Know how to gauge the rut, when it is coming, when it is here, and how to tell just where we’re at in the eastern United States.
Early season hunting is one of the best times to hunt as the deer are somewhat predictable. They are patterned and routinely go from bed to food and food to bed.
As we make our way into the season, deer activity begins to change. The infamous October lull leaves us anticipating the number one thing all hunters look forward to: The Rut. We understand the three phases, seeking, chasing and breeding, but how do we gauge exactly where we are at.
1. History repeats itself.
As we begin to think about the best time to hunt or the peak rut activity, we need to take a look at earlier years. If you’re anything like you me, you have stacks of notes in binders for specific locations with observation logs. You may have Instagram or Facebook posts from “this day last year” that can help you remember as well.
I found the best time for the all day, hardcore rut activity in Virginia and in Maryland, is to be when the the sunrise to sunset is 10 hours 15 minutes. Last year for my location that was November 8th. This year, the timing seems to be just about the same. There are many factors that will play into the kickstart of the rut (for example, weather and the moon phases), but in my personal notes, history repeats itself annually, and that helps me prepare each year.
2. Field scrapes and rubs.
As October moves along, we begin to see the first signs of the rut. The field scrapes and rubs are great indicators that things are just kicking off. We see these and we get excited. They allow us to see that there are bucks present on our property and also allow us to try an opportunity to focus more on the bucks with our trail cameras. A good tip we practice, is as our soy bean fields begin to turn yellow, we focus on the secondary food sources and our green food plots. This is a great time to move your trail cameras from the primary food source, to focus in on the scrapes.
Field scrapes are often common to occur in quantity and can be visited anytime, day or night, by both bucks and does. Bucks will often check these scrapes to get an idea of deer in the area but also use them to indicate the first sign of an estrus doe. Often, a doe that has come into estrus will tend the scrape. Early in the rut, bucks are still frequenting these scrapes. As the majority of the does come into estrus, the scrapes are no longer visited until the “second rut” which occurs after the majority of the does are bred.
3. Increased roadkill.
As I head north to New York to hunt every late October, I find myself gauging the rut based on road kill. As I drive north on route 81, I notice several young bucks killed along side of the road. This usually indicates the early stages of the rut beginning. Often times the rut will occur earlier in New York than it will in Maryland and Virginia, so I find on my ride home larger and older bucks killed on the side of the road.
4. Young bucks on their feet.
To follow up with the road kill, just like my drive north, most of the bucks killed on the side of the road are young bucks. As I hunt and scout, before the rut is 100%, you will see the younger and smaller bucks making moves first. The woods and fields will be alive with the younger bucks traveling the main corridors before the more mature bucks will be making the rounds.
5. Does will begin acting funny.
Last year I documented several different does that I thought were trying to do acrobats. After speaking with a local Department of Conservation officer, he told me that does do this when they are making changes toward estrus. The does I have on film, would run around the field like a young puppy then jump up and down and around. Knowing this, I know when I see this that within a couple weeks the rut will be in full effect.
6. Call your local deer butcher, get their opinion.
If anyone knows how the hunting is going and how the rut is heating up, it’s your local deer processor. As the deer come in, several times the butchers are greeted with stories on how the deer was killed. “He was chasing a doe” or “I caught him checking his scrape line” are just a couple lines many times deer processors will hear as the rut begins to heat up. They will also be able to check does and bucks for estrus and strong tarsal gland smell. If anyone knows how to gauge the rut without even setting foot in the woods, it’s the deer processor.