Hunters looking to hone in on a big buck might want to consider putting their time in during the pre-rut.
So just when is the rut?
Science has figured that out, said C.J. Winand, a Maryland-based wildlife biologist.
Biologists, led by those in Pennsylvania, have collected and examined thousands of whitetail fetuses in recent years, he said. By looking at the stage of their development, then can determine the time of conception.
That work shows that while there are always outliers – fawns conceived early and late – the vast majority were conceived in mid-November.
That’s the peak.
And that’s true regardless of weather, food and especially moon phase, Winand said.
“We have studied all of those variables, time and time again. And here’s what we found: year after year, state after state, study after study, there is no correlation. I don’t care what the moon is, whether it’s up, down or sideways, the rut always peaks in the second week of November,” Winand said.
Breeding can start earlier than mid-November and go later, of course. A Penn State University study of GPS-collared deer in Pennsylvania found it occurred from the last week of October through all of November.
What hunters need to take from all that is perhaps not what they’d think. It’s that the peak of the rut is not necessarily the best time to hunt.
That’s the opinion of Mike Stroff. He’s host of Savage Outdoors TV and operator of Southern Outdoor Experience Hunts, a Texas-based guiding service.
It’s his opinion that the peak of the rut can be especially challenging.
“That can be some of your hardest hunting of the season, once those bucks get locked up with a doe,” Stroff said. “In my experience anyway, one they get locked up like that, man it can be hard to kill them.”
He much prefers to hunt the pre-rut, starting around the week of Halloween. That’s especially true if he’s hunting older, big-racked deer.
“That pre-rut period is when I put a lot of my time and effort in and when I do a lot of my killing. That’s when I get aggressive,” Stroff said.
“You have an opportunity to call them and really get after it and kill a mature buck.”