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How to Hunt Whitetail Deer in Each Phase of the Rut

How to adjust your deer hunting tactics through the five phases of whitetail breeding activity during the rut

How to Hunt Whitetail Deer in Each Phase of the Rut

The rut is the best time to intercept a big buck like this.

The rut—that period of time when whitetails breed each year—is exciting and sometimes challenging to hunt. If you understand what's going on during each phase of the rut, you have an excellent chance of bringing home a wallhanger.

When you see lots of does together in a group like this, you know the rut has not begun yet.

The word “rut” comes from a 15th century French word “rut” or “ruit.” That, in turn, comes from Late Latin “rugitum,” which means bellowing or roaring. One logical guess is that it applies to the red stag that is native to most of France.

The rut can be divided into five distinct phases. During the Pre-Rut, bucks are in their fall pattern and are rubbing and scraping, and hunting pressure has moved them into areas where they feel protected and safe. This is a good time to scope out preferred food sources such as acorns and hunt over them. You'll likely have more success in the evening than in the morning.


Rubbing intensifies during the rut, which is the time of year when bucks compete with each other to "win" does.


During the Seeking Phase you'll see a lot more rubbing and scraping, and mature bucks will start to move in daylight. Some of the young bucks may start chasing during this time, but the big boys are saving their energy for later. Look for buck bedding areas and hunt between those and scrape lines you've identified, or between bedding areas and feeding areas. Morning hunting may become more successful during this period.

The Chasing Phase is what most hunters refer to as “the rut.” This is when you'll see even mature bucks chasing does in broad daylight. During this phase, set up along trails between open areas and food sources; also focus on good food sources. This is a good time to use decoys, rattling, and calling.

During the Tending Phase, the bucks are with the does and most does are being bred. The deer usually are in thick cover and are difficult to hunt during this time. Find doe bedding areas and set up around the edges. Take advantage of the bucks' high levels of testosterone and continue rattling and calling; you may provoke one into looking for a fight.

Scraping activity gradually increases during the pre-rut, peaks two weeks before the rut, and drops off during the rut as bucks get down to business.




Once most of the does are bred, things are entering the Post-Rut. By now all the deer have been pushed hard by hunters, and they're sneaking around where they're very difficult to find. Ease into buck bedding areas and try to catch them slipping in and out to feed.

Twenty-eight to 30 days later, the deer will go through a secondary peak of rutting behavior during which bucks will be distracted and careless again. During this time, if you see a young doe by herself, pay attention. These young does don't have the experience of the older does and may stay out in the open. This could give you a good chance of seeing a mature buck during daylight hours.

Twenty-eight to 30 days later, the deer will go through a secondary peak of rutting behavior during which bucks will be distracted and careless again.

The timing of the rut in Florida is—in a word—interesting. Unlike most other states where the rut is well synchronized over a large area, Florida has a very variable rut. Biologists have recorded deer breeding somewhere in the state in every month except May. To find breeding dates for your particular hunting area, see the full Florida Rut map here. For more information on deer hunting, go to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website here. FS


Published Florida Sportsman Magazine November 2017

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