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Haven’t Seen Much Rut Action Yet? Science Says You Will Soon

A whitetail buck calls in the middle of a field.

The first week of November is a great time to be a whitetail hunter, but the second and third weeks are when the magic happens

The first week of November is my favorite time to be a deer hunter. 

Temperatures begin to drop, the deer are moving more during the day and the morning sun makes the changing leaves gleam as if you’re sitting amid a raging wildfire. But most of all, we see the first signs of that magical time of the year: the rut. Still, for some, they may not be seeing the action they hoped the first week of November would give them and may be entering this next week downtrodden. But don’t count yourself out yet – as long as you’re positioning yourself correctly, science says the next two weeks are going to be the best. 

The science behind the rut

This may be hard to stomach for some people, but science does not say that the moon phase, cold fronts, and barometric pressure affect deer movement during the rut. What science does say, however, is that photoperiod does. 

Photoperiod is the amount of light left in an 11-12 hour cycle, and as the year progresses in the north we begin to see less daylight. This natural occurrence is a signal to deer to start breeding, as ingrained knowledge from centuries of development tells them that for fawns to survive, this is the time to breed a doe. 

A female whitetail’s gestation period is around 200 days or 7 1/2 months. This means a doe bred in November will give birth in May, and a doe bred in the secondary rut in December will give birth in June. There are outliers, of course, as some does can come into estrus in October or later in January. This only covers the northern United States, though, as deer in the South do not face the winters those in the North do. 

According to a study conducted in Maryland and presented by the National Deer Association, average daily buck movement is a standard bell that culminates in deer moving nearly 3 miles a day during the rut and 2 to 2 1/2 miles a day after the peak time of breeding and though the winter. Until the rut, bucks moved less than 1 1/2 miles a day during the summer, just over that mark in the early fall and just over 2 miles in the pre-rut (Thomas, 2021). 

The self-fulfilling prophecies of the Book of Whitetail

So you made it through to this section, and you’re probably thinking, “But I’ve killed bucks on cold fronts,” or, “I killed a mature buck two full moons after the autumn equinox!” 

Yes, you may have, but these are self-fulfilling prophecies. 

What happens throughout October and into the rut? Temperatures drop, we see more cold fronts, and we have less daylight. What happens throughout the time it takes for two full moons to appear in the night sky? Nearly two months pass and the rut is kicking in. Take note, this year’s “rutting moon” is Nov. 19, which is right around the peak of West Virginia’s rut. 

To battle anecdotes with an anecdote, last year on Nov. 9 I killed a toad of a 10-point. Temperatures were in the mid-70s, it was 4:30 p.m. and sunset was slated for around 5:30. The moon was waning. We hadn’t seen much rutting activity – my observations showed me I killed him right before the seeking phase ended – but he still responded to rattling. Like most deer hunting situations, it happened in a matter of 30 seconds. But, above all, science said he would be on the move that day. Knowing how bucks move around this time, my brother and I were lucky that we were in that spot at that time.

Keep in mind, that there are plenty of ingrained thoughts among hunters about deer movement. These have developed over decades of watching whitetails, but right now none of them have been scientifically proven. This could change, but right now it’s still just observation and anecdote.

The next two weeks

So, while I love the first week of November, this week and the one that follows is crunch time. This is when the seeking phrase transforms into the full-blown rut. Bucks will be chasing, they’ll be angry and full of testosterone and you need to be out in the woods ready for them.

Look for pinch points. Sit those stands when the wind is perfect. Don’t be afraid to move to a new spot if the terrain and situation call for it. 

In his most recent episode of Wired to Hunt Foundations, MeatEater’s Tony Peterson made three great points. First, he said not to leave your stand. Do whatever you can to stay there all day. Bring extra coffee, load up on candy, play on your phone if you need to – just do whatever you can to sit in the woods from sunrise to sunset. Second, he reminded us that, despite sitting for 11 or 12 hours, killing a buck happens in a matter of seconds. Every time you call, whether with rattling antlers, a bleat can, or a grunt tube, be ready for something to charge towards your stand. The last point was to remember that despite how the bucks are acting, you’re still hunting a timid animal. If you don’t draw at the right time, you’re going to scare him off. If you scare a doe, she’s going to blow out everything around you. But if you stick to what you know and don’t jump the gun, you’ll put an arrow into a nice buck.

Stay warm out there, be safe, shoot straight, and, of course, good luck. 

Reference:

Thomas, L. (2021, October 14). Cold fronts may get hunters on their feet, but bucks answer a different call – nda. National Deer Association. Retrieved November 6, 2021, from https://www.deerassociation.com/hunting-cold-fronts/. 

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