The Hunter’s Rut: Where are the Does?

By Jeff Stirland

Rubs, scrapes, aggressive bucks, and exceptional deer activity fill the minds of the avid whitetail hunter throughout the year . The coveted whitetail rut is one of the most exciting times of the year for the deer fanatic, and the weeks leading up to peak breeding can provide the most intense daylight activity of the entire season. Although many hunters share in the excitement during this time, some hunters experience something much different. Slow sits, little movement, and limited mature buck sightings plague many hunters during the chase phase of the rut. What is to blame? Warm weather? Poor buck to doe ratios? Too much hunting pressure? While all of these are possibilities, many hunters often overlook a key detail to the breeding season; the does!

The Hunter’s Rut vs. The Biological Rut

The time period that many deem the rut is often not actually the same as the biological rut.  The hunter’s rut is what they are referring to, which is actually during the seeking and chasing phase where an increase in mature buck sightings occurs. The does are not receptive at this point, and will do anything they can to avoid being bullied by a bruiser whose hormones are feeding his desires to breed.

The biological rut is often referred to as the “lockdown phase”, which entails bucks spending 24 to 48 hours with a receptive doe, and staying within sight of her at all times. Mature buck sightings and overall deer movement will decrease during this period, as the bucks are pushing does all over the area as to find a safe and preferred spot to breed. The timing of this period will always depend on when a doe in the area comes into estrous, and many does will actually seek out mature bucks to breed them during this period which also accounts for decreased daylight buck movement.

Does, Does, Does!

From the last week of October until the end of November, knowing the location of does is crucial to intercepting bucks that are aiming to breed during this short window.  The main goal of mature bucks during this time period is to procreate, and they will be within proximity of does as much as they possibly can.  During the chasing phase of the rut when bucks begin to grow more aggressive, does will still be in an area with a hot food source, but will spend a lot of their time in thick areas hiding from bucks that are harassing them. In order to stay on top of the rut, make sure that you know where the doe are at all times.  Trail camera observations, speed scouting trips, or even just sightings in the stand in mid-October can confirm that the does are still present on the property and will ensure that the bucks will also be in the area in the coming weeks.

The information gained from treestand sits during the “October Lull” are critical to being in the right areas during the rut.

Tips for Finding the Does

If your trail camera pictures begin to lack does into the last week of October, do not panic.  Many of these does are not moving in the open during daylight, as the younger 1.5 and 2.5 year old bucks are chasing them and are relentless in their pursuit to breed. In late October, many of the acorns that have fallen are already gone, and many soybean fields and corn fields have already been harvested. If you are having trouble locating a food source, try keying in on lush creek bottoms, south-facing slopes, or clear cuts in areas that are devoid of agriculture or food plots. If you plant food plots, focus on the cool-season plants as the first hard frosts of fall come.  The does will begin to bed in different areas based on breeding pressure and available food, so knowing where the food is will provide major insights to finding travel corridors between bedding and feeding areas.

 Hunting the Sign

After you understand the does and where they are moving, you want to figure out where the bucks are bedding and traveling throughout the day.  Look for rubs and scrapes in creek bottoms, funnels, pinch points, ridge tops, swamp edges, or any terrain edge. Although it might be tempting, hunting directly over rubs and scrapes is often a waste of time, as this sign is mostly made at night.  If there is buck sign between two well-known doe bedding areas, try setting up in an area between them with the wind blowing away from the bedding areas and the suspected travel direction of the buck. Hunting these spots from dawn to dusk will be the most effective, as getting down during the day may spook the does if you are close to where they are bedding.  If you are seeing less activity and the area seems devoid of does or bucks, move. Do not hesitate to move to other areas that contain likely bedding cover and a hot food source, as the does will most likely be here.  If you find any fresh tracks or droppings, examine the direction they are headed and try to find a likely travel corridor or food source to focus your hunting efforts around.

A fresh track in an area between two known doe bedding areas. The deeply splayed hoof indicates that this is most likely a buck track.

The Right Rut Attitude

The rut is a time of the season that will test your patience, your will power, and your attitude. Staying positive through the hardships faced during this phase is difficult at times, but will prove to be the deciding factor of success for the hardy and dedicated bowhunter. The ability to adapt to changing situations such as bucks increasing testosterone or the dynamic changing of the habitat is a skill that will set you apart and make your rut hunting experience great every season.  Try to avoid getting caught up in all of the advanced rut hunting tactics, at least until you understand the basics of the whitetail rut. Mature buck hunting during the rut is more doe hunting than it is anything else, and knowing the current food sources and bedding areas of the does is the most critical factor in regards to rut hunting activity and success. Focusing on the small details in every situation in the whitetail woods will make you a more successful hunter, but do not forget to always consider the bigger picture.

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