Overthinking the Whitetail Rut…

2015 Whitetail Archery Corey Wilkinson I was driven to my keyboard this morning after my ritualistic browsing of the news and social media while I rub the sleep out of my eyes.  I encountered several threads on media sources that involved the disappointing 2015 whitetail rut in the Midwest.  Many claiming it to be the worst rut in years.  I have also talked to many hunters personally who share this feeling and are actively shopping for an explanation.  One explanation that seems to keep circling, is one captured by the Rut Predictions posted by several experts prior to the season.

Several respected field experts predicted that due to a full moon on Oct. 27th this year that the rut would be earlier than normal; and given that more traditional peak activity weeks were a little slow this year, many hunters are starting to buy into this logic.  While I am absolutely convinced that the current moon phase has a tremendous impact on deer movement, I am less convinced that the date of the second full moon following the autumnal equinox (the rutting moon) actually dictates the timing of the rut.  My observations over the last 24 hunting seasons has me adhering to the scientific principle of photoperiodism. This principle dictates that organisms will physiologically respond to the lengthening or shortening of daylight.  Since this cycle remains constant year in and year out, it stands to reason that this would be a more accurate system for producing fawns during the optimal time of the year.  If this is true then that must mean that we are overthinking an already perfect schedule of events in an effort to predict the best window to harvest a mature buck. I will do my best to simplify this schedule based on my personal observations and anecdotal evidence.

October 25th-31st, Seeking Phase: This period begins the seeking phase for the whitetail bucks. There may be a few older does that enter into their estrous cycle but it will be limited.  However, if she does enter estrous it is very likely that she will be accompanied by an upper age class buck.  If there is a cold snap this week it is one of your best chances of the season to kill a fully mature buck 5 ½ years old or older.

November 1st-7th, Chase Phase: If you want to see a lot of general buck activity this is consistently the best time frame of the year to do so.  There will be a lot of chasing, grunting, fighting, etc. during this week.  Provided you have decent weather this is your best opportunity to kill a respectable buck as many age classes of bucks will be very active.

November 8th-15th, Increasing Lock Down: General deer sightings will be reduced. Many of your herds’ does will be entering estrous; increasing in quantity to the peak of approx. Nov. 15th in the Midwest. Mature bucks will be killed during this time frame usually when they transition between or accompany estrous does.  A good cold snap that keeps the doe herd active can produce exciting hunts but warm weather will bring it to a stand-still.

November 16th-21st, Decreasing Lock Down: The number of estrous does will decrease dramatically daily. Mature bucks will be killed during this time frame when they transition between estrous does or accompany them. Cold weather becomes more likely and usually provides for productive hunts.  Food sources become active again with deer seeking recovery and family groups of does begin to regroup.

November 22nd-30th Post Peak Seeking:  To the casual observer the rut is over.  The deer herd seems to go back to their normal routines.  My feeling is that this is one of the best times of the year to kill the biggest and baddest your area has to offer.  The chaos of the rut is over, and this could bring out some upper age class bucks that aren’t as active participants in the “main event”.  There will also be some very aggressive mature bucks, who didn’t get their fill during the peak breeding, who could still be on the prowl.  If you watch the internet closely this period produces pairs of giant bucks locked up from fighting every year.  That should tell us something.

There are no hard dates in the natural world so these periods could likely vary a day or two by region or state, but this is a schedule of activity that I am confident is consistent year in and year out.  None of these periods will be a flurry of activity every day. Ultimately, there is no “one week” window that is going to be amazing every year. More realistically there will be several small windows that will be riddled with buck activity within a larger month-long window better defined as “The Rut”. I can say with near absolute certainty that during any of these time frames the following will apply: If there is a high-pressure cold snap or a strong frontal system that shakes up a weather pattern, people will experience the rut in all its’ glory. If it is unseasonably warm or stuck in a constant weather pattern for days on end, the rut will appear weak. Rest assured that no matter what the moon, the weather, or the rut prediction calendar says: the rut will go on as planned.

Corey J. Wilkinson

Last Updated: November 19th, 2015

12 thoughts on “Overthinking the Whitetail Rut…

  1. I am 52, I’ve shot my share of big buck,, more than any 3 of my friends I know, call me lucky?? I was born with a gift , from God himself!!!besides the rut, hunters need , to use there brains against these ,,, whitetail deer!! whitetail deer!!think like you have to survive!!!!!

  2. Corey,
    Love reading your blogs. Great information. I agree that daylight is the triggering factor for the rut. What most people don’t realize is when the weather is warmer most of your rutting activity will happen at night. Colder weather will get the does on their feet and moving more often, however if the weather is warm they are more likely to move at dawn and dusk when the temps are more tolerable. Here in S Tx we don’t even start looking for rut activity until the 2nd week of December. Keep on sharing your thoughts with us. You have great words of wisdom to share. Thank you for the helpful information. Whitetail hunting is a continuous learning curve!!

  3. Can’t say much! From the beginning to the end you are right on my 30+ years of hunting.

    My motto is hunt everyday of Novemeber that you can and every other day you hunt is a bonus!

  4. Very good artical!!! It described my bow hunting season to the T!!! I live in central Wisconsin and everything in this artical is 100% accurate information comparing it to Wisconsin. You should add the times of the month that you grunt, rattle, and hang certain sents. That’s information a lot of hunters could use.

  5. One of the things iv always been told when I was a growing up was alot about the weather…and I have notice that during the warmer days where I live deer during “rut” don’t really move alot…I’m not a trophy hunter by all means…if its brown it’s down…I get just as excited about a small doe or button buck as I do when I see a monster..but as I said the weather does have a lot to do with it..colder the better!!!…thank you for all that information!!!

  6. I live, work and hunt out on eastern long island,ny and the bowhunting here, believe it or not, is outstanding. Much of eastern Suffolk County has the perfect combination of prime food sources and cover that allows whitetails to flourish here. The rut can get absolutely nuts most years where it’s not uncommon to have 140″ bucks chasing does right through the middle of a neighborhood or 20 yrds from one of my jobsites while I’m firing my nailgun. This season though has really been erratic at best regarding the rut and it seems to be a common theme throughout the northeast and I’ve heard rumblings of the same thing in other parts of the country. This can’t be a coincidence, anyone have any thoughts on what the reasoning may be?

  7. On the edge of my food plot sits a big old wild apple tree that has had scrapes under it every yr that I’ve owned it (14) except one. I have a camera on the plot and had a big 10 ptr many times, all at night. This buck walked by that tree several times but did not make a scrape. There was one small scrape there around 11/20. Unfortunately my batteries dies on Dec. 9th, but between the 9th and the 11 th when I checked again there were two more scrapes, another small one and right between the two small ones was a huge one. I filmed the 10 ptr again on the 12th of Dec when he went right to the scrpes and checked them, so bucks were still scraping in mid Dec, I hunt in northern NY and we did have a very warm fall. My question is this, why would a mature buck bypass a popular spot and wait until mid Dec to make a scrape? All activity from early nov until after the season, Dec 13 was at night. I believe the coyote activity at night is what keeps the deer resting during the day and moving at night. Thanks for all the great info.

  8. After 40 plus years of hunting whitetails……………the RUT occurs during the same time periods each year, I hear, the weather was too warm, there was no rut this year. Funny, Florida deer have young ones, Every year………..I believe Moon phases can indeed affect intensity. But has NOTHING to do with timing. Length of days is the key……….if it’s warm or hot, they work in the coolness of darkness, when we are asleep….We don’t see it………..I have noticed , in the area I hunt, Veterans day is one of the best days to be in your stand. This past season, 28 sightings of deer that day. Although the numbers differ,the same has been true every year where I hunt….
    It’s really simple. From the last week of October, thru the 3rd week of November, be out every day you can………I’ve never known anyone to kill a deer while at the house….Well, maybe a few….lol….

  9. @Terry Merchant: It may be a little unusual for a popular scrape tree to get ignored during the peak of the breeding season; however, the timing of the scrape showing up in early December actually has a solid explanation. If a whitetail doe is not successfully bred during her first cycle she would come into estrous again approx. 28 days later. The more unbalanced the buck to doe ratio is in a given area, the more does will re-enter estrous later in the season. This usually causes several spikes in rutting activity (particularly scraping activity) in early December and January. Additionally, fawn does that enter their estrous cycle for the first time, rarely do during the primary rut. They are usually late bloomers who will come into heat in December or January. I have witnessed this resurgence in rut activity during the late season every year that I have hunted whitetails.

    You have made an interesting observation in regards to coyote activity affecting daylight movement. This is something that I have personally never thought about. I would be interested to learn more about that philosophy. There are more and more studies out there showing the impact that coyotes have on the deer population, so implying that they have impact on movement patterns is not that far of a stretch.

    Corey J. Wilkinson

  10. My experience deer hunting for 25 years when looking for the “rut” is yes it occurs basically the same general period every year. The biggest deterrent or thing to blame this season 2015-2016 for the “lack” of rut activity you cover in your article – The Weather. I know bucks are there because I have lots of deer cam pictures of them, but mostly night time.
    This year the weather has done it to us all. It’s been warm, cool, rainy, not cool, hot or somewhat cool or hot again for a couple of days at a time all season, but overall mostly warm and certainly everything but consistent.
    So mother nature has done what it’s done, and I think as has been mentioned there has been a rut, but likely when we don’t or can’t hint – at night.
    That just means they’ll be bigger next season, so keep dreaming, they’re out there.

  11. Has anyone else noticed an extremely sporatic rut this year? I hunt on a small farm in Adams County where we almost always see tons of chasing every year. This year, however, I had almost a dozen sits in the first and second weeks in November with little to no activity. Granted, we have had a few monsters come through on trail cam, including 1 this gun season that my cousin attempted to shoot but the primer in his muzzleloader was wet. Scrapes have been hit hard, while rubs have been rare. Just wondering if anyone else has seen similar behavior?

  12. i have 39 bowhunting years under my belt,and while i dont consider myself a whitetail guru,i have built a indept understanding thru some reading,and literally countless hours afeild thru out the year studing highly pressured deer.with buck/doe ratios that are completely off the charts.typically here the pre rut is common based during octobers first cold snap,with big buck activities,.with some hitting the ground.then in nov i witness some typical expected bloodboiling activities,that were then brougt to a seemingly finnish by above avg temps.and when dec rolled around and it seemed like the rut was over,unbeleiveably during dec it picked back up and i even harvested a couple mature rutting bucks.and to top it off,i killed one mature buck and a young first racked buck, as they were chasing young does.it is obviuosly the severe out of sinc ratio that is the cause of a prolonged trickle rut. nj is working on working on bringing it closer to normal by limiting antlered tags and offering limitless doe tags that are zone specific,and its working as far as the increased mature bucks with racks to match

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