Even the oldest, wiliest and most-stubborn bucks can’t help themselves when it’s time to procreate; all other concerns are tossed out the window. It is that short period of time — the rut — when they are the most vulnerable.
“From the moment their hormones and instincts start telling them it’s time to procreate, bucks become more and more stupid,” said Ronnie Jennings, a veteran deer hunter from Clinton. “From the first stages, when the bucks are establishing dominance and are subject to be called out of hiding, to the final days when does are in estrus, bucks feel an urge they can’t resist.
“The best thing I can compare it to is last call at a tavern. Think of all the dumb things men do to woo a woman, and how that intensifies at closing time. Those last 30 minutes of desperation can make us stupid, and we are not limited to a week or two a year, like deer. A buck’s window of opportunity is so short, making it so intense, that he’ll willingly walk out of his comfort zone and right into trouble.”
That’s why a doe dictates just how stupid the buck becomes, Jennings said.
“Whenever she moves and wherever she goes, that’s what the buck will do,” he said. “She determines if their movements will be nocturnal. She determines if they will be in the open — food plots and such — or in thickets. She owns him 24/7 until she submits. That’s why once I find a buck’s core zone, I start scouting the does in his area.”
Developing a plan
Jennings has developed his own system for hunting his property in southwest Hinds County, a 100-acre tract composed of 50% fields, 25% planted pine timber and 25% hardwood creek bottoms. It has helped him fill a wall in both his office and his home with arrays of trophy bucks, all measuring between 130 to 160 inches.
“I move around a good bit in the bow season and early gun season, and I use that period to take a doe or two or remove an inferior buck,” he said. “Mostly, I am tracking big bucks by camera or eyesight to pinpoint core areas and travel corridors. In 15 years, I have taken only one mature buck outside the rut. Now, I’ll take a trophy any chance I get, but I’m saying it’s so rare before the rut.
“Once I lock in on a buck or two I want to target, I turn my attention to the does in that area, learn as much as I can about them as fast as I can, and then I leave that area alone until the rut. I don’t want to spook the does or the bucks. The really big bucks that I catch on my cameras, over 95% of the photos come at night. Why waste my days-off chasing them then, or risk busting them on the weekends and spooking them in their core area?”
Jennings puts all his eggs in one basket, so to speak, and that basket is the rut.
“Every year, almost without exception, the does on our property come into estrus either right before Christmas or right after it,” he said. “The last two weeks of the year, that’s the window I save up most of my vacation time to use. By then, I want to know where and when the does are moving so I can be there when one brings a big boy out into the open. I prepare to hunt from daylight to dark, too.”
A gift from MDWFP
The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks has leveled the playing field for all hunters by compiling a statewide map showing the mean date of conception in all areas. It is based on historical data collected through post-mortem health checks on does, which the agency has done for decades.
Consider it another gift of the season. You can find it online at http://www.mdwfp.com/wildlife-hunting/deer-program/deer-breeding-date-map.aspx