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Hunting During the Rut of Whitetail Deer

Hunting During the Rut of Whitetail Deer

As a whitetail deer outfitter in five states for 13 years I have learned that hunting whitetail deer during the rut is different in every state to some degree. There are many reasons that hunting the rut for whitetail deer differs from region to region. Several factors enter into the formula when in pursuit of trophy whitetail bucks during the rut, or breeding season of the whitetail deer. These include geographical location, Moon phases, precipitation, climatic changes, temperatures, and a vast array of other key factors that are involved surrounding hunting whitetail deer during the rut.


Let us first visit why geographical locations effect hunting during the rut for whitetail deer. Females enter estrus, colloquially called the rut, in the fall, normally in late October or early November, triggered mainly by declining photoperiod. Sexual maturation of females depends on population density as well as availability of food.[14] Females can mature in their first year, although this is unusual and would occur only at very low population levels. Most females mature at 1–2 years of age. Most are not able to reproduce until six months after they mature.

Let us begin with the examination of one of the most famous counties from which trophy bucks are harvested a broad…………………………….. Pike county Illinois. As a whitetail deer outfitter in pike county Illinois for 13 years I simply am aware that after much experience in the outfitting industry that if the rut of the whitetail deer in Illinois usually begins around November 1 and calms back down around November 22. My opinion is that the peak of the whitetail deer rut in pike county Illinois lies somewhere between the dates of November 6 and November if 20th. It seems that during this time vast numbers of whitetail doe’s will stand for whitetail bucks to breed in an effort to achieve conception of fawns. As we all know hunting whitetail bucks during the rut can be one of the most exciting events for any whitetail deer hunter. It is at this time that whitetail deer hunters witness rut activities of the whitetail deer that encompass fighting, scraping, chasing, breeding, tongues hanging out of the mouths of whitetail does that have been chased to the point of exhaustion, and is often referred to as that magic time during the whitetail deer season in pike county Illinois. The geographical location of Illinois is far different from that of Kansas. Despite the fact both states lie relatively equivalent to the distance away from the earth’s equator, the Kansas rut of the whitetail deer is far different.

As a whitetail deer outfitter in pike county Illinois I witness hunters who fight over hunting dates between November 7 and November 11 in each year in Illinois. However hunting the rut of whitetail deer in Kansas seems to lie later in the month of November. Kansas whitetail deer hunters as well as Kansas residents claim the best rut hunting for whitetail deer occurs between the dates of November 15 and November 22. The state of Kansas without mention lies further west than pike county Illinois, thus temperatures and climactic conditions favorable to hunting the rut for whitetail deer traditionally lie later in the month of November than Illinois. It is obvious to most western states or perhaps the most southern states experience the whitetail deer rut much later than states that lie further in east or north of Kansas. Just this year I witnessed hunters fighting over dates in Kansas that may or may not seem to be peak of the rut dates in Kansas. I learn the more I study the rut of the whitetail deer across the Midwest that rut dates for whitetail deer vary.

Iowa deer hunting is a whole different world all in itself. Although common thought maybe that whitetail deer hunters believe hunting the rut for whitetail deer in Iowa coincides with other peak rut dates of Midwestern states, it is very true that Iowa for some reason should be considered much further north in regard to geographical location and climatic conditions than Illinois, Missouri, or Kansas. Thus the whitetail deer hunter who wishes to hunt whitetail deer during the rut in Iowa needs to know that in Iowa the state gets colder temperatures quicker thus forcing an earlier rut for whitetail deer than one might estimate. Peak of the rut dates in the state of Iowa normally fall around November 7. While it is true hot does are receptive throughout the first three weeks in Iowa I tend to find an earlier date and the state of Iowa to reduce the best whitetail deer hunts during the rut. I also find that often times the state of Iowa can be the exception to the rule of all other Midwestern whitetail deer hunting strategies and theories. For example, Iowa presents its best rut hunting for whitetail deer during its second rut in early December. For the novice whitetail deer hunter it is important to note that any doe not bred during the first rut comes back into heat 30 to 45 days after the first rut. Let us visit this issue for a moment.

This time period of hunting deer - the second rut, is when the does that were not bred during the first estrus cycle come back into estrus 4 weeks after the peak of the rut. It is also the time that many of the yearling fawn does come into their first estrus cycle, usually at the age of 7 months, and now can be bred to give birth in the spring to young fawns. Trophy whitetail deer and other bucks are still in the rut phase of chasing does during this time, the second rut; even though the whitetail buck is dealing with daily decreasing testosterone levels in their body. To put it bluntly, they still want to breed them all. This is a good time to be deer hunting. Whitetail bucks can become very active this time of the rut. They may also be more active during the daylight hours during this time period of the rut. A result of all this breeding activity is that many trophy deer have depleted much of their fat stores while searching out, chasing and breeding does. Many trophy bucks and bucks in general can lose up to and more than 20% of their body fat. If you have very cold weather during the second rut, consider yourself lucky. You may just have fallen into the opportunity of a lifetime for hunting trophy deer and filling an indoor freezer with venison. During this time; the second phase of the rut, if it is real cold, a few things are in the deer hunter's favor. First, the whitetail deer's metabolism hasn't yet slowed down for the winter. Whitetail deer get cold too. Second, they now need to consume a high quantity of calories to maintained any body fat they may have. They will basically go on a feeding frenzy. Third, the does will congregate in small herds of 5 to 20 deer or more as they feed. Forth, here is an opportunity for that trophy deer to breed any doe in estrus at this time, and any yearling does that have come into estrus for the first time at 7 months of age. Now that bucks search for does just got easier and he still has to eat for strength and preserve any fat stores left. You might say that buck just found his smorgasbord.

Missouri presents some of the greatest trophy whitetail buck hunting and its northern regions. As a Missouri resident of 44 years this rut has always been very easy to predict. The Missouri whitetail herd normally begins the rut of the whitetail deer around November 1 and calms back down around November 23rd. I will say in 2008 and 2009 rut activities of the whitetail deer or the peak of the rut of the whitetail deer in Missouri has seen its most graphic action the first seven days of November. I do not believe this trend will continue and believe the trend has only a occurred in this manner a over the past two years due to radical movements of precipitation and temperature variations that have been abnormal. Hunting whitetail deer during the rut in Missouri should resume to its Normal Peak dates in 2010 from the time periods between November 6th and November 22. However if for some reason Missouri has fallen prey to global warming or a geographical shift whitetail deer hunters a Missouri may see a another early rut for whitetail deer in 2010. For example from November 1, 2009 to November 5, 2009 I had 14 hunters in camp that viewed 116 record book whitetail bucks in five days.

To prove the geographical locations play a major role in hunting deer during the rut let us take a few examples of other states suggested peak of the rut hunting dates or times to hunt whitetail deer during the rut.
Texas December 16
Canada November 21 to November 30
Note while I used extreme southern and extreme northern locations to compare it is evident that geographical locations play a major role in planning to hunt whitetail deer during the rut. As a whitetail deer hunter you will want to hunt peak dates if you are to target their rut of the whitetail deer accurately.

During the rut, all bucks, big and small, will become much more active at the hours of day and night, which undoubtedly increases your chances of encountering that dream buck when he makes a mistake. In fact, most successful hunters end up harvesting a trophy because they somehow found themselves in a position to take advantage of a big bucks mishap.

That is why an intelligent approach to hunting the rut would involve learning and knowing what the signs are when the rut begins and how to benefit from the careless behaviors of the quarry.

Firstly, it is important to know what the dynamics of the rut incorporates and how it is defined by wildlife biologists. Many specialists claim that the rut clearly begins when the male deer of the herd display a senseless frenetic behavior as a result of their ability to successfully breed. However, others argue that this time frame also includes the does arrival or receptiveness to breeding. Researchers often describe this as the estrus phase, usually lasting 24- to 36-hours. Individual does, however, come into estrus at different times, so the rut actually may last for more than a month.

“The estrus phase, usually lasts 24- to 36-hours. Individual does, however, come into estrus at different times, so the rut actually may last for more than a month.”

In other words, although most bucks are capable of breeding from the time they peel the velvet off their antlers in early September, that doesn’t necessarily mean that every doe is ready and willing to copulate. Therefore, the actual rut begins when both the bucks and does of the population are receptive to breeding.

So the next logical question may be: when does this occur? Well, typically because of the severity of the northern climate, the bulk of the breeding season in the northern three-quarters of the United States will take place between November 7 and 25, with the peak of the rut occurring around the week of the tenth. The southern portion of the nation experiences a rut that usually starts in late October, peaks in mid-November, and often extends into late December and sometimes early January. This less compressed rut is attributed to the mild weather patterns common to that part of the country.

” the bulk of the breeding season in the northern three-quarters of the United States will take place between November 7 and 25, with the peak of the rut occurring around the week of the tenth.”

Additionally, the darkness that accompanies the autumnal equinox during the fall decreases the amount of daylight during the average 24-hour period. This process is called photoperiodism. When this happens the pineal gland, which is the receptor of the light values accumulated by the deers’ eyes, stimulates the pituitary gland within the endocrine system. The actual decrease in daylight triggers the pituitary to release a ton of gonadotrophic hormones, which in turn increases the production of the male sex hormone testosterone. It is this increased level of testosterone in the buck’s system which officially launches the breeding season. Similar glandular activity in the doe causes her to come into estrus around the same time.

Phases Of The Rut
Although it is now clear exactly what causes the rut to take place, it is also just as important to know how the breeding season progresses through the fall. Months before the rut starts, bucks begin to establish dominance. The social hierarchy that is formed during the late summer will continue through all phases of the breeding season, which consists of: the prerut, rut, and postrut.

Pre Pre-Rut:
During the summer, bucks tend to live together in groups of six or more and usually congregate in open habitats. This creates an opportune time to scout and observe from a distance the quality level of bucks that are expected from this years herd. Within these groups the bucks will determine dominance nonviolently; smaller bucks simply yield to larger ones. Antler development plays a big role in the individuals place in the hierarchy.

Visual intimidation and mutual grooming also helps determine the pecking order. Subordinate bucks avoid eye contact with the dominant males, and sometimes resort to grooming their neck and shoulders to show deference.

Phase One – Pre Rut:
As summer turns to fall almost every buck knows his position in the hierarchy. Summer groups break up and bucks begin to move around more to establish home ranges. This is when the prerut begins.

“As the buck rubs the tree, he usually deposits scent from his preorbital gland. Also, bucks commonly rub trees in a line or cluster, but they seldom revisit a rub site.”

Whitetails often avoid settling disputes during the summer because of the soft tissue that still envelops their rack. However, when bucks shed their velvet as the blood supply is severed, their antlers harden into bone. A sure sign of the arrival of the prerut is the appearance of small rubs on aromatic saplings, such as pine, cherry, and cedar. Bucks will rake small trees with their antlers to advertise their presence and to remove the dead velvet. As the buck rubs the tree, he usually deposits scent from his preorbital gland. Also, bucks commonly rub trees in a line or cluster, but they seldom revisit a rub site.

Another common activity during the prerut is sparring. This is when bucks of similar size press their foreheads and antlers together and push nonaggressively for a short duration. This also helps maintain the aforementioned social ranking.

Phase Two – Rut:
As the days go by, these sparring matches become more aggressive and bucks will begin to challenge one another more often. When these confrontations happen more frequently, bucks feed less and begin to lose weight. That is when the rut comes into full swing; most males begin to neglect their starch-filled fattening diet in order to put 100% of their energy into breeding behaviors.

“Don’t mistake an active or primary scrape with an inactive or secondary marking. These are places that bucks have uncovered the ground, but have left no scent or urine as a sign to other deer.”

During the peak of the prerut and well into the rut phase bucks often begin to make scrapes. A scrape is a bare patch of ground that announces a bucks presence to any receptive does in the area and warn off any subordinate males. After pawing at the earth with his hooves, the buck squats and urinates down his legs into the tarsal glands. This will leave his odor for some time. When a doe comes into estrus she will seek out and urinate in the dominant males scrape as a signal of readiness to breed. That is why bucks repeatedly return to check their active scrapes.

This is also a good place to hunt during the rut. Your chances of encountering a buck drastically improves near an active scrape because males often come to freshen and inspect their scrapes a few times a day. However, don’t mistake an active or primary scrape with an inactive or secondary marking. These are places that bucks have uncovered the ground, but have left no scent or urine as a sign to other deer.

Phase Three – Post Rut:
These are all concrete signs that the rut is in full swing. However, as male hormone levels diminish and bucks can no longer find any receptive does, the postrut arrives and rubbing and scraping finally stops.

Soon, most bucks lose their antlers within a month after the rut ends. This is usually when males return to eating heavily in an attempt to regain the lost weight for the upcoming winter.

Of course, there are many more subtle and complex behaviors that come and go with the breeding period, but these are the tell tale signs that even a beginner can utilize during the hunting season. So, good luck in hunting the rut, and remember, an informed hunter is a successful hunter.

Many hunters mistakenly believe that most of the breeding occurs within the 1-2 weeks of peak breeding. However this is far from true. Scientific studies show that breeding season lengths vary according to latitude and spring phenology (when temperatures rise above freezing and plants begin to grow). The farther north the deer are, the shorter and more intense the breeding season lengths are (in general), with more conceptions occurring during the one week of peak breeding, At southern latitudes, particularly below the 36th latitude, breeding occurs over such a long time frame that it may be hard for hunters to determine a peak in breeding activity. The graph below shows when breeding may begin and end at particular latitudes. However, it may not represent how long the breeding season lasts in all the states within those latitudes.

The peak of the rut is the most frenetic time in the deer woods. Does run helter-skelter, often followed closely by one or more lovesick bucks. Dominant bucks not only chase hot does, they also challenge other mature males and run off lesser bucks. It's a frenzy of deer activity that lasts from dawn till dusk and throughout the night. Obviously, this is a great time to be in the woods. Any of the 4 main hunting techniques-ground blinds, tree stands, still-hunting or drives---will work. Whichever method you use, simply adapt it to take advantage of a buck's preoccupation with mating.

Name and couldn’t shoot a A ground stand overlooking a draw or bottom littered with fresh rubs, scrapes, trails and big tracks is a good bet. A tree stand might be even better because you can see and cover more of the rutting area. Still-hunting can be dynamite during this short, sweet period of high activity by usually wary and secretive bucks; you can sneak around and often stalk close to an unsuspecting big deer. Even drives can work because deer are already disoriented by their rutting wanderings; you never know where or when you might push a big buck out of a pocket of cover and into a buddy's sights. Rattling and grunting can produce because a dominant buck is touchy about other bucks that might invade his breeding domain. In short, a myriad of techniques can produce during the peak rut, a short window of time when it is simply important to be out there, looking and listening for wild-eyed bucks.

"During the rut, a stand in any tree in the woods can produce a trophy." I say a stand in a funnel during the rut offers a much greater chance of success than any tree not in a funnel. During this time I will be spending every hour available in the woods, and I will not be walking around looking for a better place to hunt. I will be alternating my hunting among my best funnel stands.

This frantic movement period of the rut is the mature buck's Achilles' heel. It is also the funnel hunter's secret weapon. The heightened daytime movement of mature bucks and the nature of areas that funnel moving game through them put the big buck and the persistent funnel hunter on a collision course during this time. Believe that!

When this frantic movement starts to slow down after a couple of weeks, do not stop hunting. Around Thanksgiving or even later is when some of the older bucks get involved in daylight rut movement. These are often the real top-end trophies. Continue your funnel hunting until the end of November or a little longer, or you might miss the opportunity to arrow the buck of a lifetime.


Every Since I did a study that was published on the cover of north American whitetail magazine regarding Moon phases I had been a bit skeptical surrounding just how important or how much influence the Moon has upon hunting the rut of the whitetail deer. A over the course of 1726 whitetail deer hunts I could find no correlation between the eight Moon phases that are present in the skies above. Of course I had always heard that if the more light the Moon sheds the less deer movement occurs during daylight hours. After seven years of study I compiled my statistics and discovered no correlation between the rut of the whitetail deer and Moon phases. In fact my studies showed that a full Moon was the second best Moon for trophy whitetail deer movement. I would contend that windows are in heat bucks will chase them and breed them no matter the moon phase.

However on no other school of thought surrounds how the Moon phases may affect hunting deer during the rut. Allow me to refer to a story which I researched in depth and published in 2009.

“Many theories exist regarding whitetail deer hunters predicting the time the peak of the rut from year to year will occur for whitetail deer? I’m a bit of an old school whitetail deer hunter. I take for granted that I can count on whitetail deer being in the rut in the Midwest during its peak sometime between November 5th and November 25. I do not believe whitetail deer hunters can predict the peak of the rut, months or years before a whitetail rut or whitetail deer season begins by means of some scientific calculation. I believe that until you arrive at that time period to examine weather conditions, temperatures, and several other factors that its simply impossible to be able to predict the whitetail deer rut by some moon dial, or some farmers almanac, or even the intense studies produced by whitetail biologists. Heck fire, I’ve been wrong a millions times so I thought I would share the different concepts regarding how to predict the whitetail rut from year to year. Here are some theories held by professionals in the hunt industry to examine. You decide if any hold merit. Then I will conclude the article by sharing my thoughts on these theories of predicting the whitetail deer rut months before it occurs.

The Moon Theory

A whitetail doe's estrogen level peaks around November 5th, as does a whitetail buck's sperm count. With both whitetail deer sexes ready to mate, some experts say, it stands to reason a mechanism must be in place if the whitetail doe is to enter estrus and be bred under the darker phases of the moon, which are the third through first quarters. That the second full moon after the autumnal equinox, is called the rutting moon.

With each passing year whitetail deer experts have more and more data collection devices to if you can predict the whitetail deer rut. The whitetail deer experts trying to predict the whitetail deer rut also monitor air temperature, weather patterns and moonlight intensity throughout the fall. In addition they use trail cameras to record deer activity throughout each day. Some cameras monitor the wild, free-ranging deer population. The data, which is collected from October through December, is then studied via computer.

Unlike eight years ago, when no one else was researching if you can predict the whitetail deer rut, now there are many serious whitetail breeders, deer hunters and outfitters across North America (who are in the woods every day during the fall) keeping detailed journals to chronicle deer behavior in their regions of the country. This added information has allowed experts to better understand what is happening in other parts of North America during October, November and December.

Whitetail deer experts have observed that the second full moon after the autumnal equinox stimulates both buck and doe rutting activity. After 1999 these experts made a concerted effort to step up data collection, primarily because of the way the rutting moon was going to fall in 2000, 2001 and 2002. In 2000 and 2001, the rutting behavior was classic - just as predicted. However, it occurred at different times. In 2000, the rutting moon was November 11th and in 2001 it fell on November 1st.

In all reporting locales but one, the seeking phase of the rut kicked in just as expected in 2000, around the 8th of November. The high point of 2000's breeding activity took place the latter part of November.
In 2001 things were again on target, but earlier than in 2000. The rutting moon was November 1st, and where the air temperature was less than 45 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, chasing was reported to be intense by everyone collecting data. By November 10th it was obvious that the breeding was full blown, and by November 20th most of the primary breeding was over. So, because of the volume of data collected, the past two years have provided great examples of what can be expected in the future.
The whitetail deer's "peak of the rut” is made up of three phases-seeking, chasing and breeding. Each blends into the phase that follows. In fine-tuned herds, where there are a good number of mature bucks and an adult-doe-to-antlered-buck ratio of three-to-one or less these phases will encompass about 30 days. In herds where there are too many yearling bucks and sex ratios are over three-to-one, the rut is almost always drawn out, lasting as long as 90 days. When the latter occurs, rut intensity usually will be lacking.

With the rutting moon approaching, maximum levels of testosterone are flowing and bucks begin to feverishly look for estrous does. A buck's nose dictates when and where he goes, and no doe group is safe as bucks weave across their expanded territories. At this time, all the dynamics of buck behavior unite. Bucks are now finely tuned physical specimens that spend every waking hour rubbing, scraping and looking for does. Judging by research conducted for several years, an active buck might make six to twelve scrapes per hour during this phase of the rut. The frequency depends on how sexually active a given buck is.

Of all the times to hunt, the seeking phase is one of the best, especially for a tree-stand hunter.
The peak of this period is usually three to four days before and after the rutting moon. During this time, bucks are on the move but not yet chasing every doe they encounter. Their movement patterns through funnels and along scrape and rub lines are more predictable. Unfortunately, the seeking phase only lasts a short time before blending into the chase phase.

The chase phase of the whitetail deer rut often gets confused with the seeking phase. The two behavior periods overlap, but they're different. This phase usually begins three or so days after the rutting moon and lasts three to four days into the full-blown breeding phase.

During the chase phase, does are almost entering estrus, and bucks are frantically trying to be the first to find them. Now a buck will chase every doe it encounters. Such meetings often resemble a cutting horse trying to cut a calf out of a herd of cows. A buck can be persistent, knowing it will eventually find a doe that won't run. During the chase phase, scraping and rubbing continue, and in many cases can be intense, especially in a well-tuned herd. The chase phase often brings more intense fights, especially if two bucks pursue the same doe.
The chase phase can be a great time to hunt, but it often gets frustrating because the action can take bucks out of range as they chase does.

This is the stage that gives the rut its name. When a doe finally enters estrus, it will accept a buck's company wherever it goes. When breeding begins, scraping nearly ceases and bucks curtail much of the activity that took place throughout the rut's seeking and chasing phases.

The breeding phase usually begins about seven days after the rutting moon and lasts approximately 14 days. We've found that 70 to 80 percent of the mature research does will be bred during this time.
Of all the rut's phases, the breeding time can be the most difficult to hunt. This is because does move very little. Consequently, bucks will only move when the does move. At this time, one of the only ways tree-stand hunters will see action will be to place their stands in a hot doe's core area or in sites frequented by doe groups.

So what will be the peak of the rut for whitetail deer during 2009? Experts have calculated this by the moon. The 2009 whitetail deer season sees the Hunter's Moon (the first Full Moon AFTER the Harvest Moon) on October 7. Most years, the Harvest Moon rises on a September night.

But not this year. The Harvest Moon, by definition, is the Full Moon closest to the Autumnal Equinox (the First day of Fall). And this year the Equinox falls on September 23. The Full Moon in October is closer to the equinox than the September Full Moon, therefore, the October Full Moon is the Harvest Moon. And the Hunter's moon always follows the Harvest Moon.

Hunters will read the telltale, preliminary signs of the formation of the Breeding Nucleus in the first week of the 2009. That's when the bucks and does will be creating overhanging-branch scrapes. Also, there should be good (better than normal for the first week of November) buck movement this year during the moon's First Quarter. And a greater tendency for daytime movement will head into the following week (Full Moon.) That's when we will hear stories of some giant bucks being arrowed at noon.

Then, on the following weekend, hunters will be heard saying "the rut is on," as the cycle reaches a climax of activity (November 13.) Wild times in the woods as the Breeding Nucleus reaches critical mass, and expect the breeding explosion to extend into the middle of November, tailing off by the third week of that magical month. Again this information is collected by whitetail experts to predict the whitetail deer peak of the rut by use of the moon.

Fetal Backdating

Some whitetail deer experts rely on fetal backdating to predict the peak of the rut of whitetail deer. This fetal backdating is determined by measuring the fetus and comparing those measurements to fetus’ with known conception dates.

Every year there are periods of higher whitetail deer breeding activity and exceptional movement. There are different trends stuided of whitetail deer activity through the hunting seasons. Much of which is collected to predict the rut of whitetail deer.

Whitetail deer rut prognosticators down through the years have attempted to devise a foolproof pattern to predict these bouts of peak hormonal flow, when the whitetail bucks run almost day and night for a few days each year, forming the Breeding Nucleus.
There are always three sequential patterns of breeding activity, about a month apart and they each vary in degrees of intensity.

Those interested can easily validate when the previous year’s Breeding Nucleus was formed in their state or region by checking the Rut Activity posts on the hunting Web sites.

When 2008’s first week of November rolled around all went quiet, just like it did in 2005. And as the middle of the month approached, the whitetail bucks were settled in and bedding with the does. Once again this is another way whitetail experts are able to try and predict the rut of whitetail deer.
The gestation period for the whitetail deer is about 200 days, give or take a few, according to researchers. A known variance from the 200-day pregnancy period in whitetail deer is partially due to environmental factors (like a tough winter, or an unusually mild, warm winter;) health and age of the doe, and nature's variance. As we know, a woman's gestation period is nine months, but children are often born early or later than that target date. Recent whitetail studies indicate a large percentage (25%) of twin fawns, and triplets have different fathers. We know that whitetail does drop their fawns about seven months from conception. Elaborate breeding formulations based on fetal measurements, many taken from road-killed does did not pay homage to the fact that the differences in size of the fetus, may have been in part due to the difference in the size of the father and his propensity within his genes, not to mention the aforementioned health of the doe and winter climate. Now if we traveled back in time seven months, counting from the middle of May, that would put us in the middle of October and put many of us up in a tree stand. A far cry from late November.

A late November rut would produce newborn fawns in late June. A mid- to late-May fawn crop seems about ideal for the Northeast, not too early and not too late. Other areas of the country have different peak rut dates tuned by their environments. For example, Mississippi has a December peak rut date so that the fawns are born in late June. Deer along the Mississippi delta never had to worry about a late winter or an early winter, instead their fawn drop needed to dodge winding up coincidental with massive flooding.

Environmental Factors to Predict the Rut of the Whitetail Deer

Barometric Pressure: This is widely held to be one of the chief catalysts for deer movement. Whitetail deer activity seems to be greater when the barometric pressure is changing and at its highest when pressure was rising.

Temperature- Deer are dressed in their winter coats by November. If you put on all your warmest clothes and then try to run around all day long in 80-degree heat, how long will you last? The higher the temperature the apt whitetail deer are not to move while robed in a winter coat. Whitetail buck movement declines when the temperature rises more than 15 to 20 degrees above the norm.
Wind: The first few days of a high wind (above 15 mph) produce less deer movement. When a high wind gusts and reaches speeds high enough to snap off branches and blow debris from the trees, deer will stay put and wait until it passes. Such conditions generally are associated with a passing front and don't last more than a day. High winds reduce scenting ability and to the fact that, because they can hear so well, they become extremely alert and nervous.

Rain and Snow: Whitetail deer move well in the light snow that comes with a weak winter front. A misting rain associated with a falling barometer is also generally fine and deer will move well in it during any part of the whitetail deer season.

Morning or Evening: Whitetail Deer Record Book applications indicate that the number of trophies per man-hour is skewed toward the morning.

Age Structure of the local whitetail deer population: Young does breed later than older, mature does.

Sex Ratio: The more does in the herd, the longer the rut period.

Health of the herd: Whitetail deer in prime range and in excellent health breed earlier and with more intensity than animals in marginal areas.

Genetics: It was found in one experiment that deer transported from to Georgia from Wisconsin bred two months earlier than those in Alabama.

Latitude: Proximity to the equator seems to play a role. In northern states, the breeding period for deer is more compacted and intense. To the south, it’s more protracted and less feverish.
Movement of the Earth Around the Sun Predicts Whitetail Deer Rut
Some experts believe that the movement of the earth around the sun is the major engine that drives the breeding cycle in whitetail deer. Studies show that whitetail deer that had rutted in November in the U.S. shifted to an April period when taken to New Zealand. The conclusion was that annual changes in solar radiation and lunar illumination, not the calendar, dictate when the rut of the whitetail deer takes place, thus making the rut of the whitetail deer predictable.

Animal physiologists say that this theory can be explained by the existence of a “pineal gland” in the brain of deer (in fact, in all animals with a cranium, including humans). The sole function of this gland is the secretion of the hormone melatonin and how much of this substance is secreted is controlled by light intensity. Low light levels stimulate the production of melatonin and high light levels inhibit it. Researchers maintain that the light data is received through nerve pathways originating in the eye. When light levels are low over prolonged periods of time, high levels of melatonin trigger the release of sex hormones from the pituitary gland bringing the animal to sexual readiness. “Photoperiodicity” is the term used to describe the amount of light reaching the eye.

So, since scientists know all of that, why can’t they predict the rut of the whitetail deer each year? That may be because there are several factors that influence photoperiodicity. One, of course is the revolution of the earth around the sun while it tilts 23 ½ degrees on its axis. Others may be “precession,” the wobbling of the earth as it rotates, and reflected light from the moon. And, how about localized factors such as drought, unusually high temperatures, storms and human disturbance? Any or all of those may influence whitetail deer in a small given area.

One thing that research has shown is that does who don’t conceive during their first estrus of the season usually enter another reproductive cycle, sometimes called the “second rut,” 21 to 32 days later.
In Conclusion

Those are but a few theories behind being able to predict the rut of the whitetail deer. I believe all the aforementioned theories hold both merit and mistake. Maybe a correlation or mixture of the studies formulated in some larger calculation would predict the rut of the whitetail deer.”


Precipitation in the form of heavy rain during daytime hours can often times force whitetail deer to participate in on nocturnal rut of whitetail deer. During 2008 and 2009 the Midwest has experienced record rainfalls. During those two years I have watched farmers with an inability to harvest crops from the fields, as well as watched many hunters become discouraged by being forced to hunt in the rain. A drizzle or light rain doesn’t seem to affect whitetail deer movement and often times enhances whitetail deer movement. However I will never forget during the firearms season in 2009 in the state of Missouri heavy thunderstorms were existent for nine straight days during the gun season. Rainfall was so heavy that literally hunters were unable to go to the timber to even pursue trophy whitetail deer. Effects of the precipitation manifested themselves in a twofold manner. The first thing I saw occur was an early rut of whitetail deer. It was if they had senses heavy rainfall was on the way. Secondly a rainfall was so great that deer were forced from core areas to foreign areas, thereby erasing any scouting that any whitetail deer enthusiast could have performed in preparation for the hunt.


I have also seen that high temperatures will force whitetail deer to breed nocturnally. Or that cold temperatures may cause whitetail deer to be much more active during daytime hours. In the Midwest the rut normally occurs mid November. By this time whitetail deer already have put on their winter coats. Thus when whitetail deer are wearing winter coats the chasing phase of the breeding season can be exhausting to the herd. Literally it is like any man running around in 90° temperatures with a winter coat on. High temperatures often times force a nocturnal rut to occur and while we think the rut was weak or for some reason didn’t occur the truth is that is was going on after dark.


In any given area because of various local factors -- the whitetail bucks may be in the pre-rut phase and chasing, actively mating, or in the final phases of the rut. The only way to know for sure is to go afield as often as and as long as you can day after day through observation. I call this form of hunting during the rut simply, “putting in your time.”

The preceding strategy leads to this second one: That is, we should understand the importance of being able to adapt to the deer and change how we are hunting based on their behavior. For instance, let's assume that the does on your local tract have not quite entered estrus. The bucks, however, have become filled with vinegar and are busily jousting with each other, laying down scrapes, and marking rub lines.

This would be a marvelous time to engage in some activities that could lure bucks to our stand sites. Rattling is a very viable tactic now and it probably has a greater chance of working than at any other time of the season. Conversely, say two weeks later when the bucks may very well be actively mating, our rattling will have little chance of paying off.

This same time during the pre-rut would also offer us a great opportunity to draw in a nice buck by creating scent trails. A buck that comes across the first doe-in-heat trail of the season could come charging to our stand. But, again, relying on doe-in-heat potions when the forest is full of the smell of estrous females is a gambit that is not nearly as likely to result in success.

Another strategy to implement throughout most of the rut is to set up along rub lines. Rublines exist for one reason. It is evidence that you have discovered a travel corridor of a whitetail buck. Hunt it correctly and you will cross paths with the animal.

However, some rublines can be void of buck or doe traffic during the actual rut. The area bucks had no time to revisit the line or freshen the scrapes along it, as they were too busy mating with does. Foolishly, I spent an additional two days sitting along the line until I realized that the bucks had moved on -- and so should I. Only a foolish hunter continues to hunt an area that for some reason or another seems to have lost whitetail population or action due to changes in that area, climate, temperature, or other reasons. Be mobile. This is why I always hunt from climbing treestands. I can move wherever and whenever I know I need to do so.

Interestingly, as is often the case, at the start of the post-rut, some area bucks returned to the rub line after the mating period had ended. My clue to their return were several fresh rubs, as well as a massive tree that had been horned -- perhaps an indication that "my" 8-pointer had survived his quick journey to wherever he had been. Once again, though, I was a little slow to recognize the change in venue, and I missed seeing the bruiser. Adapting to the movements of our local whitetails is a crucial part of developing a sound strategy. You will or have reached a level in deer hunting where sometimes you can just feel instinctly that an area has gone dead or has heated up.

The strategy decision that causes many of us the most indecision is choosing a stand site to hunt whitetail bucks during the rut from. Once again, local factors will likely be the most important thing to consider as long as you’ve done your homework and properly and cautiously scouted.
Before leaf fall, I set up along in the acorns or along fence rows on food sources. I used to not give acorn hunting enough credit and thought that green foodplots was the answer, however as I advance further and further with my whitetail career the more I become convinced that acorns could be one the most important factor for success outside of terrain breaks and topographical advantages as long as your in an area where trophy whitetail bucks exist. However, once the leaves fall or the acorns disappear, I rarely view whitetails in the hollow. Years passed before I realized that the deer were still moving through my land, but they were doing so while traveling through a dense thicket that lies some 50 yards from the edge of the hollow.

Indeed, during the latter stages of the pre-rut and throughout the rut, the trail through that thicket receives intense deer movement. A buck that I shot during the rut last year, in fact, died just a few feet off that trail. The point is that whitetail deer patterns and routines changes during the year and you have to know how to change and move with them or reap frustration.

These kinds of areas continue to be a whitetail deer magnet all the way through the post-rut period until the end of the deer season as a whole. If I am buck hunting during any part of those two periods, it is that secluded pathway that offers me my greatest hope for success, second to topographical advantages like funnels, spiderwebs, inside L’s, low spots, etc, etc.

I strongly suspect that similar, predicable whitetail deer travel patterns exist on the land that you go afield on hunting whitetail deer during the rut. In the pre-rut period, that hot trail might involve an overgrown fencerow between two wood lots or a line of oak trees that have yielded bountiful nut crops. During the rut, a prime tree line to hang a stand might be the one that runs along a creek bottom or extends to a bedding area. In the latter stages of the post-rut and recovery periods, the best site might be one that lies next to a late-season food source.

Again, hunters should think locally about the various food sources, and bed areas available, possible travel paths throughout the various and long deer seasons, and the habits of the local whitetail deer herd members. Then and only then can we make logical decisions concerning where to position a stand in an effort to intercept a trophy whitetail buck. I will say this. I play topography and study aerial photographs to exhaustion, and do enough scouting that I am aware of what trophy whitetail bucks are in my area. (To the point I have the biggest bucks nicknamed.)

I have a good friend whose predominant big-buck strategy is to always know where the does are. During the early stages of the season and pre-rut, he doesn't even bother to consider where the bucks are. When he has a chance to arrow a doe, he generally does so, feeling that is part of the overall goal of wisely managing the deer herd. While he is admired for taking does and as a part of QDMA efforts does must be killed. I would simply say to you with all wisdom, don’t kill does in any specific or honey hold secret treestand location where you know a monster buck is in close proximity to. Take your does during the season in areas where you do not believe it will disturb your mature bucks.

By the latter stages of the pre-rut and throughout the rut, this same acquaintance refuses to kill does and targets big bucks exclusively. However, he still is single-minded about knowing where and when the does are using the property he hunts on. His reasoning is that the bucks will now show up soon, and he wants to be near does when such is the case.

During the later stages of the rut and throughout the recovery period until the end of the season, this friend once again concentrates only on the does. His feeling then is that any late rutting buck will show up to harass the does still waiting to be bred or any fawns that have entered estrus. And if no bucks appear at all, he still has an opportunity to take one last doe for the freezer. While I realize no PETA or QDMA member will like this statement I must be honest. I hunt trophy bucks. I don’t remember the last time I shot a doe. I am after big bucks. Some times I won’t even shoot the trophy buck but rather allow him to pass. Deep in my hunt spirit I have dedicated a major part of my life to studying trophy whitetail bucks. I am fascinated by them. So my hat is off to the doe shooters and the does do need shot but I’m solely after “bone”.

Today's whitetail deer hunter must be aware of what food sources and present in the area.

If there is one aspect of deer hunting that our sporting predecessors might still have the edge on us is that they were better woodsmen than many of us are today. Certainly one of the most important aspects of woodsmanship is having a strong background in the various kinds of foods that our local deer consume.

For example, many if not most of us know that the white oak (Quercus alba) acorn is one of the most preferred deer foods -- if not the most preferred -- in the entire region.

How many of us are aware of the other members of the white oak family that grow in our local woods? And if we are aware of them, how many of us can distinguish the white oak family members' acorns from the nuts of Quercus alba itself? The answer, quite probably, is that not many of us can. The deer can certainly distinguish among the foods available to them, however. They know what they like and will go to that food. Hunters who know the palatability and availability of those deer foods have an obvious advantage.

Additionally, I would wager that most whitetail deer hunters are very much aware that whitetails will often turn to the acorns of red oak trees after they have consumed those of the various white oak species. How many of us can identify the red oak varieties that live in our home counties? And even more of a challenge would be for us to learn which red oak family members produce acorns that are most consumed by the deer in our home woods. Last season I was finding the biggest bucks in “pin oaks”. If you’ve even seen a pin oak acorn colony you know the trees as well as the acorns are small but the pin oak has so many low and mass volumes of branches that big bucks feel safe feeding in pin oaks that the wide open red oak ridge colonies where they are easily spotted. I will choose the pin oak over the white oak anytime if you want to put down a monster.

This knowledge of hard- and soft-mast food items is crucial to our knowing what the deer, especially the does, will be eating during the various stages of the rut. If, for example, a hardwood hollow on the property you hunt is devoid of acorns, do you know where the deer in your area will congregate? Will the whitetails be venturing to local soft-mast food sources or will they be going to fields?

If the latter is the case, which fields are the most popular and where do the deer typically enter them? To be sure, these are hard questions, and to answer them we will have to spend a great deal of time learning about our local food sources. This also would be time well spent -- just as I hope that considering these five strategies will be time well spent when the rut begins in our region.

If there is ever a time during the hunting season when the average hunter gains a slight edge on a trophy buck, it is during the core phases of the whitetail breeding season; which can also be called the rut.
Why do we all of a sudden gain the upper hand? Because it is during the rutting period when most mature bucks throw caution to the wind and follow their sole urge to reproduce often and with as many does as possible. During the rutting period most mature bucks throw caution to the wind and follow their sole urge to reproduce”


Do you hunt when the big bucks are moving - and avoid pressuring them when they are not?

The second reason I believe most hunters do not have a real chance to arrow a true trophy is that they hunt at a time of year when the odds are very poor. In reality, many are losing what chance they have to shoot a trophy by hunting a mature buck too early in the season, while he is still almost totally nocturnal.

I realize that good bucks sometimes are taken by bowhunters at times other than the rut. In more recent years, some television programs, videos and magazine articles have shown good bucks being shot early in the season, well before rut movement begins. However, you need to realize that a lot of the time, these hunts take place in special situations and locations not all of us are privy to.

First, some of these bucks are shot while they are still in or just out of velvet, in late summer. If you can hunt an area in late August or early September, it might be possible for you to take a good buck while he is still on his summer feeding pattern and before he goes into "survival mode." However, most of us do not live in an area where we can hunt this early.

Second, many of the early-season trophies are shot in unique areas. The Milk River in Montana is one such place and yes even high fences. Not only does this area hold a lot of deer that receive very little hunting pressure, it is unique in that the bedding and feeding areas are very close together. Many times the only cover is in the form of narrow strips of underbrush close to the river. The crop fields, which are the deer's primary feeding area, butt right up against the narrow band of bedding cover. Deer living in such places can rise from their beds and 30 seconds later be standing in the primary feeding area. In special situations such as this, it is possible to harvest good deer early in the bow season.

The third reason you read about and see a lot of hunters shooting mature bucks before the rut is because of what they call "mature." In a prime area with good nutrition, a 2 1/2-year-old deer can sport a Pope & Young-class rack (125 inches). Many 3 1/2-year-olds in such places have racks that score 140 to 150. I believe that more times than not, deer of these ages are the "mature" early-season bucks a lot of bow-hunters take. They are not the 4 1/2- to 7 1/2-year-old bucks that have truly reached maturity.

There are situations in which a skilled bow-hunter can successfully hunt a mature buck that is still on his early-season feeding pattern. However, these situations are rare, and hunters who can capitalize on them are even rarer.

Perhaps 99 percent of the time, the average bowhunter will lose what chance he has at taking a mature buck by hunting him too early in the season. Do not hunt him when the odds of success are poor or get too close to quick.

Sometime between one and three weeks before archery season opens, the average hunter will start his scouting. He will usually walk over all of the area he plans to hunt, trimming trees and cutting shooting lanes as he scouts. He will usually go back into the area to hang his tree stands a day or two before bow season opens. He will then start hunting on opening day, which is typically sometime in September or early October. Once the season begins, he will hunt every chance he gets; after all, anticipation has been building for many long months.

A week or two into October, large buck sign will start showing up in the area. These large rubs and scrapes will really get the hunter worked up. He now will hunt even harder, spending every free hour he has in the woods. However, after a few days of hunting and not seeing the big buck that has been tearing up the area, he will begin to get frustrated. This is when the average hunter usually will start scouting again, walking the woods out just to make sure he is set up in the right place. He will continue to hunt his previous stand or perhaps set up on some other big sign 200 to 300 yards down the same buck's travel corridor and resume hunting him there.

The sad fact is that the stands hunted during the early weeks of the season were in the buck's core area and were potentially good places to shoot him from. However, the hunter educated the buck to the fact that he was being hunted; the deer was literally run off weeks before he would have begun moving about during daylight hours. A mature whitetail is the ultimate prey animal. To successfully bowhunt him, you cannot let him know he is being pursued.

Of course, there are variations. However, from many years of observing whitetail bowhunters, I believe this is a true picture of how the vast number of them hunt, what happens to the mature deer they are hunting and why. They do not understand why they cannot kill a true trophy. However, I do not understand how in the name of reason they can expect to kill one, considering when and how they do their scouting and hunting. The average bowhunter simply underestimates the survival instincts of a mature buck and moves in too close too early. This is one of the reason I don’t check infrared cameras 3 times a week like a maniac.

If you plan to hunt early in the bow season for meat, do not do so near where you hope to arrow a mature buck. Do your scouting for a trophy and your stand preparation from late winter into early spring, then stay out of those woods until rut movement begins. But keep an eye of your trophy with high quality binoculars or spotting scopes from long distances to keep “tabs” on him.

Outdoor writers use different terms to describe the different parts of the rut, such as the "seek," "chase" and "breeding" phases. This might be confusing to some hunters. That is why I refer to the entire period of mature buck movement as "the rut." However, movement will not be the same during the entire 25-day period. Let's do a quick rundown of this period and see what we can learn about when and how to hunt a mature buck.

During the last week of October and the first few days of November, 1 1/2-year-old bucks will start chasing does early and late in the day. This is when many hunters will mistakenly decide that the rut has started, and they will start hunting their best stands. However, nearly all daytime movement of mature bucks is still several days away.
A week or more later, the first phase of the 25 days of rut movement will begin. In the Midwest, this will be around Nov. 4-5. As this phase gets under way, the 2 1/2- and perhaps some 3 1/2-year-old bucks will start to chase does. Also, during this time a few mature bucks will move early and late in the day in their core areas, and some will be taken. This core-area movement will be far more prevalent if there is an early cold snap.

Do not get discouraged early in the rut-movement period. There might not be a mature buck with a core area in the area you are hunting. A lot of mature bucks will move outside their core areas during this time; however, they will nearly always do so under the cover of darkness.

This is the best time to hunt big-buck sign that is not in a funnel. If you hunt big sign during the first few days of rut movement, be very cautious in your stand approach and scent control. Also, remember that if the weather turns warm, it might be best to stay out of the area. If you start hunting a mature buck's core-area sign too early or while the weather is warm, you might merely educate him while he is still nocturnal.

This period of the rut will last seven or eight days. That brings us to around Nov. 12, when the trophy hunter should start spending every free minute he has hunting in a funnel or alternating between two or more funnels. Mature bucks will now be moving cross-country, looking for "hot" does. This is when big bucks might be seen crossing roads and open fields anytime during the day or night. There will be a big jump in deer-automobile collisions during this time. Fawns will also be seen running around "lost," either by themselves or with other fawns.

Mature bucks now will be traveling several miles a day. This is the time of season when we hear stories about a big buck being seen or killed miles from where he was known to live. While some mature bucks will not do this long-range traveling, they definitely will be continually moving about in their areas.

In many areas, around Nov. 4-5 is when the 2 1/2- and 3 1/2-year-old bucks typically start chasing does. The true trophy bowhunter must use restraint at this time.

It has been said, "During the rut, a stand in any tree in the woods can produce a trophy." I say a stand in a funnel during the rut offers a much greater chance of success than any tree not in a funnel. During this time I will be spending every hour available in the woods, and I will not be walking around looking for a better place to hunt. I will be alternating my hunting among my best funnel stands.

This frantic movement period of the rut is the mature buck's Achilles' heel. It is also the funnel hunter's secret weapon. The heightened daytime movement of mature bucks and the nature of areas that funnel moving game through them put the big buck and the persistent funnel hunter on a collision course during this time. Believe that!

When this frantic movement starts to slow down after a couple of weeks, do not stop hunting. Around Thanksgiving or even later is when some of the older bucks get involved in daylight rut movement. These are often the real top-end trophies. Continue your funnel hunting until the end of November or a little longer, or you might miss the opportunity to arrow the buck of a lifetime.

In many areas, around Nov. 12 is when the mature bucks start traveling cross-country, searching for does. Now is the time for a bowhunter to stay in his funnel stand all day.

This is a general rundown of the 25-day-period of rut movement and how the bowhunter should approach it. I work very hard all year to arrange my schedule so I can spend as much time as possible in the woods during this span. I will not hunt a mature buck's area before this rut-movement period starts unless I find a unique situation that dictates otherwise.

Rut movement has accounted for the bow harvest of more mature bucks than all other periods combined. Therefore, it would be wise not to burn yourself or a good stand out before mature bucks begin to move during daylight hours. When they do start to move, stick with it like cold molasses until the very end of this period.

Even when rut movement starts, you might never shoot a true trophy whitetail if you get impatient and settle for a buck that has not reached his full potential. This is where a lot of "trophy" hunters need to learn restraint. If you are hunting an area that has great antler potential and you keep shooting 130- or 140-class bucks, you might be forfeiting your chance to shoot one that is bigger.

There are several reasons why shooting bucks that have not reached maturity could cost you a real trophy. One, of course, is that if you have only one tag and you use it on a "sub-trophy," your hunting in that location is over for the year. But even if you are allowed to take more than one buck (which is rare in the better trophy states and provinces today), the disturbance you will cause in the area by shooting a buck, trailing him up and removing him from the woods will have a negative effect on your hunting in that location for some time. If you are hunting during the rut when this occurs, it might be winding down before deer movement returns to normal after the disturbance.

The bottom line is that if you will settle for a marginal buck, that will pr

Darrin Bradley

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