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Hunting the Post-Rut

Tommy KirklandText and Photos By Tommy Kirkland

-- The rut is winding down. Exhausted bucks are finally browsing the food plots and timber's edge for longer periods. Does are regrouping after the madness; and although the majority of females have been bred, the action can still erupt, allowing the opportunity to put a whitetail in your sights! It's the post-rut - a time to see the aftermath of relentless dominant hierarchy for breeding....

Photo: Young bucks are still testing one another during the post-rut with combative bouts. However, most bouts are not too serious. The younger bucks will typically keep their antlers longer than older bucks because they maintain testosterone longer.

Slowing its pace, a large buck travels the woodlands. Suddenly he stops, scents the decaying leaves and works a classical lip curl. A doe's receptivity is still being tested. Through scent communication, the dominant whitetail moves on in pursuit of this particular female.
Within moments, he visually spots the doe and aggressively begins to grunt. A short chase is on, but ends abruptly. She is ready as the exhausted buck still manages to successfully tend and mate this doe. Procreation continues as the post-rut gears up for one more outbreak of whitetail chaos!
The post-rut is basically the end of the rut. The peak rut is the climax of whitetail breeding - a time when the majority of female deer in a given area are fertile and ready to mate. Following this time span comes the post-rut - sometimes called the second rut. Here, does that were not mated can come into heat again. This moment of estrous usually takes place a month after a doe's initial breeding receptivity. Other female deer could be biologically set to enter estrous later in the season; and of course, nutrition and the type of habitat/herd management can influence breeding times as well.

Tommy KirklandPhoto: Dominant bucks will guard a doe in heat during the post-rut to the same degree they do during the peak rut. The couple will search out private areas to breed, particularly woodlands and high vegetative locales.
Post-rut breeding allows late fawn birthing the following year. Simply, fawns are born sporadically in different areas - usually increasing the chances for survival. For example, predators such as bears and coyotes can learn to target certain fawn birthing areas when the majority are born. However, when the post-rut females give birth, the predators are usually preoccupied with natural vegetation later in the spring and summer and are not aggressively seeking out fawns. Surprisingly, the post-rut fawns can have a much better chance of maturing into a harvestable animal.
During the post-rut, bucks begin to lose testosterone and body weight decreases some 30 to 40 percent from all the physical exertion of the pre-rut and the rut itself. Yet large dominant breeder bucks still seek to mate receptive females. However, their activity is minimal in comparison to the rut and their alert senses for predators returns to normal. They are not as focused on locating females and are more aware of their surroundings. Deer hunters must remember that not every breeding buck responds the same. Some bucks are highly alert of our tactics - from the pre-rut and on into the rut and post-rut.

Tommy KirklandPhoto: Being that less females come into heat during the post-rut, the dominant buck will have to work harder to defend her from intruding rival bucks. At times, the aggression during the post rut can be just as intense as the rut. Younger bucks are sneaky and will try to mate the female while the dominant buck is preoccupied with chasing off other bucks in the vicinity.
Breeding bucks will usually return to their spring and summer home ranges during the post-rut or at the very least they will begin to minimize the constant land traversing. In fact, a scouting of their old feeding locales and entrances into bedding areas may give you an opportunity at harvesting a post-rut buck.
Keep an eye on the females because after the peak rut herds of does are usually more concentrated and visually seen - not broken up by bucks running them crazy. Bucks that are still in a rutting mode will periodically check to see if any does are receptive. In fact, depending on the buck-to-doe ratio in your hunting locale, post-rut activity can attract quite a few bucks to that one lone estrous doe because there are less available breeding females during the post-rut. Here, you can be more selective in taking a buck.
Certainly, the post-rut is a time to continue the pursuit of a whitetail. Also, the whitetails' drive for winter nutrition will become a major component in post-rut hunting ... a topic for the next month at

By jackstaggs515 @ Thursday, January 17, 2008 10:33 PM
Hunting the Post-Rut by Tommy Kirkland was a great story. I have a question. I hunt on 20 acres of private property in Alexandria Al. From bow season until now,Jan 17, I have not seen any deer during day time hours. My trail cam takes pictures of quite a few does and young deer, with 6 bucks also. Ihave 9 acres of cutover 4 years old, one 3 acre field, one foodplot one forth acre, and one hollow with a small amount of water. Question? How do I get the deer on this property during the day time? Thank You.

By ddye @ Tuesday, January 22, 2008 4:09 PM

By Tommy Kirkland @ Wednesday, January 23, 2008 8:47 AM
Dear Mr. Staggs,

It can be difficult to determine and speculative as to why the whitetails are not visible during the day on the property; but before they can be seen or harvested at this time, finding out the cause or causes for their total nocturnal behavior is a must.

Do you know the degree of hunting pressure in the area? As you know this can influence activity as well as the animals’ natural tendency to be nocturnal. If the pressure is heavy it can cause whitetails to be highly evasive – even after the season.

It’s possible that the deer have preferred bedding sites beyond your property and other food sources; therefore they are spending more time elsewhere. Also, if nearby landowners are not permitting hunting, it will not take long for the deer to figure out they have a refuge.

Warmer temperatures also minimize deer activity during the day – causing them to bed more.

If a nearby landowner is aggressively working the nutritional aspects of QDM; this can reduce deer activity on your property – even though you’ve labored with food plots, etc.

Try to find out if coyotes or domestic dogs are in the vicinity. Canine activity can definitely cause whitetails to be highly evasive and less visible.

Have you seen any activity in the early morning dawn hours or late evenings? You may want to try some morning observations before sunrise to determine what direction the deer are going before day breaks.

I’m assuming the surrounding property is a little hilly or mountainous which can give whitetails great refuge.

Try mineral licks on the property and when the season begins, deer decoys, scent lures, and aggressive rattling and calling techniques may help.

Eliminate human scent and strive to provide excellent food sources if you are competing with other deer fanatic landowners. Look at past years of deer activity and food sources like acorns to see if there is a pattern in the deer being so nocturnal. Usually when acorns and woodland forage are scarce, deer will feed on green vegetation in open areas on cold days or cool overcast days with a little moisture.

Deer will periodically feed and move a little during the day if they feel comfortable.

I hope this information can help.

Sincerely, Tommy Kirkland

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