National Summary: Pick-Up Breeding Boosts Big Buck Activity

If one thing jumped out at me while reading the latest reports it's this: There are actually two ruts that occur each fall. One is the rut that most of us see from our stands and blinds—the chaos of small and medium-size bucks running wild as they seek and chase does. The second is the breeding season for mature bucks, which is in some ways markedly different from the annual event most of us call “the rut.”

The biggest difference with mature-buck breeding is that they are just uber-quick to find the first estrous does. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this over the years, but it seems like the really big guys cruise actively for just a couple of days, and suddenly they disappear—locked down, I presume, with a doe. The reason I bring this up is because several recent reports included hunter comments indicating that the big bucks weren’t active yet.

I used to believe this, too, but now I feel that that’s backwards. By the time we see little bucks acting goofy, the big dudes are already with their first doe or are looking for their second (or third, or…). My trail cams hint at this phenomenon every; I get a nice run of big deer pics around the last week of October, then mostly junior bucks for a brief time, and then (in mid-November) the big guys show up again.

The other part of the rut unique to mature bucks is its length. November is winding down, and I’ve seen immature bucks feeding with does on food plots and picked farm fields. While these young bucks would certainly breed a doe if the opportunity arose, they’re mostly running out of gas. Meanwhile, the true stud bucks are still actively seeking their next target. As Mid-South reporter Will Brantley notes, this pick-up breeding phase is often the best time to kill a true whopper buck.

Some of those deer are going to be straying out of their home range as they hunt for love. That was likely the case with the giant Ohio buck covered by northeast reporter Mike Shea. The 175-inch bruiser was not a buck captured on camera or previously seen; while there’s a chance he was a local that just proved elusive, it’s just as likely that the buck was on an excursion that put him in territory he might not have seen before.

So it’s tempting to deflate a bit as the wonderful month of November quickly fades, but you need to keep plugging away, because the chances for a true monster buck may be higher now than they were weeks ago—when we were all fired up for the rut!