Timing the Whitetail Rut

Every region of North America has unique whitetail rut dates. Here is how to determine the rut times in your area.

Timing the Whitetail Rut

What is the whitetail rut forecast for your area? Studious deer hunters have more surefire ways to determine likely start and peak dates for themselves.

Count Backward to the Rut

Go afield during the spring months, normally May through June (perhaps earlier or later in the South), depending on latitude and hunting pressure during open seasons. Note when you see the first fawn seen tottering behind Mama. This will help establish a ballpark figure to work around. Write the date down and count backwards 200 days, the average whitetail’s gestation period. Two hundred days before a fawn is born it was conceived by a rutting buck.

This is most accurate in northern regions where fawns must arrive within a certain timeframe (thus, a more defined rut) to assure maximum survival rates. In temperate latitudes, birth dates aren’t as critical, except in Southwest regions where birth must coincide with summer monsoons to assure ample nutrition. Many Southern ruts come and go for months, sometimes well into January or February. Interestingly they begin in July for some regions of sunny Florida.

Look for Active Scrapes

The real indicator is what occurs in the field immediately preceding rutting festivities. Astute bowhunters determine exactly what’s happening—and how to approach the hunt—by paying attention to scrape activity. Some whitetails (typically matriarchal does) scrape year round or well outside traditional rut dates, but that’s exceptional. You may see scrapes as early as late September, typically youngsters sowing their oats. Such sites are worth keeping an eye on, but they are of minor importance for intelligence-gathering purposes.

By mid October in most whitetail habitat you’ll see more scrapes along field or abandoned road edges, ridge lines, or saddles where travel’s concentrated. Most are visited at night. What these scrapes indicate is that bucks' hormones are beginning to stir, and they are anxious to begin rutting activities. Now’s the time to keep close tabs on every scrape discovered, especially larger territorial scrapes utilized by more than one animal.

Note that scrapes can be part of territorial establishment, but more often serve as communication centers for all area deer. The primary function is to attract estrous does that deposit scent and move on. Bucks drop in occasionally, discovering hot scent and trailing the doe hoping to breed. In any case, the sudden appearance of active scrapes means it’s time to spend every possible moment on stand. Deer are moving readily. Early in the game is also the time for rattling and grunting success, as this is also when bucks establish pecking orders.

Don’t Give Up Before the Final Phase

You’ll normally witness a progressive escalation of scrape activity for perhaps the next two to three weeks as does actually begin to slip into estrus, sparking increased movement, most importantly increased daytime movement. And then action will abruptly shut down. Action at scrapes seems to completely cease, the rut seems to have ended. This is common during the rut’s peak; bucks are camped out on receptive does, movement comes to a standstill. Many hunters call it a season and give up. This is a mistake. Hang in there, and keep an eye on those scrapes!

Given a few days, sometimes a week or slightly more, the majority of receptive does will be bred. But bucks are not yet satisfied. This is what they’ve waited all year for. You can count on activity at scrapes picking up once again. The final phase of the rut initiates another peak in buck movement. You’ll never know if you’ve quit watching those scrapes.

Pay close attention to what’s happening around you, and you’ll hit the rut right on schedule.


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