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Whitetail Wednesday: The Pre-Rut is Finally Here!

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Growing Deer staff member Adam Keith with a late-October 2016 pre-rut buck.

Growing Deer staff member Adam Keith with a late-October 2016 pre-rut buck.

The October Lull phase of deer activity has passed in most areas. This is when deer, especially mature bucks, have grown their winter coat and food is usually plentiful. Deer usually don’t have to travel far to find food, and they aren’t burning many calories to stay warm or chase does. Mature bucks simply don’t have many reasons to move during daylight in mid-October in most regions.

Whew – glad that phase is over!

It’s now the pre-rut, and mature bucks are beginning to chase does throughout much of the whitetail’s range. It’s a time of year that millions of deer hunters schedule their vacation, and with good reason.

During the pre-rut, mature bucks are active during daylight hours as they search for a doe in heat.

During the pre-rut, mature bucks are active during daylight hours as they search for a doe in heat.

If you hunt close to home, you can pick days to hunt when a weather front is passing, or maybe you’ve found a limited resource such as a pond during drought that deer are actively using. However, if you’re traveling to hunt, then the pre-rut allows hunters to plan in advance because the odds are good that mature bucks will be active during daylight hours. During the pre-rut, bucks tend to be relatively more active during the daytime, even if the hunting pressure or air temperatures are a bit higher than normal.

(Editor’s note: Don’t miss the video clip at the bottom of this page showing a pre-rut buck ripping open a new scrape. Awesome!)

For the next several days, more and more does will become receptive until the peak of breeding activity. During the peak of breeding activity, most mature bucks will stay with a receptive doe for 24-36 hours. This is called the lock down phase of the rut. During this time, mature bucks typically travel only when they are finished tending one receptive doe and are seeking another.

During the lock down phases of the rut, a buck tending a hot doe moves only when the doe moves.

During the lock down phases of the rut, a buck tending a hot doe moves only when the doe moves.

The woods can seem almost void of deer during the lock down phase. This is because it’s not only the mature bucks that tend does. In fact, multiple research projects have now shown that mature bucks breed only slightly more does annually than immature bucks. Not many deer will be moving when most of the does are receptive, and most of the bucks can have a date.

In addition, the duration and intensity of each phase of the rut varies location by location, based on the herd’s adult sex ratio and health. Herds with a balanced (or skewed toward bucks) adult sex ratio seem to have the most intensive rutting behavior. (There’s much more to the science than what I’ve shared here, but this gives you an idea of what to expect in the woods during the next week or two.)

So, if you enjoy hunting the pre-rut, it’s time to get into the field! There are other times of the year that can be very productive, but they are often weather dependent. The local weather can’t be predicted accurately enough to plan vacation time months ahead. However, weather isn’t as big of a factor during the pre-rut, so it’s the safest bet for scheduling hunts that require packing a suitcase.

Enjoy creation!

Editor’s note: Be sure to check out Dr. Grant Woods and his popular on-demand web series that shares current information about deer hunting and deer management. The free videos focus on what the Growing Deer team of experienced hunters and deer managers are doing in the field week to week, including action-packed hunts, proven hunting strategies, habitat management, food plots, trail camera techniques and the gear it takes to get it all done.

Hunter image courtesy of Adam Keith; trail cam pics by Dr. Grant Woods

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