Deer Hunting the Second Rut
Widespread rut activity is slowing down significantly and fewer bucks are running uncontrollably around the woods seeking out does. The peak rut, the few weeks each deer hunting season marked on every hunter’s calendar, has come to end. The primary rut may have passed, but mature whitetails are always keeping their nose keen for estrous does. The second rut, how it is often described, is a short window of time when select “does” come back into estrous. Biologically and ecologically speaking this is more of a continuation of the rut, a second peak rather than a “second rut”. Either way you look at it, estrous does mean prowling bucks. Deer hunting the second rut is an opportunity to fill any remaining buck tags in the late season.
What is the Second Rut?
The second rut is a period of time about one month after the peak rut in which fawns and unbred does come into estrous. Although not as intense as the main rut, this brief period of time in early- to mid-December can sometimes provide a burst of rutting action.
The term “second rut” implies that there are two distinct whitetail ruts. In fact, there is actually one whitetail rut with many different phases of the rut. The second rut gets its name because it is another noticeable peak in deer activity driven by unbred does and fawns coming into estrous. Similar to how the pre-rut is a phase of the rut, the second rut is a phase, often the concluding phase of one complete whitetail rutting cycle.
So what factors are at play that brings together the second peak in breeding? The first factor is unbred does. In areas where the buck-to-doe ratio is high (in favor of more does), there simply are too few bucks available to breed all the does. Any does that were unbred, either missed or unsuccessfully bred, come back into estrous approximately 28 days after their first estrous cycle. A strong second rut is not always because of an unbalanced deer herd, but you can see second rut success in big woods areas for the same reason. Vast open timber country may not have an overabundance of does but it may be that bucks struggle with finding every receptive doe during the rut.
The whitetail rut is driven by timing. Timing in the sense that the drop of fawns in the late spring coincides with optimal growing conditions in the wild. This ensures, and has evolved, to maximize the long-term survive of the majority of fawns. This being the case, the timing of the main rut is on average the same time each year according to research from Penn State University’s Deer-Forest Study. Northern states experience a fairly consistent rut cycle each year because of nature’s desire to have the majority of fawns born with adequate resources for survival. The southern states, however, can have a far less consistent rutting cycle because environmental forces play less of a factor for fawn survival than in the north.
Northern states can see upwards of 75% of all breeding during the week or two of the peak rut. In contrast, deer in southern states vary breeding windows over the course of several weeks to more than a month since there is a lack of ecological pressure, which allows for more variation in length and duration of the rut. So how does this play into the second rut and deer hunting? Simple, in northern states, if you know when the peak rut is, generally sometime between late October and the end of November, then you add 28 days or so to that to get the timing of the second rut.
The second factor with second rut success is fawns. Not all fawn does come into estrous and of those that do not will be successfully bred. However, from a deer hunting perspective, they still put out the same buck enticing perfume to bring those mature whitetails back out into action. Quality habitat plays a big factor with fawns coming into estrous. With quality habitat, fawn does can put on enough weight to be ready to breed. Weight is a limiting factor for fawn breeding as nature’s way of ensuring a fawn bred doe will be able to support herself and fetus throughout the winter successfully. Fawn breeding in southern states is far rarer than in northern states, where it tends to be a main driver of the second rut.
If fawns are driving the second rut, it makes for much better second rut success. Fawns are more likely to make a mistake and lure a buck with them. Fawns in estrous are going to be pursued viciously in the late season by bucks. Not only is this a new experience for them but one that will have them confused and more susceptible at leading a buck into open country or into known danger. A welcome sign for those of us deer hunting the second rut.
Buck Behavior During the Second Rut
Intensity is the main difference in buck behavior with the second rut. Sure, bucks will be cruising for does that are coming back into estrous but the chaotic chases and unrestricted deer movement during the peak rut will be greatly reduced. Instead, buck behavior will be more reserved and shorter lived, which impacts how you hunt the second rut.
Bucks, having already gone through the peak rut, are worn out. Here you will see very few immature bucks on the prowl because they have either tired from the excitement of the rut or decided that winter preparation is more important than chasing tail. Mature bucks make up most of the breeding that occurs in the second rut, which is good news if you are still deer hunting this time of year. These bucks have the experience to pace themselves throughout the different phases of the rut and the knowledge to know that there will be a second chance at a few does. High pressured bucks, although, will not risk themselves and will still move primarily after dark. Even with a hot doe nearby, mature bucks will restrict their movement to narrow slices of time as opposed to chasing all day.
Commonly, bucks will revisit scrapes during the second rut. It is not unusual to see old scrapes rebirthed and even new scrapes created in areas that hold mature bucks and the right conditions for a healthy second rut. Again deer hunting pressure plays a huge role. Unpressured bucks will work scrape lines in daylight hours but public land bucks will stay nocturnal.
Property management also plays a role in buck behavior during the second rut. Private lands that are practicing good management including quality habitat management, managing buck-to-doe ratios and focusing on age structure are set up for above normal second rut success. The second rut on public land still happens but it is more variable from year to year. Areas with good buck-to-doe ratios will have plenty of mature bucks competing for any second rut does and places with above average habitat will see fawn does driving second rut interest.
What you can count on is that the second rut will bring with it a continuation of some rut hunting tactics. Mature bucks are on alert for estrous does and if you know how to hunt the second rut, it is worth deer hunting in the late season.
Deer Hunting the Second Rut
The second rut has a nice ring to it and sure any extra help you can get to this point is a bonus, but the overall best deer hunting tip for this time of year is to focus on late season deer hunting tactics.
How to hunt the second rut is much like the rest of your post-rut whitetail hunting strategy and late season deer hunting. Weather is colder and deer are exhausted from the peak rut and are looking to replenish before winter sets in. Deer hunting food sources will be key this time of year.
If the conditions are right and a second rut peak hits in your area, you will want to be deer hunting around does. In general, bucks are down in weight from chasing does, likewise, does have struggled to bulk up with all the rut pressures. Both are looking to put on the feed bag to get through winter. Hunting late season food sources is your best bet to find does and fawns, some of which may be coming back into estrous. Food sources this time of year are going to have does and bucks regardless of a second rut, but any estrous doe in those areas will likely increase your chances of filling your buck tag.
An advantage to late season deer hunting is that deer are easier to locate. The rut coupled with hunting pressure keeps whitetails on a much smaller home range now than during most of the rest of the year. As a result, once you find deer they will be in the same relative area. Pockets of does and fawns can spell success hunting late season bucks if even one of them comes into estrous. Focus on known deer locations and keep pounding them throughout December.
Spend your second rut spirits focusing on cover near food sources. Does are not going to wonder far from protective cover in the late season. These hideouts can bring together groups of does and bucks know this. Mature whitetails will patrol these areas seeking out a second rut doe. Deer prefer heavy cover near quality food sources because after a tiresome fall, conserving energy is important. These late season concentrations of does can include river bottoms, mast producing saddles and protective woodlots near agricultural fields. Deer hunting these areas combined with the following deer hunting tips for the second rut can help to close the deal in the late season.
8 Deer Hunting Tips for the Second Rut
- Find the Does. The number one tip is finding deer, which is not all that difficult as mentioned above if you know where to look. Hunt concentrations of does, typically found near protective cover adjacent to food sources. If you want more second rut action, try deer hunting a property that has a skewed buck-to-doe ratio in favor of the does, which may see a second rut
- Sit on Funnels. After you have found the does, hunting the second rut for bucks requires finding funnels. These are deer trails and travel corridors bottlenecked by abrupt terrain features, which link to doe Mature bucks will use benches and other areas like these to conserve energy and stay hidden while they search for estrous does.
- Be Ready. Second rut action is short and not widespread. In other words, a buck may catch wind of a second rut doe and be on the move quickly, without warning. Do not get caught flatfooted. A buck may come running by at any point while you are hunting the second rut and that may be your only chance.
- Look for New Buck Sign. Mature bucks are going to revisit old scrapes or work new rubs. These fresh rut signs are clues that a nice buck is still in rut mode. Signs like these are good areas to attack with rut hunting tactics like rattling.
- Start Deer Calling Again. Deer calling in the second rut yields results. Dominant bucks are looking for that last score before winter. Rattling, grunting and even doe bleats can be effective particularly with highly realistic deer calls like those from Knight and Hale.
- Remember the Fawns. Remember the other factor of the second rut? Fawns this time of year can be a big driver of the second rut in certain areas you are deer hunting. If you hunt around them, it may be sufficient to draw a buck out of the brush.
- Manufacture the Second Rut. Using estrous scents are a way to jump start a buck that may not have been thinking about the second rut. Target good locations and deer concentrations to make it perceived as real as possible. Soak the area with deer scent and sit back and wait.
- Keep Hunting. The rut is comprised of many phases and while the peak has passed, the second rut can give you that extra little sense of hope when hunting late season bucks. If you hit it right, the second rut can produce but you will never know if you are not out there hunting.
Consider the second rut as another opportunity, albeit merely an extension of the broader whitetail rut, to tag out on a mature whitetail. Buck behavior is less intense and shorter lived than the peak rut, but dominate, mature bucks are out there waiting for any second action they can find. Deer hunting the second rut is not all that different, generally, then deer hunting in the late season except for a few tips that can improve your second rut success.