Choosing the Best Week to Hunt the Whitetail Rut

Schedule your whitetail rut vacation for peak daylight buck activity.

Choosing the Best Week to Hunt the Whitetail Rut

For years, I relied on a true deer expert and legend, the late Charles Alsheimer, to select rut-hunt dates. His predictions, based on a 15-year research and data-collection project in which he teamed with other experts to better understand deer breeding, coincided with actual chasing dates when I took my largest whitetail on public land in 2014. If I recall, he predicted the best hunting would be November 8-10. I killed my buck on November 10.

Timing a rut hunt is a debatable topic. In this column, I’ll discuss some metrics that can help you choose dates when daylight buck movement will most likely peak.

Moon

Outfitter Joe Conyers of Conyers Outdoors in Cuba, Kansas, shared his strategy for scheduling clients for the best possible rut hunts.

“I use and believe in the Deer Hunters’ MoonGuide,” he began. “I go by the red moon days (those days when the moon is directly overhead or underfoot within a couple hours of dark). Since I committed to following them religiously, our success rates have climbed substantially on 150-inch-and-larger bucks. We were at 45 to 50%, and now we’re at 75 to 80%. Typically, I put clients over doe-busy food sources, and within a day or two of the red moon, it’s very likely that some of our mature bucks will appear during daylight.

“If you try the MoonGuide for two seasons and also pay attention to social-media newsfeeds, you’ll start to see that there’s really something to the red moon. I’ve been getting MoonGuides ever since the beginning, and they annually hold true. I’d say 80-some percent of the upper-class bucks are killed within a day or two of the red moon.

“Things are typically a bit different for pressured whitetails, but non-pressured deer follow the MoonGuide like clockwork. Regardless, it’s a good thing to go by because it denotes peak movement times. On pressured ground, you just might have to get closer to bedding areas in order to capitalize, where non-pressured deer are susceptible at or closer to food sources.”

Outfitter Joe Conyers believes in choosing rut hunting dates using the Hunter’s MoonGuide. This 170-inch buck taken last fall during the November red moon indicates that it’s an effective way to plan.
Outfitter Joe Conyers believes in choosing rut hunting dates using the Hunter’s MoonGuide. This 170-inch buck taken last fall during the November red moon indicates that it’s an effective way to plan.

Kip Adams, a wildlife biologist with the QDMA, shared some thoughts regarding the moon and rutting behavior.

“It’s a very interesting topic for hunters because we’re all looking for edges so that we can maximize our success rates," Adams said. "A lot of studies and research have been done, and it all started with conception dates. All of the research has made it very clear that the moon has nothing to do with actual conception dates. Those dates remain very consistent, year to year, regardless of the moon phases."

“Now, I’m not saying the moon has nothing to do with whitetail movement patterns,” he said. “That’s what deer hunters are most interested in anyway. It doesn’t matter when the does are bred. We want to know when mature bucks are on their feet and moving so that we can encounter them.

“Even during the rut, the research that has been conducted with radio-collared whitetails shows that deer primarily follow their crepuscular pattern of dawn and dusk movement. Although, Dr. Marcus Lashley with the University of Florida has data proving that moon phases subtly affect deer movement times. Dr. Mickey Hellickson’s work in Texas shows the opposite results. It appears that there might be some impact, but likely not as much as some might believe.”

Weather

Personally, I believe the weather has a strong bearing on daylight deer movement, in some locations, during the rut. However, while hunting in climates that are traditionally warmer during the rut, bucks seem to be less affected by heat.

For example, temperatures reached 77 degrees just hours after I killed a 150-inch Oklahoma buck. Another example was a public land Kansas giant my brother rattled in at midday when it was 100 degrees. In that same area, my mother encountered a 170-inch typical in broad daylight at noon on November 18 when the temperature was 77 degrees. Lastly, my wife and I were hanging a trail camera in northern Texas when a mature 8-pointer pushed a doe past us in 80 degrees temps. Those instances and others tell me that big bucks can be had in warm November weather.

“For scheduling clients,” Conyers said, “we can’t plan for the weather that far in advance. I’ve found that even with poor weather, the red moon days are generally still better than the week before or the week after them. If cooler weather and the red moon days align, I’ve seen deer movement get even better. Naturally, deer move better in cooler weather. Even without the red moon, cooler weather in late October can get the bucks up and moving around more during daylight.” 

Further Considerations

Conyers urges hunters to think differently about the rut’s lockdown phase.

“When the rut hits a lull in activity,” he explained, “folks believe mature bucks aren’t moving at all. This isn’t exactly true. The moon phase is changing, and that, in turn, has deer moving at different times. A lack of daylight encounters often means the big mature bucks are moving primarily at night. Granted, you always have a wild chance of anything happening during the rut.”

Sex ratios affect rut movement, too. In areas with one buck to every 20 does, mature bucks need not move very far to connect with a hot doe, so they’ll often be less visible during daylight and perhaps less receptive to calling. In areas such as northern Texas where I hunted last December — more mature bucks on camera than does — the mature guys will spend lots of time roaming. One mature buck, for example, was captured twice within 30 hours on trail cameras placed more than two miles apart.

Selecting Dates

“If I were to suggest the best week to hunt the rut, it’s the days immediately before, during and after the red moon in November,” Conyers continued. “This year (2020), it will be the second week of November. I understand that not everyone has the luxury of picking the best red moon days, but if you can, those will be the best hunting days based on my experience.”

Adams contributed his thoughts.

“It depends on location,” he said. “The Southeast has breeding dates that swing from July through February. Virtually everywhere else that whitetails live, the vast majority of does are bred during a short window in mid-November, and those dates remain very consistent year after year. The way we know that is by studies conducted where fetuses are pulled from harvested or road-killed does in the winter or spring for fetal counts. This helps us determine exact dates when does were bred.

“That being said, I like to hunt Halloween Day and the first several days of November. Most does are not yet in estrous, but buck activity really starts ramping up at that time as bucks start searching for the first estrous does. That’s my favorite week to hunt the rut.”

Final Thoughts

Diehard deer hunters lose sleep thinking about the whitetail rut. Make your time off count by choosing the best days for daylight buck movement. Then, hunt as much as possible. Doing so could result in you tagging a whopper.

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