Rut Hunting Tips | Take Advantage of the October Rut
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could ask Google when the best time to hunt the rut is and get a rut forecast like the one your weather app spits out with location specific data? It sure would! Unfortunately, the year is only 2018 and while there’s been tremendous leaps in science and tech, that app does not exist – yet. Even if this might be a thing of the future, there’s still a lot of grey area when it comes to defining the term “rut” amongst hunters. There’s the scientific definition which holds the term “rut” to mean the physical breeding timeframe of whitetail deer. And then there’s the loosely defined version of rut, which is commonly tossed around when hunters discuss any type of increased activity and behaviors on display before, during, and after the actual breeding phase. You see, one hunter’s definition of the whitetail rut could be vastly different than the next hunters. Let us explain.
The Rut Vs. Rutting Activity
When it comes to the rut, it is correctly defined or talked about when bucks are breeding does (more on the specific behaviors associated with the rut in a bit). Rutting activity on the other hand is simply the activities and deer behavior most hunters associate with the rut, but often occur before breeding takes place. Depending on the region, this time period known as the pre-rut is typically a few weeks prior to the peak breeding dates and often impacted by certain environmental and physiological triggers and suppressors. Most commonly, factors such as weather, food, hormones, buck-to-doe ratio, pressure (predators), and photoperiod all play a major role in the type of rutting activity a hunter might experience. These triggers and suppressors are also the main culprits in terms of why you might experience an intense rut one year and more of a trickle rut the next.
The rut itself has plenty of scientific research and data to show that peak breeding dates hardly vary from year to year. In other words, the rut takes place during the same time every year whether you’re seeing it or not. Often the triggers and suppressors are to blame for the amount of daylight activity a hunter might witness from their treestand. It’s not that the breeding isn’t taking place, but rather the activity may be happening under the cover of darkness, for instance if the temperature is warmer than normal.
Pre Rut Activity vs. Rut Activity
In reality, the pre rut can define any time period prior to the rut, but for the sake of this article and what most hunters associate with the pre rut, we’ll define it as the three to four weeks directly leading up to peak breeding. In the weeks leading up to peak breeding, you’ll notice bucks becoming more active and leaving more sign as a result of their rising testosterone levels. Scrapes and rubs are the most common signs you’ll see in the woods and you’ll probably start to get more bucks on your trail cameras as well. The pre rut can be a sensational time to be in the woods, especially if a cold front hits during this time period. For the most part, bucks are becoming more active in their core home range during this time, but don’t have the overwhelming urge to venture outside of it yet. For this reason, the pre rut is one of the best times to target hit list bucks you have on camera, as they’re likely still in the area. Often, you’ll notice younger bucks getting an early jump and see them bumping does around and being pesky before you’ll catch a mature buck doing the same thing. Now, it’s just a matter of time before their rising testosterone gets the best of them.
Once the rut is on, it’s anybody’s guess as to where your hit lister may be roaming. Does are now hot and the bucks know it and once they catch a trail of a receptive one, the chase is on. As more and more does become receptive, bucks will curb their scrape and rub making duties to focus on breeding. You’ll see more bucks right on the heels of does and may even be lucky enough to witness the courting act from your stand. If you’re not so lucky to watch the actual breeding take place, you’ll likely see bucks tending does and bedding near them as to make sure another buck doesn’t come in and steal what he’s worked so hard for.
Photoperiod Rules the Rut
As was mentioned earlier, the rut takes place during the same time every year, however, it most certainly varies from region to region. In most of the country (except in southern states), the timing of the rut is determined by photoperiod (amount of daylight in a day). As the days shorten, it triggers hormone levels to rise, and thus, the need to breed. Photoperiod rules the rut in most of the country because it’s incredibly important for does to develop the fetus and drop their fawns when conditions allow for a healthy upbringing. Fawns need to be born into a favorable environment from a temperature, cover, and forage perspective, while also being allowed the maximum time to grow before the onset of the next winter.
“The deer in GA I think are at their best time to be manipulated and hunted now. The peak breading days are not here but the bucks are anxious and they’re cruising. We’ve found from the last several years that this week (the last week & a half of October) leading up to Halloween, after many years of hunting in GA I truly think it’s the best week to hunt. Not because they’re actively breeding, but because the (mature) bucks are cruising. Yet, they’re still hungry so you can still get them eating in the food plots and even coming to the Big & J (where legal). So, now’s the time get out there and hunt! Happy Hunting.” – Michael Waddell
An October Rut?
Unfortunately, in the South, the rut doesn’t always follow the same pattern as the North and the breeding dates aren’t as cut and dry. In southern states like Georgia, Texas, Florida, and Mississippi for example, the photoperiod change on a daily basis is much less dramatic and the climate is much less severe. Though you might expect some continuity between the southern states when it comes to the timing of the rut, this is not the case.
In our home state of Georgia alone, the rut varies from as early as mid-October in the Southeast portion of the state, to late-December just a few counties away in Southwestern Georgia, and everywhere in between for the rest of the state (Georgia Rut Map). As you can see, there’s likely other factors in play (likely genetics) that cause the regional discrepancies of the rut amongst southern states.
Rut Hunting Strategies
Since rutting activity, and more specifically certain buck behavior is so intense during late October, certain rut hunting strategies and tactics can be very effective. Take time to review and consider these tactics.
Deer routinely use scrape sites to communicate, and peak scrape activity happens in late October. Learn how to make a mock scrape to attract them to trail camera sites, or within bow/crossbow range of your stand.
Besides mock scrape scent, other scents like doe estrous and buck tarsal scents can be used in tandem with tactics rattling and/or using deer decoys. Read this full guide on deer scents to understand which might be right for your next hunt.
Tricking a buck’s senses can quickly turn a slow hunt around for a hunter in the rut. Besides scent, appealing to a buck’s hearing by using certain deer calls during the rut can summon bucks seemingly on demand. Learn which calls you should have in your hunting pack specifically for the rut ramp up!
Grunt calls and bleat calls are effective at drawing in bucks, but nothing can reach out and hit a buck’s ears like two antlers being slammed together. Rattling during the rut, combined with some other tactics, calls, and scents has worked time and time again for us. Check out our tips below!