BY Josh Honeycutt December 12, 2020
Hunters wait for the rut each year. It’s a time when most push in, hunt their best spots, and tag target bucks. The entire foray spans from late October through November, but the bulk of breeding occurs Nov. 10-20. As expected, we witnessed a near-identical timeline this year.
Now, well into December, the rut is over. Sure, a handful of missed adult does, and maybe even some doe fawns, will cycle into estrus soon, but these will be far and few between. Hunters will do well to focus on grub from here on out.
In Wisconsin, Own the Season’s Art Helin voices much the same. “Wisconsin deer seem to be back to feeding heavily, and are showing post-rut activity,” he says.
He has also spent some time in Kansas. Around Thanksgiving, he shot a good buck as it pushed a few does. That’s to be expected. However, he recently talked to a friend who is still there, and he tagged a buck that was with a doe just a few days ago. That said, it’s likely this deer was missed or didn’t take when it first cycled into estrus in early November.
Over to Minnesota, Bone Collector’s Nick Mundt says deer are enjoying unseasonably warm weather. “It looks like the rut is pretty much over and deer are hitting feed, but in the dark,” he says. “If we get some cold and snow, it could be good for some late-season feeding strategies.”
Down to Iowa, Midwest Whitetail’s Bill Winke says there is very little rut activity now. There will still be some breeding that takes place, but it’ll be does not bred during their first cycle, and some doe fawns that cycle for the first time.
“We rarely see this activity, as it takes place mostly at night,” Winke says. “There may be some bucks cruising as a result, but most of the movement is to and from feeding areas, and the second rut takes place within that movement pattern. For all intents and purposes, the rut is over in my part of the Midwest.”
Grigsby host Mike Stroff is in Iowa, too. He agrees with Winke. The rut is practically over, with sporadic action here and there. “I am seeing a lot of deer in large groups, and on the feed,” Stroff says. “With that said, I have seen a few bucks still chasing a doe or two around. So, I guess there are still some does that might be in [estrus], but not very many are left.”
The rut status is very similar in Ohio. Almost all of the does are bred. I likely witnessed the final (visible) rut activity last week, when a hot doe led five bucks in front of one trail camera. All of them were on her trail, and no more than two hours behind. That tells me she was one of the last receptive does.
Since then, all has been pretty quiet, and everything signals a start to the late season. Deer are pounding food, especially remaining red oak acorns. The Buckeye State had a bumper crop this year. That’s great for deer herd health, but bad news for many hunters, as it spaces out deer.
Looking at the region as a whole, the rut was pretty average. Of course, for numerous states, we had a warm spell that spanned the early portions, but better temperatures pushed through for the second half.
Tyler Jordan road tripped from state to state throughout the rut, and he reports that it was as expected this season. It happened right on schedule in each respective location.
“It seems the rut was on track this year,” Jordan says. “I shot my Illinois deer on October 31, when bucks were just starting to cruise and check does.”
Jordan says the last week of October is his favorite week to hunt. Regardless of the state, during this window, you don’t have to worry quite as much about lockdown.
“Kansas was right in the middle of the peak rutting action, which was fun to see and be a part of,” Jordan says. “It was crazy the amount of bucks we saw from Nov. 10-16 that we still have yet to get pictures of on our trail cameras. It just proves cameras don’t tell the full story during that time, and you must be in the area to understand what all is happening, so you can adjust accordingly.”
As we reflect on the 2020 rut, it’s clear that deer did what deer always do during this time of year. Warmer temperatures might have stifled some daytime movement, but bucks still cruised, chased and bred does.
While the true whitetail rut madness is now in the rearview mirror for midwestern deer hunters, they can find solace in that it’ll happen right on schedule again next year. For now, we’ll once again enjoy the patternable deer of the late season — a luxury we generally don’t have during the rut. To be honest, I prefer it.
Longtime Realtree.com contributor Josh Honeycutt is a guy who knows big deer and makes a full-time living writing about them. He hails from Kentucky but hunts all over the Midwest.