Here’s a quick rundown of the phases of the rut, and what to expect during each.
By Dale R. Larson
The rut … that magical time of the year for which all bowhunters live. Whether it’s the aggressive, sign-posting time of the prerut, the tongue-hanging-out ignore-everything chase and lock-down phase of the rut, or the try-to-find-leftover-does activity of the post rut, I couldn’t live without it. I’ve often said that if I couldn’t be out in the woods during the rut, it was only because someone had chained me down.
During this phase, the bucks are putting down and re-establishing all the sign they can, particularly rubs and scrapes. They’re displaying tons of aggression, telling the less dominant bucks who is the boss. Because of all the sign-making activity, the prerut is the best time to hunt rub and scrape lines. Hunt the travel corridors that have the most sign or historically have sign placed on them. When hunting those leading to bedroom or feeding areas, set up some distance from either area, not right on top. This enables you to intercept the buck while it’s making sign during shooting light, and while it’s more concerned with that than getting to feeding or bedding areas.
The prerut is also the best time for effective calling. This is when bucks are in their best physical condition of the year, plus they have their highest level of aggression. A dominant buck, upon hearing a buck fight, antlers rubbing trees, or a grunt call, usually can’t keep from investigating the sound. It wants to run off the aggressor and establish its dominance.
Placed in scrapes, buck lure can be effective in making the dominant buck return to the scrape to try to catch the intruder. For this application, I use a mixture of tarsal gland and interdigital gland lure. Buck movement and buck location are the most predictable during the prerut. They lay down sign in home areas first before moving to other areas. Once the chase phase starts during the main rut, it could be anyone’s guess where the buck will be.
This is the big dance and the time most bowhunters dream about, although I personally prefer the prerut.
The chase phase in the main rut is when you’ll see more buck movement than any other time of the year. Constantly on the move, bucks check does from one group to the next, traveling farther during this time period than any other. Bucks can still be lured to a call if they aren’t too preoccupied to pay attention. Travel corridors that connect different core doe areas, woodlots, or drainage areas should be hunted. This is a good time to be prepared to sit all day since the rut doesn’t stop for lunch or a nap.
When the chasing starts to wane, the lock-down phase is starting. During this time, buck sightings decrease unless you’re hunting in open country. The sightings there will change from moving bucks to those involved in a standoff. The lock-down phase is tougher hunting due to less movement. The doe’s estrus cycle determines when a buck goes on the move again. With a doe’s cycle being roughly two or three days, the majority of does cycle within a few days of each another. The good news is that the peak of the lock-down phase is short-lived.
The post rut starts right after the lock-down phase. The first part of the post rut can be as action packed as the prerut and chase phases. Bucks are on the move trying to find any slow-cycling does and refreshing prerut buck sign.
Hunting your prerut stand sites can be awesome. Using doe-in-estrous lure will bring in the still sex-crazed bucks by means of a trail drag or scent bomb. Grunting and rattling can be at their best during this time. A mature buck can’t resist the temptation of finding that still-hot doe. If another buck is tending, and/or fighting over a doe, the mature buck is on its way to the party.
The amount of buck activity in this phase is more dependent on herd condition and structure than any other phase of the rut. A good buck-doe ratio can extend this phase. Also, bad weather can drive the bucks to consider food instead of sex, and good weather can extend this phase right in to the next doe estrus cycle.
Weather, an uncontrollable variable, can hinder deer movement. If it’s hot and dry, daytime activity will diminish and seem to stop completely. However, the rut doesn’t stop; it just continues under the cover of darkness.
Wind velocity plays a huge impact as well, since wind currents are needed to disperse scent. High winds disperse too quickly, while little or no wind means no scent dispersal. I’ve found 10-15 mph wind seems to keep scent and deer moving.
If I had to pick one phase of the rut to bowhunt, I would choose the prerut, just because the buck movement and buck activity are more predictable.
This article was published in the November 2005 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.