Breeding Behavior

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.

Resources

QDMA’s Guide to the Whitetail Rut

The whitetail rut is the most exciting time of the season for deer hunters, and it’s also a time when QDMA receives a lot of questions about this important season in the whitetail’s year. Many of the answers are found here on QDMA.com, and we’ve compiled this guide to help you find them quickly.

Simply click on any question below to jump to an article with the answer.

Seven Deadly Sins of Hunting The Rut

The rut is the time of year deer hunters crave. Visions of big bucks strolling wide open clearings fill their heads all season long. Does the rut offer the best chance to kill a mature whitetail? Yes. But if you think you can hunt without paying attention to the details and be successful you’re dead wrong. Here are the worst mistakes you can make while hunting the rut.

Hunting Where You Saw Bucks Opening Day
A lot of hunters do some scouting during the early season, then hunt hard all season long without spending much time scouting.

White-Tailed Deer

A relatively small deer with relatively short ears; all major points of the antlers come off the main beam; tail relatively long, broad basally, and white underneath; metatarsal gland small and circular; females usually antlerless; upperparts reddish brown in summer, bright grayish fawn sprinkled with black in winter; face and tail usually lack blackish markings; underparts white. Dental formula as in the mule deer. External measurements average: (males) total length, 1,800 mm; tail, 300 mm; hind foot, 450 mm; females slightly smaller. Weight of males, 3070 kg.

White-Tailed Deer

Perhaps New York State’s most widely recognized large mammal, the white-tailed deer is a familiar sight to most, its famous “white flag” tail often spotted as the animal bounds off. Highly adaptable, the white-tailed deer is found throughout the state in a variety of settings. It is generally a shy, elusive animal that is a favorite of nature observers and sportsmen alike.

Best Tactics for Hunting the Rut

A key part of hunting the rut involves trying to intercept bucks as they travel far and wide in search of does. The odds of actually doing so increase if you set up where deer are most likely to travel, and hunt when they're most likely to be in the area. These three stand set-ups can be employed across much of the whitetail's range. Try them this month on the land you hunt.