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Deer seasons often begin in the fall, which coincides with deer breeding (rutting) behavior. However, depending on when your class/hunt is held, the deer may be in a pre-rut, rut, or post-rut phase.
While your actual hunt will likely occur in only one of these phases, we recommend that all of these phases be covered. Hopefully, your participants will continue to hunt after the class and will benefit from understanding how the phase of the rut may impact their hunting strategy.
Exactly when the rut takes place depends on the region you are in. In the far Northern states, some rutting behavior may start in early October, while in the Deep South those same behaviors might not occur until December or January.
Prior to the rut, deer generally exhibit their most predictable behavior of the year. They routinely travel from a bedding area to a highly desirable food source in the afternoon and travel back to their bedding area in the morning. Their travel routes and food selection sites can be greatly influenced by wind direction. However, the deer will generally travel from A to B and B to A, if the wind has been steady for several days and they have not been disturbed. This travel routine will be most pronounced during early morning and late afternoon. Often, the deer are somewhat leisurely in their travels at this time.
During the rut, bucks will be seeking does, and will likely interrupt the pre-rut, feeding and bedding routines. At this time of year deer may be seen at any time of the day, and in areas that they may not be normally seen. However, does will still try and maintain their normal travel routines. Because hunting seasons and hunting pressure often occur at this time, their normal travel routines may be interrupted and they may seek heavier cover during the daytime.
The onset of the rut can be judged by the occurrence of scrapes and rubs. Photos of scrapes and rubs will help explain what they look like.
Scrapes and rubs should be pointed out during field scouting trips. The value seeing scrapes and rubs for developing a hunting strategy is dependent on where they occur, how “fresh” they are, and the local hunting pressure. At a minimum, they let you know that deer are present and using an area.
During the rut, it often pays to be prepared to stay out all day (something most hunters do not do) and use a doe-bleat call.
Post-rut behavior generally consists of recovering from the rigors of the rut. However, because this behavior occurs during, or after most hunting seasons, it is often masked by the impact of hunting pressure. Deer have learned to travel carefully, often at night. At this time of year, high caloric food sources are in great demand. Hunting close to a food supply just prior to, or just after, a winter storm is a good strategy.