Hunting the Rut: How to Take a Buck During Peak Breeding

Photograph by Donald M JonesF&S

Regional Peak Breeding Dates
When can you expect to see bucks start ­cruising? Our Rut Reporters researched fetal-­aging, fawn-drop, and other data to determine a range of dates when each rut phase is most apt to be active in seven regions.

✖ Northeast: Nov. 10–20
✖ North-Central: Nov. 10–20
✖ Great Plains: Nov. 10–20
✖ West: Nov. 14–24
✖ Mid-South: Nov. 15–25
✖ South-Central: Nov. 22–Dec. 2
✖ South: Nov. 28–Dec. 8

Trophy Tactic: Stalk a Stud
The Action: Hunters call this phase the lockdown. At its zenith, 30 to 40 percent of all does will come into estrus over a three- to five-day period, and since most herds have a higher ratio of does, mature bucks have no problem finding mates. An experienced breeder will push a ready doe into an odd and remote spot, where competition from other bucks is greatly reduced, and that breeding pair may spend up to three days together. In other words, you won't see a lot of buck activity, especially in your usual spots. All of this makes peak breeding one of the toughest times to kill a buck.

The Hot Zone: Right now, the big guys will have their mates sequestered in secluded covers, such as an old farmstead, a brushy fencerow, a small cattail marsh, even an overgrown rockpile in a plowed field. The best place for you to be is where you can see as many of these oddball locations as possible, whether that means an observation stand, a high spot where you can glass, or your truck.

The Hunt Plan: Glass meticulously, looking for part of a bedded deer. Be patient, as the buck or doe will likely stand at some point to feed or stretch. Once you have a breeding pair marked, plan a stalk using terrain and cover to hide you. If it’s still bow season where you hunt, try stalking behind a lightweight silhouette decoy. When you get inside shooting range, you can simply wait for the buck to stand (which could take hours) or get him up with a grunt or snort-wheeze. If you choose the latter, be ready to shoot fast.

Tip: Before you stalk, pick a landmark near the buck—a tree, rock, or tuft of weeds—and use it as reference to keep yourself on course.

Any-Buck Tactic: Read the Signs
Always a step behind the big boys and famous for figuring does out too late, younger bucks are at sea now. They'll be looking for other deer where they've had success before: primary scrapes. Dominant bucks between mates will also check these spots now. Look for freshly disturbed dirt and a licking branch. Set up to shoot right to the sign, as younger bucks are apt to head straight there without circling.

Tip: Any buck—big, medium, or small—without a mate will be on his feet throughout the day looking, which makes this phase prime for midday hunting.