What Is the Rut in Deer Hunting?

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You may have heard of the term “the rut” when hunters are discussing deer hunting at the bar or in the field, but what is it? In this article, we will inform you on what exactly the rut is, why it is such a good opportunity for hunters, and why it can be so rewarding to hunt the rut. Enjoy!

What is the Rut?

The rutting season is the time of the year when deer mate. Behavioral changes happen during the rut and male deer (buck and stag) become far more active during the day. During the rut, the male deer lock antlers and compete for the females (doe and hind). Deer at this time are at their most venerable as hormones flow through their body so they are only focused on one thing – mating. Deer group together in open areas during the rut, with females grouping together and males compete with each other for the best doe.

There are different phases of the rut and although the rutting season is around the same time of year for most deer species, it does change minorly between species. The rut lasts for several weeks, starting with the pre-rut, through to the post-rut, and onto the second rut. Deer patterns (movement and behavior changes) differ throughout the rutting season. These patterns are signs of which stage of the rut the deer are in. There are 6 stages of the rut that are defined and recognized by hunters and ecologists. These are listed below:

  • The pre-rut period: this is the period where the deer transition from early-season patterns to their fall regions. Bucks start to scent and rub, you will notice this by looking toward the trees where some bark will be removed from antler rubbing. If you see a tree line that has been rubbed, this is a sure sign that there are buck in the area. You can tell the size and species of the deer by the height of the rub (smaller species have lower rubs and larger species have higher rubs).
  • The seeking period: this is the phase of the rut where bucks start to act a little more aggressive. Testosterone levels increase in male deer and they start to move around a lot earlier in the day. Mature bucks can be seen in the daylight hours walking proud and young spikers may be seen chasing. Rubbing and scraping continue through this period as their antlers settle in for competition.
  • The chasing period: this is the phase of the rut where bucks are at their prime. They are full of testosterone and energy and are looking to fight and chase females. Deer can be seen barking aggressively and proudly sizing each other up. The more mature bucks will compete for females and the larger stronger bucks tend to win. You can find bucks and doe in open areas during the day at this time of the season.
  • The tending period: some people refer to this phase as the “lock-down phase”. During this time most of the prime doe are breeding. You will find the bucks laid up with the does in dense cover and thicket. Bucks and does are rarely seen during this phase and they barely even stand up to walk. Sometimes you may see an aggressive buck without a mate encroaching on a laid-up doe and buck, things can get heated but most of the deer have calmed down at this stage.
  • The post-rut period: the post-rut phase is the period after the peak of the rut. By this time, most of the does have bred by now other than a few late bloomers that enter estrus (fertility) later. Most of the bucks and does are taking cover in dense forest and thicket by now and will rarely be seen up and about during the day.
  • The second rut: Almost all the does have bred by now and the bucks have started to get on the feed again rather than chasing females for mating. The deer are almost back to their normal selves and are incredibly weary at this time. The second rut is for the does that did not breed. They cycle through 28 days after their first fertile point in the rut and prepare to breed. Younger does that may not have been mature before will go into estrus and start to attract the attention of mature bucks. These younger does tend to stay out in the open which draws buck out from the trees during daylight hours.

When is the Rut?

The rutting season for most species of deer in the U.S, Canada, and Europe starts between mid to late October and ends between early to late December. The start of the rutting season starts with the pre-rut in mid to late October and continues on to the seeking phase between late to early November. The seeking phase turns to the chasing phase between early to mid-November and the chasing phase to the tending (or lock-down) phase throughout the entirety of November. Post-rut follows through from mid-November to the end of the month and the second rut can last for the entirety of December.

To simplify these phase times, we have provided a list below of the rough dates between phases. Keep in mind that these are rough times and the times change from species to species and from year to year. Still though, this should give you some rough timing for you to go out and observe the behavioral patterns yourself.

  • Pre-rut: October 10th – October 22nd
  • Seeking Phase: October 23rd – November 1st
  • Chasing Phase: November 2nd – November 10th
  • Tending Phase: November 10th – November 22nd
  • Post-rut: November 20th – November 30th
  • Second Rut: December 1st – December 20th

What Makes the Rut Such a Big Opportunity for Hunters?

So, now you know a bit more about the rut, it is time to discuss what makes the rut such a big opportunity for hunters across the globe. As you now know, deer behavior changes through all the different phases of the rut and the deer become more venerable. There are more opportunities for a kill during different phases of the rut because the deer are so focused on well, rutting! The rutting season is an especially good time to snag a big buck in his prime because they can be seen out in the open more and they are generally more confident and less weary.

Knowing where the buck are during each phase of the rut is half the battle of hunting during this season. If you study the patterns of the deer at your local hunting range and assess their behavior you will start to build a picture of where they will be at certain times. Building this picture in your mind and intensively stalking and studying deer behavior will see you taking out buck year after year during the rut.

Below, we have devised a list of each phase of the season so you can start to develop a hunting plan for the next rutting season. This will provide you with an idea of where the deer might be during each phase, and some hints and tips of where to looking for your rutting buck.

  • The pre-rut phase: during this phase, you will find bucks rubbing and scraping against trees. Their activity increases but there may be a lull in open areas so the best place to look for active bucks is in the woods, amongst crops, and in the thicket. Your best bet at this time is to find bedding areas and place yourself between bedding and feed areas along a game trail. At this time your best bet is to sit and wait while observing where the bucks are. Slow and steady wins this race the recon now will pay off later in the rut.
  • The seeking phase: during this phase, the bucks are starting to become more aggressive and active during the mornings and evenings as the rutting begins. They can be seen often in open areas during daylight hours, but they will still reside around their bedding areas. The best bet for this phase is to locate yourself near bedding and rubbed/scraped areas. Head out in the early morning for your hunt and use calling and rattling to attract the attention of a curious buck.
  • The chasing phase: during this phase, the buck are starting to become more confident and have started rutting. Your best bet at this time is to sit out along game trails close to field edges and food sources. Bucks will walk these trails while scent checking for does that are estrus and ready to breed. Using more aggressive calling and rattling during this time can be highly effective as the males are looking to defend their livelihood and will often not refuse a fight.
  • The tending phase: this phase (also known as the lock-down phase) is when the bucks are likely to be laid-up with bred does. This can be a difficult time to hunt as the bucks will be fairly elusive, but it is not impossible to get lucky. Your best bet here is to locate bedding and find out where the does and stags are lying. Once you have found a good area, sitting on the ground or from a tree stand and waiting for a buck to get on its feet gives you the best chance.
  • The post-rut phase: by this point in the rut most of the does have bred and the bucks are getting weary from the hunting pressure. It may be hard to catch a mature buck off guard during this phase, so your best option is to sit and wait in cover for a weary buck to make a mistake. Trails, food sources, and bedding areas are a good place to wait at this time of the season.
  • The Second rut phase: during this phase, almost all of the does have bred and the bucks are on the feed again. This can be a difficult time to catch a buck off guard. Your best bet at this time is to find the young does that have recently come into season, chances are, a buck will not be far behind. Concentrate on feeding areas, bedding to feed trails, and try to find out where the young doe are hanging out, as this could be your last chance of a prime buck.

Conclusion

Now you know exactly what the rut is in regard to deer hunting. If you followed through this post you will know the 6 main phases of the rutting season and what each phase entails. You will also know exactly where to look for prime buck during each phase and should have a rough idea of how to implement hunting techniques during the entirety of the rutting season. Happy hunting!

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