around the corner, here are some hot tips for making the most of this cool time.
The rut refers to the breeding season. During this period, deer alter their behavior. It roughly takes place from mid-October through December in most of the country (though there are a few places where it happens earlier or later). The rut rolls out in several phases, and hunters and biologists alike describe them loosely as follows.
Pre-rut: In the weeks leading up to the rut, deer begin to alter their behavior in preparation for what’s to come. Bucks rub the velvet off their antlers, which are beginning to harden. They also begin to make scrapes and rubs, and some abandon their summer territories to establish new areas for the fall.
Seeking: This is when bucks, particularly younger bucks, begin searching hard for does. Hunters might notice bucks moving more frequently, especially during daylight hours. Big bucks are also on the move, but they likely won’t be spotted chasing does just yet.
Chasing: In the chasing phase, everything goes wild, and the woods come alive. Bucks of all sizes can be seen chasing does at any time of the day. While many consider this the best time to hunt because deer are on the move, it’s not the peak breeding period yet. The chasing phase takes place in early to mid-November in most of the country.
Peak: Breeding happens when does go into estrus, which is a 48- to 72-hour window in which they can get pregnant. This is considered the true peak of the rut, but it’s not always the best time to hunt. Bucks pair up with does and don’t move much.
Post-rut: When breeding behavior settles down, many of the deer take time to rest. Most of the bucks go into hiding and the woods can seem quiet. However, for the does that didn’t get bred during the first rut, a second rut rolls around that can spark some increased deer movement.
Spending as much time as possible in your treestand or ground blind or on a spot-and-stalk hunt will improve your odds during any part of hunting season, but especially during the rut. There’s no substitute for boots-on-the-ground intel. Even if you’re not seeing a lot of deer activity, that’s a clue as to what’s going on. During the rut, things can change overnight. Even when the hunting seems slow, just give it a couple of days.
Swap stories with buddies about what you’re seeing, particularly if you’re in the same region. Though the rut lasts several weeks, the various phases last just a few days. Different areas of the country move into the rut phases at slightly different times. So, if a friend in your area reports that big bucks are on the move, you’ll know it’s a good time to get out there.
You can also get firsthand insight into what’s going on through rut reports. Many outlets publish predictions before the rut, like OnX Maps, Outdoor Life and Field & Stream. These are often based on previous years’ statistics and talks with experts. These articles offer insight into the best days to hunt. Realtree.com publishes weekly rut reports from early October through December. These reports are broken down into regions and feature firsthand accounts from hunters.
Most biologists agree that estrus is triggered by photoperiod, which is the length of daylight. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore other factors like weather and moon phases. Some hunters have observed that deer movement is affected by the moon phase. Outdoor Life has an interesting, in-depth look at this.
Whitetails are considered crepuscular, meaning they move the most at dawn and dusk. But hunters have observed the amount of movement at these peak times can change based on the moon phase. During a new moon, when the night is darkest, some hunters and researchers have observed that deer might move more in the early mornings. During a full moon, some hunters believe bucks become more active during midday.
TV personality Mark Drury of Drury Outdoors is a big believer in moon phases being correlated with buck activity. His app, DeerCast, factors moon phases into its deer movement predictions.
If you want to take a look at moon phases, here’s what you should know for 2022:
Oct. 9, 2022: Full moon
Oct. 25, 2022: New moon
Nov. 8, 2022: Full moon
Nov. 23, 2022: New moon
Dec. 7, 2022: Full moon
Dec. 23, 2022: New moon
Does are only in estrus for two to three days. This is a narrow window for bucks. So, when the rut is on, it’s on. But the weather can impact hunting conditions during the phases leading up to the rut. There’s a reason experienced hunters utter phrases like “it feels like a good morning” on cool, crisp days. Deer are more active in cooler conditions. Bucks are more likely to stay on their feet longer on cooler days. In unseasonably warm conditions, hunters can expect less movement.
The wind is always the No. 1 factor to consider when it comes to weather. Learn how to hunt the wind. This can have the biggest impact on your hunt because it should determine where you sit and how you access your hunting location, as you don’t want to give yourself away.
The rut happens every year, and it’s an exciting time to be a hunter. Regardless of the weather, moon phases and even hunting pressure, the deer will always do what biology drives them to do. Watching your wind, understanding the rut phases and spending as much time in the field as possible is your best shot at a big buck this year.