Let me start out by saying I’m no expert. I’m just your average deer hunter who likes to get in the woods and chase whitetails. So I might be right. I might be wrong. That said, I’d like to think I’ve gathered enough knowledge during my tenure as a bowhunter to provide a few thoughts on what the best days of the rut will be.
The following are those dates.
My Ramblings on the Rut
I know some people who swear by certain dates and tout them as superior to other days during the rut. And they do so each year, months in advance of the rut. Some of these people are even friends of mine.
For example, friend A will miss his funeral before he misses a November 9 date with the rut. Friend B says there’s no better day than November 5. And, over in left field, friend C says October 24 is hands down the best day of the rut. I’ll give A and B the benefit of the doubt, but I routinely give friend C some pal-to-pal grief over his long-held belief.
But I will say this — any one of them could be right in a given year. And any one of them will be wrong many more times than not. Why? Too many factors play in to produce solid, visible daylight rutting activity. Simply put, the variables make it hard to pinpoint when the best days in the woods will be, especially far in advance.
That said, we do know that photoperiod (daylight length) seems to be the primary trigger for does to enter estrus in the northern half of the country. Research shows that other factors could possibly play (much) smaller roles, such as: genetics, the origination of herds founded on reintroduction efforts, the presence (or lack) of mature bucks, buck-to-doe ratios, etc. And still, other factors can play a role on how much of that activity is witnessed during daylight, such as weather, temperature, moon, etc.
But most importantly, by back-dating fetuses from bred does, we know that the rut occurs (in the northern half of the country) within the same window (give or take a day or two on each end) every year. So, yes, based on the data, there is a best day of the rut (in regard to peak breeding) each year. But that day is going to be slightly different even though it’s relatively close each year. Furthermore, how much of that breeding activity and behavior will be witnessed is anyone’s guess when you factor in all of the other direct and indirect variables that factor in to produce good daylight rut activity. Perceived rut activity is key here.
Because of this, I do have favorite days of the rut each year. But those dates change just about every season. And the actual dates (except for the date range provided by backdating fetuses) are unimportant. It isn’t the date I look at, but what is forecasted to happen on each day during the rut.
The bulk of the good pre-rut and rut activity occurs from October 25 to November 25, with peak breeding occurring between November 10-20. During that month-long window, I’m looking for several different weather and temperature factors that increase daylight activity. And those factors are independent of dates; but completely dependent on Mother Nature and her complete disregard for man’s calendar. The following are those factors.
Rut activity, and daylight activity in general, seems to increase just prior to and directly after a front passes through. Deer tend to go on a feeding frenzy when this occurs. Where the does go, the bucks will also be.
2. Temperature Drops
Look for days with significant temperature drops for the lows and highs. These days will likely coincide with the back side of a cold front. Deer will be on their feet. Focus on food sources, transition zones and staging areas.
3. Sharp Temperature Increases
Don’t ignore the warm spells. A sudden increase in temperature can “shock” a deer into getting on its feet, too. This could mean a front is coming and may signal an increase in barometric pressure. It’s all about variation and change that gets deer on their feet during daylight. Focus on heavy cover and transition zones on these days.
4. Precipitation Events
Rain and snow have a tendency to get deer moving. Hard precipitation will keep deer hunkered down. But light rain and snow will encourage movement instead. Be in the stand when it happens.
5. Low Humidity Levels
Deer don’t like high humidity levels. If it’s up, deer will be down. It’s just that simple. Hunt when the odds are in your favor.
6. Moon Overhead/Underfoot
More does feeding while the sun is up leads to more bucks on their feet during daylight. I’ve followed the moon position (overhead/underfoot — not moon phase) theory in relation to whitetail movement and feeding activity for quite some time now. And while I’m not 100 percent convinced yet, I’m putting more and more stock in it all the time. I think you should, too.
Any days and areas with lower hunting pressure will see more daylight rut activity and experience better rut hunts. Find those places. This is the final piece of the puzzle if you’re in the business of finding deer behave as they naturally do during the rut.
In order to determine the best days of the rut where you hunt, consult a biologist in your area to learn the peak breeding window based on fetus back-dating research. Then, check weather-forecasting resources to look for the factors mention above; as these will determine which of those days will present the most visible daylight activity. Because when the factors don’t align, rut activity typically occurs under the cover of darkness. And that doesn’t make for a good day of rut hunting. Even if it is on November 9.
It’s also important to not forget the rut value that pre-rut October days (leading up to peak-breeding dates) have, too. I’ll go as far as to say this: I’ll take October 30 or 31 with plummeting temperatures and the moon overhead an hour before sunset over November 9 or 10 with high temperatures and stagnant weather. Because I promise you, more rutting deer will be killed on the former. The problem with identifying these “best days of the rut”— short of a constantly changing 15-day extended forecast, we can’t know when these conditions will present themselves. And the dates on which they do are different every year.
The days when one or more of the above factors line up during the peak breeding window for your area will be the days to be in a tree. They’re few in number each fall. So, ask me what the best days of the rut will be this season and I’ll tell you — I don’t know. But I can assure you I’ll see them coming on the horizon this October and November when the stars align and the right conditions present themselves. And if you pay attention, you’ll see them coming, too.
Whitetails make the hunting world go round. Josh Honeycutt, deer hunting editor and "Brow Tines and Backstrap" blogger, knows a fair bit about killing mature deer. He was raised up hunting the river bottoms of Kentucky. And he still hunts there—among other places—to this day.
Follow along as he shares his adventures, experiences and knowledge of the white-tailed deer.