Have you ever heard this statement around deer camp in October: “We need to get some cold weather to get the rut going?” 

Of course you have. You might have even been the one who said it.

If you did, you were wrong.

According to Mark Buxton of Southeastern Wildlife Habitat Services of Alabama, a company that provides deer management services across the southeast, the rut for whitetail deer is not triggered by weather or temperature but by photoperiod. 

Photoperiod is the amount of daylight that strikes a deer’s eye in a 24-hour period.

“The timing of the rut will occur at different times in different areas,” said Buxton. “In places like Alabama and Mississippi the rut may not occur until late January or even February while in North and South Carolina the rut occurs in October and November, but it rarely varies much year to year in the same area because the photoperiod remains pretty consistent.” 

Unfortunately for deer hunters, when the rut does kick in during a period of warm weather, most of the rutting activity, and that means does running and being chased by bucks, occurs at night when the temperatures are most comfortable for them.

“Temperature will restrict deer movement during daylight hours. By the fall, deer have shed their summer coats and put on their winter coats,” said Buxton. “Just like you and me, they aren’t in much mood to be active while it’s hot and they’re wearing long johns, so all the activity occurs after dark when the temperature is cooler than during the day.”

If the does are not moving, the bucks will not be moving either. It’s an unfortunate cycle that many hunters blame on the moon phase or even hunting pressure when you see more deer standing on the side of the road on your way home than you did when sitting in the deer stand.

Buxton added that a well-defined rut has much to do with a well-balanced deer herd, and hunters who have never hunted a properly managed property during the rut really can’t comprehend what hunting the rut looks like.

“When your herd is out of balance, and by that I mean your buck-to-doe ratio and the herd age structure, you get a trickle rut,” said Buxton. “All does should go into heat within the same seven- to 10-day period. When your herd is well synchronized, you’ll have bucks chasing does all through the day and all over the property. That’s when you understand what the rut is really all about.”