QUESTION: I hunt in Elmore County, Alabama and have noticed what seems to be a mini-rut around the time of Thanksgiving and another in mid to late January.
Do have any idea why this is, and do you have tips for how to hunt during the lighter rut period? - Tucker M.
ANSWER: Peak breeding dates throughout Alabama are highly variable. According to Alabama's deer studies project leader Chris Cook, "The majority of the state has peak breeding ranging from Christmas into the first week of February.
"In general, deer in the northern half of the state will breed from Christmas until mid January, while deer in the southern half typically breed from mid January to the first week of February.
"Sandwiched between these is the Black Belt region and it's famed mid-January rut.
"We also have some areas with late November breeding and others with early to mid December breeding," he adds.
Your description seems to fit that model fairly well, with a mid to late January peak rut in the Black Belt region.
Bear in mind that these are peak rut dates. A decreasingly smaller percentage of does will come into estrus as you move away - earlier and later - from peak dates.
The does not bred during peak rut will cycle again roughly a month later, and in some cases even fawns will come into estrus during the second, late rut. And, there will often be a small percentage that will come into estrus a month before peak rut.
There is another contributing factor to Alabama's highly variable rut. As part of historical efforts to restore Alabama's depleted deer herd, northern deer were imported into the state.
Northern deer tend to have a fairly synchronous rut, with peak breeding occurring sometime around mid November. They are genetically predisposed to this and will retain this trait even when transplanted to southern regions. It's possible what you're observing is a vestige of this generic trait.
In some ways you have the best of both worlds. Bucks may still be in bachelor groups and following fairly regular patterns based on food sources. At the same time they're amped up and ready to breed as soon as the first does cycle. That means you can use either early-season and/or peak-rut tactics.
As to precisely what those might be, that's your call, but you can find plenty of advice in Buckmasters' magazines, website and television shows.