Overall activity status: Like the waxing and waning of the moon, rut activity is waxing in Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, and eastern Louisiana. It’s waning in Arkansas, South Carolina, Georgia, and western Louisiana. The recent unseasonably warm weather across the South has dampened movement somewhat, but in pre-rut states, the bucks are on the move.
Fighting: Bucks should be sparring and getting testy in Florida, eastern Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. As bucks begin laying down sign and marking their territory, expect more bucks to bang heads in preparation for the rut.
Rub making: Deer in Mississippi, Florida, western Louisiana, and Alabama are rubbing more and more. Shane Dempsey, who hunts in northern Alabama, says he is seeing more rut sign: “The bucks are starting to crank out the rubs and scrapes, and some young bucks are starting to cruise a little. The warm weather has shut down a lot of the deer movement. Everyone that I have talked to said this has been a down year as far as movement, and all agree this warm weather we have had is the culprit.”
Scrape making: As Dempsey observed, rubs and scrapes are on the increase in pre-rut states. Look for pawed-out spots along ridges and edges of food plots and fields. Place a trail camera on them to see who is visiting. I placed a trail cam on a scrape, doctored it with some deer scent, and got pictures of numerous deer visiting it even thought the rut peak has passed in Georgia.
Chasing: Eager bucks, mainly the younger ones, are already chasing in Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama. Jimmy Riley of Giles Island, Mississippi, reports that “hunting has finally gotten good. Our rut is almost here, we're starting to see some chasing.”
Daytime movement: With the warmer weather, movement is somewhat muted and confined to dawn and dusk in many instances. Dusk is when Jimmy Hurst saw his Florida buck. Hurst had been hunting a particular big buck and on December 3 he got a trail camera picture of what he believed to be the buck. He began hunting more often, hoping to get a shot at it:
“I walked into the woods with steamy temperatures and horrible mosquitoes. I saw nothing until about 5:30 when a small doe walked out into the hammock and directly in front of me. She fed there for a few minutes before she started to look into the woods where she came from.
“As I watched the doe, I heard a small crash back behind the stand. I spun around to see what made the noise. It was a deer that had run into a cabbage palm frond hanging about 110 yards behind me. All I could see was the legs of a deer. It was walking quickly towards the property line from left to right and almost out of my line of sight. I rested my rifle on the shooting rail and scoped the only opening that it would cross before it would pass out of sight. It would have to be a split-second judgment on whether or not it was a shooter because I didn't want to risk stopping it behind all the brush.
“When it stepped into the little lane, judging the buck was very easy. I dropped the crosshairs to his chest very quickly and pulled the trigger.”
Unsure of the shot and full of adrenaline, Hurst hurried down to the buck and found it still struggling but soon expired. Hurst was thrilled—it was a true giant Florida buck that weighed 202 pounds, with an eight-point rack that scored around 143 inches. The buck, shown above with Hurst, was out cruising and checking scrapes when the hunter put him down.
Estrous signs: Most does are anywhere from a week to a month away from estrus in pre-rut states depending on where you're hunting. They may have a few early does coming into heat, but the bulk is in the near future.
X Factor: Whenever the weather goes from unseasonably warm to chilly and cold, expect increased movement and the rut to bust wide open. That will be one of the best times to be in the woods if you hunt Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, or eastern Louisiana. “A nice blast of cold air should get things moving,” says Alabama's Dempsey, “as the rut in northeast Alabama usually occurs anywhere from December 17 all the way until the end of January, with the peak rut occurring around the first and second weeks in January. Shouldn't be long!”