Takeaways to Help with Southern Rut Hunting
While most people across the country have given up post rut hunting pursuits to focus on winter activities and the holiday season, southern deer hunters haven’t thrown in the towel yet. In fact, the whitetail rut is just picking up in southern states, or in some cases, it may not have even started yet. That means you have plenty of time to still fill a deer tag and the freezer too. So if you’re hoping to do some southern rut hunting, here are some tips for you this deer season.
Southern Rut Hunting Timeframe
The Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) has reported on this topic in much more detail. Generally, there is a gradient of peak rutting behavior for white-tailed deer from north to south. Whitetails in Canada and the northern U.S. generally have peak ruts in October or November. These northern deer have ruts that are driven by photoperiod (i.e., length of daylight), which results in fawns being born and reared in a relatively narrow window of the spring when conditions are right. If timed correctly, fawns have enough time over the summer to grow adequate body size and fat reserves to make it through the harsh winter conditions.
In the south, though, those conditions obviously don’t hold up. The annual temperature gets warmer and the food availability usually increases as you move southward, which removes the need to squeeze breeding and fawn rearing into a narrow timeframe. Deer could technically reproduce all year long. This means as you move south, the rut tends to be later or last longer. A deer in northern Mississippi might have a peak breeding season in December, while deer closer to the Gulf Coast have a peak rut in January or beyond. Meanwhile, some states have some really bizarre peak rut periods. For example, QDMA reports that deer in Florida may have a peak rut any time between August and February (in other words, half the year), depending on where they occur in the state. But without getting buried in the details, the key takeaway is that southern rut hunting is widely variable and you generally have a long time to make a southern deer hunt happen.
Challenges and Opportunities with Southern Rut Hunting
Now that you know how strange the whitetail rut can be in the south, here are some tips to make the most of it this season.
As we discussed, the timing of the southern whitetail rut is a bit unpredictable. It can occur over a much longer time period, which makes planning vacation schedules to hunt those magical days even tougher. But if you can spend your weekends in the woods observing deer behavior or use trail cameras to your advantage, you can see how the rut might be progressing. Here are some good deer rutting behavior signs.
- You notice a decrease in scrape activity. Bucks make scrapes in the pre-rut primarily to communicate with other deer. But as the rut approaches, they tend to only visit them at night, focusing on chasing does instead. If you’re failing to get many daylight pictures of bucks on scrapes, it could be a good indication the rut is on.
- Bucks seem to be on the move during daylight hours. During the rut, bucks spend more time on their feet chasing does, so you may notice an uptick of buck movement on trail cams, particularly downwind of doe bedding areas or in pinch points and funnels.
- Does start acting more skittish. Although a balanced herd ratio is ideal for the best rutting behavior, you can get clues from does. As the rut picks up, bucks start chasing does relentlessly, which can cause them to act pretty nervous each time they enter a food plot.
While most southern rut hunting would feel downright hot for a northern hunter, winter does present some colder conditions than most southerners are immediately used to. Make sure you dress appropriately for how you are acclimated. If you were born and raised in the south, use clothing that keeps you warm enough to stick around all day. If you’re a northerner trying an out of state hunt, pack multiple layers of lightweight hunting clothing in your hunting gear to keep you from sweating too much.
Weather also affects deer movement during the rut. While they still need to feed and move around each day, they can overheat if it is too hot. If you’re hunting during the rut and it’s 15 degrees warmer than is seasonally normal, you can bet the deer will be warm too. Try hunting near water sources (e.g., creeks, ponds, etc.) in these conditions. On the other hand, if it’s 15 degrees cooler than normal, deer should be on their feet and you have a good chance of encountering one. Likewise, wind speeds/directions and precipitation can also play a role. Knowing how deer react to local conditions will help pinpoint the best time to be hunting.
Many people say that if you can kill a deer in the southeast, you can kill a deer anywhere. Whitetails in these states are heavily pressured and have been for centuries, making them pretty skittish animals. Luckily, there are some ways to reduce that issue. For example, try going out for a southern archery hunt instead of during a firearms season. Archery seasons are usually significantly longer (giving you more opportunities to connect with a deer) and tend to attract fewer people, thus reducing the pressure factor. Also, be willing to check out out-of-the-way spots, which most hunters might ignore. For example, pick your way through a thicket to a secluded doe bedding area or use a canoe to get to a swamp island. A reclusive and mature buck may be waiting as your reward.
In the end, southern rut hunting all comes down to time spent on stand or in the field, much like deer hunting just about anywhere. If you do your homework, pick some high percentage areas, and put the time in, you should be able to fill your tag on a nice southern buck. But if it doesn’t happen – because let’s face it, it’s still hunting – being outdoors is never a waste of time. Good luck out there!