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Rutting Phases - by James L. Bruner

Although the rut has 3 seperately defined phases, the major emphasis has always been on the peak of the rut. The time when hunters believe even the biggest bucks throw caution to the wind in search of compatible breeding females entering their estrus cycle. This time of the year is undoubtebly one of your best chances to bag that trophy buck...or is it?

Before the main rut ever begins there is a time where bucks sort out their pecking order of dominance. This social hiearchy sends a perfectly stamped calling card to other deer in the area that this buck has staked a relevant area as his own. Any receptive does in this area will usually be bred by the mature or dominant buck of the area to ensure he passes on his superior genes. Everything is relatively calm until the days begin to shorten and the bucks become more agressive as teststerone levels begin to rise. Rubs and scrapes appear with more frequency. Bucks begin to wander more and the time is right to begin some pre-rut hunting strategies. As most archers know, the pre-rut can be more exciting than the actual peak of the rut.

In a majority of whitetail regions, the last week in October, until the first week in November, marks the pre-rut activity and the first does coming into estrus in the greater deer woods. This 2 week timeframe can send bucks well out of their core range in pursuit of the first does entering their breeding cycle. While the woods have been relatively calm and free of gunfire, the deer excersize less caution than in the weeks to come. Bucks are prone to making numerous rubs and scrapes while checking previous scrapes regularly at any time of the day and it's a good time to be on the stand for as long as possible. Scents and rattling work well during this period and can pull in a buck that you may have never seen before. During this first deluge of breeding opportunities a buck may travel 4 to 5 miles a day. As the bucks interest in sleep and food have greatly depreciated your efforts are best suited to change your hunting patterns unless the does are frequenting the area. A good sign that a doe has come into estrus is the abadoning of her young. Does will leave their young during the breeding period even with their strong maternal instincts. Body language such as walking with their tail out or stiff legged can also be sign that a doe is sensing the changes in her body. This one lone doe could attract a number of bucks and it's a good bet that you're about to see some action.

The Rut
Although much of what takes place during the pre-rut can be mirrored here, there is one major difference. The numbers of does entering estrus has just soared to a higher level. The bucks may no longer need to travel to find a receptive mate. In areas where the buck to doe population shows a large number of does per square mile, a buck may only need to stay within a small area and continue to breed. The breeding will usually continue for 1 to 1 1/2 days during a two week period from the end of the first week in November through the third week. In an area with a high number of receptive does coming into estrus he can merely hole up and breed in the safety of thick cover. With this type of herd ratios buck will also need to defend their territory as other, sometimes young bucks, will sneak in and try to breed with the does while the dominant buck is going about the business of mating. This type of intrusion can be seen from bigger bucks as well who have traveled from areas lesser populated with an abundance of does. These wandering nomads may be even bigger than the dominant buck thats been holding up with the local herd of does. He can take over the new area and send the previous buck on his way while he proceeds with the mating where the former buck left off.

Finding the does or focusing on the feeding of habits of does can be the best strategy here. As the once green fields and browse may have disappeared you'd be one step ahead of the game to know the area and habits ahead of time. As the does shift gears to an alternate food source, so will the bucks. Although they may have hardly eaten in the past couple weeks the bucks will be following the does that are about to come into estrus near the end of the breeding cycle towards the end of the main rut. Many of the does have already been bred so the bucks once again need to search out the last few does. Although this may seem like the same occurence as the pre-rut, most of these bucks have been breeding for the past 2 weeks. The testosterone levels have begun to drop and the bucks are beginning to mildly show an interest in food while following the last does to their preferred feeding areas. Once again rattling and scents can work to your advantage to produce the effect of deer competing for those last few does coming into heat. As the main rut winds down that activity levels drop dramatically but all is not lost if you havent taken your deer.

Post Rut
Some does have been recorded to go into estrus more than once and an additional magical week can be hunted from the last week in November to the first week in December. In fact some go into estrus several times in 28 day intervals. Just when you thought everything had turned to normal and all hope was lost the woods can come alive again. These few does who come into estrus again can attract the same large numbers of bucks as they did in the pre-rut. Bucks will once again begin to track down these late season deer for a final chance to breed. Although most hunters seldom witness a second or third estrus cycle, some of the largest whitetails are taken during this time. The woods have returned to quiet as compared to the previous couple of weeks and most hunters have given up on the hunt and this is another great time to bag a trophy whitetail.

Article by James L. Bruner
Syndicated with express permission
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