If ever the cards are stacked in favor of a deer hunter, it is during the rut. Typically this is the phase of a buck’s life when hormonal trends focus on the business of procreation, with less regard for personal safety. Obviously, with mating involved, the piece of the puzzle fulfilled by the doe component must be considered.
When all of it comes together, and hunters are there to experience it firsthand, then they get to witness a phenomenon of the life cycle of white-tailed deer, and have a chance to score a trophy buck.
However, often times the cards are marked and Mother Nature can trump the hunter. All kinds of events, including both natural and unnatural, along with many other factors, can have a negative impact on hunting bucks during the rut. Once hunters know better what cards they might be dealt, then the game plan can be focused on what it takes to beat the odds.
Even if his or her hand is weak, educated and well-prepared hunters can still turn the tables and beat the bucks at their own game.
The weather factor
“People often say if you don’t like the weather in Mississippi, then just give it a day or so and it is sure likely to change one way or the other,” chuckled Brent Adams of Oxford. “I can’t count how many times we have headed out to our deer camp in Choctaw County with the sun shining on a warm fall day, then hours later the rain comes and a cold front blows through. You just never know what is really going to come, but weather and wind are two of them. Those environmental factors can sure wreck havoc on hunting during the rut.”
Whether it’s with weather fronts or outright storms, Mother Nature is probably the No.1 cause of shutting down or at least slowing the rut. Truth is, weather forecasters can goof your hunting trip plans up, too.
An example from last season: For a week before a planned weekend hunt, I tracked closely the weather forecasts, which predicted heavy rain. At the last minute on Friday morning, we voted not to go. You can guess what happened — it never rained a drop at my camp, and I lost a whole weekend of hunting. Time in the woods is precious to most of us hunters, and I hate to get fooled by a weather report. So, how do hunters beat Mother Nature?
“Of course we watch the local weather reports and listen to the AM-FM radio days ahead of going to camp for a hunt,” Adams said. “Today, we have iPhones, computer internet services, weather apps, and special weather radios to keep tabs on all the facets of the weather coming and going. The more information, the better when it comes to knowing the weather during the rut.”
Truth is you can’t beat Mother Nature at the weather game, but you can have a reasonable determination of maybe what is coming in the next 24-72 hours if you use an array of forecast sources. I’d recommend hunters look at a live Doppler radar site for their best look at what is on the horizon.
A storm or passing front may cause a pause in the rut, but once it passes, the bucks will pick up right where they left off. Given such a short window to take care of their business, bucks will get busy as soon as a storm passes.
It is also important to keep track of barometric pressure.If it is dropping, then weather is coming. Some of the best times to hunt are when the barometric pressure is going down just before a weather front hits. Likewise, be prepared to hunt when the atmospheric pressure bottoms out but is starting to rise again. That means weather will be drying out and deer will be moving around again, feeding, chasing, and breeding.
The dreaded heat
Little else kills rutting activity like warmth, and in the south daytime temperatures can vary quite widely during the rut. Between Christmas and mid-January, which is the peak rut period for most of Central and Southwest Mississippi, hunters can run into daybreak temperatures below freezing but watch them rise into the 60s or even 70s during the day.
I have seen 80 degrees during December hunting days, and it simply puts a halt to every factor of deer activity. When temperatures exceed seasonal norms, expect the rut to cease.
So, how do you beat warm weather deer hunting?
Truth is you don’t, so you just have to deal with it. Some hunters will hunt only at daylight and sunset, when it is the coolest. Others just hunt all day, believing that bucks will have to move sometime during the day, even if full-fledged rutting behavior may not be evident. Deer have to drink and eat, so eventually they have to come out of hiding. Hunting deep in the woods or other cover will likely yield more deer sightings than posting on an open plot or field out in the sunlight.
Sex ratio matters
A big factor in rutting behavior is the buck/doe ratio of the local herd. If the number of adult does far exceeds that of bucks, don’t expect to see a lot of chasing. Such an out-of-balance ratio rarely produces heightened rut activity, at least not the typical bucks running hunters hope for during the rut. Because so many does come into estrus at once, there is little need for bucks to chase does or even look for them.
The upside is that far-outnumbered bucks can’t service all available does during the first cycle, which can lead to secondary and even tertiary ruts. I have seen many fresh scrapes at the end of January, giving the impression that some bucks are still worked up and seeking to breed the final does that might be coming into estrus one more time.
How do you hunt this situation? A simple answer is to find bucks, find does. Whatever the real number of bucks is on your property, they are still going to breed as many does as possible. There may not be the classic running and dodging chase going on, but where there are receptive does, bucks will show up eventually to check them out.
Set priority hunting locations centered on the current available food sources, and be prepared to hunt in areas that are more concealed. In areas where the ratio is out of whack and bucks are in demand, estrus does may actually have to seek out partners, totally opposite the normal course of action. In that situation, bucks do not have to emerge from their safety zones.
Unnatural Rut Inhibitors
Unnatural factors that impact the rut tend to cloud the issue. It may be difficult to assess their exact influence, but when this happens most hunters usually recognize it. They may or many not occur, but when they do the rut can be dramatically reduced or shutdown. If you experience the lack of a rut, then it may be due to one of these factors.
No. 1 is hunting pressure, as Kerry French of Holmes County can attest.
“Years ago I belonged to a deer hunting club that charged an annual membership,” French said. “When I joined, I never inquired how many members were in the club. That was a huge mistake. On any given weekday and especially on weekends the woods were crowded.
“There was simply too much human activity and I was convinced that drove the bucks into going nocturnal. We hardly ever saw a buck even during the rut.”
The best way to circumvent too much hunting pressure is to not be part of it.
When hunting in a camp with multiple members, try to monitor the most popular areas or stands were others go. Then simply go elsewhere, and also adjust the time periods that you hunt.
Scout potential hunting spots in the most isolated areas, or hard to reach places where other hunters are not likely to venture. If you spot a lock on stand or ladder already in place, then that is probably not a very good place to hunt.
By the time the rut takes place in most of Mississippi, deer have had time to pattern people. They can be aware of when hunters come and go, so adjust accordingly and throw them a curve. Even though a buck may lose his normal common sense, does do not and you still have to beat their innate sense of safety. Some of the smartest and most successful hunters arrive as their campmates are leaving.
Another aspect to success is staying sharp and not falling victim to the belief that because bucks are more lax, you can be too. The rut may be the best chance for a hunter to bag a buck, because the bruins might slip up and let their guard down. However, during the rut is not the time for hunters to get careless in their own conduct.
For instance, you absolutely cannot ignore the wind across your stand, just as you cannot forget to control your scent, including spraying down with scent killer each time you enter the woods.
Other details should be addressed. A good many rut hunts have been spoiled by the squeak of a hunting stand seat, the tap of a gun barrel against cold steel, a noisy bow cam wheel or a cell phone going off. It only takes one inadvertent mistake to cause a lifetime buck to dash back into cover never to be seen again.
Stay on your “A Game” to avoid personal goofs.
In the final analysis, nothing is going to stop a rut from going on, though you may not realize it. Natural or unnatural occurrences can slow it down, turn it nocturnal other otherwise affect activity. By being attentive to detail, you can lessen that impact and increase your chance at a buck of a lifetime.