White-tailed deer: hunting the rut

Staff Written Sports

By Alvin Richardson

staff writer

Firearms season for deer has just gotten underway and there’s lots of possibilities out there right now but many hunters are already thinking about when the rut might begin because that is the year’s best opportunity to get Big Ed on the ground.

If you are just starting out as a hunter and are unsure about the term “rut” here’s a quick, simplified definition.  It is the period of time when bucks are chasing does for breeding purposes.  Because that is the primary instinct of the male whitetail during these weeks, they let their defenses down to a great degree and are not as careful about when and where they show themselves.  Although this activity is the essence of what we are discussing, the rut can also be defined in much broader terms from the pre-rut all the way into January when secondary breeding takes place.

The actual timing of the rut is subjective and is affected by several factors.  The number of does in close proximity, the number of bucks (both young and mature), the onset of cooler weather and, according to some studies, the moon phase may even have some effect.  Most of the time hunters can easily tell if the rut is on in their area simply by observing how the bucks are acting.  There will be more sightings during daylight hours, bucks running frantically through the woods looking for the does, and possibly some rivalry between bucks that are competing for the does that are in estrus.

The best and simplest advice to follow when the rut is beginning or is in full swing is to find the does and most of the time that will be where the best food sources are located.  For this area of the state in November those primary food sources are typically white oak, water oak and red oak acorns.  I don’t know if it is true on everyone’s property, but I think there’s a pretty good acorn crop this year.  A lot of the white oaks I’ve seen are thick with acorns and there also seems to be plenty of the smaller water oak acorns.  Of course you may have food plots that will serve the same purpose but the main idea is to find the does and the guys will not be far behind.

Another good idea is to position yourself where you can command a view of lots of terrain.  Find a place where you can see natural crossing areas, lanes where deer travel or large areas like power lines and clear cuts.  You probably give yourself the best chance in places where you can observe these large areas.  

Hunting the rut also means you have longer hours to hunt because the bucks are not shying away from open areas during daylight.  They have one thing on their mind and their normal tendency for caution is gone during this period of time.  It is not unusual for mature bucks to be taken mid-day while the rut is on so get in the stand and stay there as long as you can handle it.

Even with the deck stacked in your favor (relatively speaking) during the rut, lots of knowledgeable, avid hunters will come out of the woods with nothing to show for their efforts.  Chasing whitetail deer is a sport that is one part craft, one part experience and one part luck.  You need all three of these variables on your side in order to bag a decent animal and you might need two parts luck to put that trophy on your wall.

(Send comments or questions to dar8589@bellsouth.net)

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