Glory Days, Part I; Oct. 27--Nov. 8

Call in sick. Vote late. Get engaged next spring. Whatever you do, just make sure you're in the deer woods on these seven dates, because there won't be a better time to tag a buck all year. PLUS: The Myths of the Rut, from Dr. Karl Miller.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Call in sick. Vote late. Get engaged next spring. Whatever you do, just make sure you're in the deer woods on these seven dates, because there won't be a better time to tag a buck all year. PLUS: The Myths of the Rut, from Dr. Karl Miller.

No doubt about it-there is something of the occult in the way a veteran whitetail buck can dodge and dance. It doesn't seem possible that mere animals can pull off the stunts they do, leaving us baffled time after time. I'm going to vanish like smoke now and leave you feeling like a complete jerk. Want to see?

Ah, you say, but what about the rut? Doesn't even the smartest buck eventually start thinking with his gonads instead of his brain? Yes, but not the way you think, and if you assume that on one magical day every big deer in the woods is going to turn into a suicidal Romeo, you're wrong.

The rut can actually be broken down into four main phases that stretch over five weeks. It all begins for most of the country around October 27 with the pre-rut, scrape-checking stage. That is followed by a period of seeking and chasing, then mating, and finally the post-rut. To maximize your chances of getting a buck, understand the differences between the rut's four phases. Then strive to be in the woods on those days when the hunting should be best.

Remember that intense heat or cold, high winds, and hunting pressure can all affect the rut and throw it off schedule. We can't guarantee a buck for you, but this information will give you one heck of an advantage.

Phase 1: Early Pre-rut
Phase 1 occurs from October 27 to November 3. Bucks aren't fighting with one another yet, nor are they chasing does, but they are in peak condition. Testosterone levels are building. Eventually, bucks shift away from their patterns of bedding most of the day and feeding at dusk and night. With cooling temperatures, they travel more in the mornings and arrive earlier at staging areas where deer congregate before moving to food sources later. At this time, bucks are searching for older does that come into estrus ahead of others in the herd. They do this by making scrapes, marking them with scent, and checking them periodically.

Key dates: October 27, November 2
Tip: November 2 is the new moon, so be prepared for deer on the move.

Phase 2: seek & chase
Phase 2, commonly known as the pre-rut seek-and-chase phase, stretches from about November 4 to 11. Whitetail bucks are constantly on the move now, seeking mates, and their swollen necks are evidence of peaking testosterone levels. More and more does are coming into heat at this time, and the woods are becoming chaotic. Whatever you do during deer hunting season, don't miss out on this period. It is the ultimate time to kill a mature whitetail buck. Be it with a bow, muzzleloader, or modern firearm, you need to be in the woods now. November 8, in particular, is the one date you should stay in the woods all day if possible.

Key date: November 8
Tip:A first-quarter moon won't greatly influence whitetail behavior.

Phase 3: mating
You'll know when Phase 3, which is all about mating, has arrived. Running from November 12 to 24, this stage is marked by woods that have become quiet. If you didn't know better, you'd think all the deer have disappeared. Most does are in estrus now, and bucks are with mates except during those periods when they have finished breeding one doe and are looking for another. In some areas, a buck may stay with a single doe before, during, and after her normal 24- to 48-hour estrous cycle. In regions with an abundance of females, a buck may linger only for the peak of a doe's cycle, then move on to service other does.

Key dates: November 16, 19
Tip:The full moon on the 16th means heavy midday movemt.

Phase 4: post-rut
By Phase 4, from approximately November 25 to December 2, most adult does have come into heat and been bred. Bucks are tired but are still searching for late-cycling females and any does coming into heat for the very first time. While many younger bucks have totally dropped out of the rut, worn out more by chasing than actual breeding, the older males stay active as long as necessary. As they search for does, they will often venture into territory they haven't been to this season, so don't be surprised if you see a big buck you've never seen before. This year, December 1 is your best last-chance date for getting a trophy.

Key dates: November 25, December 1
Tip:Deer activity will pick up at the tail end of the waning moon phase. [NEXT "Transition Time"]

OCTOBER 27
Don't miss this date, when the early pre-rut starts to kick in. It's a Thursday, and deer have had a chance to settle down from the previous weekend's hunting pressure. Bucks are emerging from mid-October doldrums and the first early frosts have them feeding heavily on crops, forbs, fruits, and acorns.

1. The Situation:
Transition Time
This is an in-between period. Bucks haven't totally vacated their core summer ranges to hang out with does, but they are gradually shifting from elevated, heavy cover to the lower, gentler terrain that the females prefer-by way of transition corridors, staging areas, and feeding spots. The moon is in the last quarter and fading fast, encouraging daytime movement. Rising testosterone levels and cooling temperatures enhance activity. Bucks are on the prowl. This is a great time to tag a trophy.

2. Primary Tactic:
Hunt Food Sources
Set up in an oak flat that has abundant acorns, scuffled leaves, fresh droppings, and large tracks. Get in before dawn. This is a prime morning stand location for the early pre-rut, when bucks are bulking up on high-carbohydrate foods to layer on fat for the winter.

Besides the acorns that attract them, bucks know they have a chance of encountering early-estrous does thereabouts. Bow and blackpowder hunters should pay particular attention to the wind in these areas and set up within range, but downwind, of anticipated activity. Expect a buck to show anytime from dawn until 10 A.M. Make sure you're not in an air pocket or eddy created by a cliff or nearby hill, which could cause your scent to swirl around and blow toward your quarry.

3. Backup Plan:
Get in a Zone
Take a midday break. Then, at 2:30 or 3 P.M., move to a transition corridor. These are broad areas, anywhere from 30 to 100 yards wide, that lead from doe beds to prime feeding locations. They might feature tall grass, weeds, honeysuckle, sumac, greenbrier, raspberries, blackberries, and olives, as well as a variety of forbs and saplings. Transition zones will have a mixture of food and some cover but are never thick.

Does leisurely work through these areas on their way to agricultural fields, food plots, orchards, or oak flats. The corridors often lead from midlevel benches and hillsides toward food sources lower down. Bucks are starting to shadow does in these transition areas now, so find a spot with heavy sign and watch until dark.

4. Don't Do This:
Rattle
Rattling antlers won't work now. Deer are only beginning to feel the pull of the rut. They aren't fighting yet. The sound of bucks battling would be unrealistic, more likely to spook mature animals rather than attract them. And even if a buck were to investigate, the cover is so thick at this time of year that it might be difficult to judge antler quality.

5. Do This:
Put on a Mask
Bucks are barely emerging from their summer patterns at this early stage of the rut, so forget using doe-in-estrus urine or similar scents. Instead, choose red fox, skunk, raccoon, earth, hemlock, or other masking scents. Food scents, such as apple or acorn, are another option.
Grunt Work
This is the time for soft contact grunts. Expel short breaths, one second or so in duration, with pauses in between. Blow three or four in a series, then wait five to 20 minutes and repeat. Deer often communicate this way, as if to say Hey, I'm over here. Where are you?

Rut Myth No 1: The moon influences the timing of the rut.
There is no scientific evidence indicating that the moon phase influences when the rut will occur. On the contrary, studies have shown that the major factor affecting the rut is decreasing daylight. Deer perceive the shortening daylight hours via the pineal gland, which results in rising hormone levels. This, in turn, ensures that breeding occurs during a certain time frame each fall. Most fawns are consequently born in late spring or early summer, to maximize their chances for survival. In contrast, timing by moon phase would not provide any survival advantage. -Dr. Karl V. Miller [NEXT "Situation: Bucks Making Their Marks"]

NOVEMBER 2
The moon does not determine the onset of the rut. Every year the rut takes place at basically the same time, caused by a decline in daylight that triggers reactions in the deer's pineal and pituitary glands, leading to a buildup in testosterone. Weather, hunting pressure, and other factors may influence how dramatic and visible the rut seems from year to year, but its timing does not change. Moon phases, however, do influence deer activity levels and when they move. That's why this day is hot in 2005: It's the new moon.

1. The Situation:
Bucks Are Making Their Marks
Shortly after daybreak and just before dark during this lunar phase, bucks will be on the move. Be out before dawn and hunt hard the first few hours. Also be on stand for the final two hours of daylight. Bucks are busy checking scrapes near doe bedding and feeding areas, freshening them with urine, saliva, and scent from their forehead glands.

2. Primary Tactic:
Watch Those Scrapes
This is a great time to watch scrapes, but make sure you are positioned near active ones made because of the rut, not boundary scrapes dating from August or September. Look for large, freshly pawed ovals near doe bedding and transition zones. A small, chewed branch 4 to 5 feet abov judge antler quality.

5. Do This:
Put on a Mask
Bucks are barely emerging from their summer patterns at this early stage of the rut, so forget using doe-in-estrus urine or similar scents. Instead, choose red fox, skunk, raccoon, earth, hemlock, or other masking scents. Food scents, such as apple or acorn, are another option.
Grunt Work
This is the time for soft contact grunts. Expel short breaths, one second or so in duration, with pauses in between. Blow three or four in a series, then wait five to 20 minutes and repeat. Deer often communicate this way, as if to say Hey, I'm over here. Where are you?

Rut Myth No 1: The moon influences the timing of the rut.
There is no scientific evidence indicating that the moon phase influences when the rut will occur. On the contrary, studies have shown that the major factor affecting the rut is decreasing daylight. Deer perceive the shortening daylight hours via the pineal gland, which results in rising hormone levels. This, in turn, ensures that breeding occurs during a certain time frame each fall. Most fawns are consequently born in late spring or early summer, to maximize their chances for survival. In contrast, timing by moon phase would not provide any survival advantage. -Dr. Karl V. Miller [NEXT "Situation: Bucks Making Their Marks"]

NOVEMBER 2
The moon does not determine the onset of the rut. Every year the rut takes place at basically the same time, caused by a decline in daylight that triggers reactions in the deer's pineal and pituitary glands, leading to a buildup in testosterone. Weather, hunting pressure, and other factors may influence how dramatic and visible the rut seems from year to year, but its timing does not change. Moon phases, however, do influence deer activity levels and when they move. That's why this day is hot in 2005: It's the new moon.

1. The Situation:
Bucks Are Making Their Marks
Shortly after daybreak and just before dark during this lunar phase, bucks will be on the move. Be out before dawn and hunt hard the first few hours. Also be on stand for the final two hours of daylight. Bucks are busy checking scrapes near doe bedding and feeding areas, freshening them with urine, saliva, and scent from their forehead glands.

2. Primary Tactic:
Watch Those Scrapes
This is a great time to watch scrapes, but make sure you are positioned near active ones made because of the rut, not boundary scrapes dating from August or September. Look for large, freshly pawed ovals near doe bedding and transition zones. A small, chewed branch 4 to 5 feet abov