Northeast Rut Reporter Mike Bleech has been hunting whitetails in his native Pennsylvania and throughout the Northeast for more than four decades. A Vietnam veteran and full-time freelance outdoor writer, Bleech has had more than 5000 of his articles published. States covered: ME, NH, VT, MA, RI, CT, NY, NJ, PA OH, MD, DE.
During a scouting trip last week I saw eight bucks in one bachelor group. Five were legal (I hunt an area with antler restrictions), and three were trophy class for the big woods, public land around my home.
According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the deer breeding season can start as early as September and continue through January. Dates for this are similar throughout the Northeast Region. The majority of deer breeding in the Northeast Region takes place during the first couple weeks of November, but breeding can take place over a period of five months. (Note the spots on the fawn in this trail cam photo, taken last week. Likely the doe was bred late, since most fawns in this area have already lost their spots.)
In order to follow the rut, you need some starting point. Since things which are related to the rut, such as antler growth, happen year-around, the starting point can be any time. The sooner you start, the more you potentially can learn. Plus, anything which gets you outdoors in deer habitat sooner just means more time for fun.
No matter when you start following rut-related activity, there are important things to be discovered. First is finding good bucks. This is going to mean different things in different areas, and to different hunters. Regardless, by late August you will get a very good indication of how nice any buck will be even if it has a little growth yet. One thing to watch for is the enlargement factor caused by velvet. Keep this in mind when judging bucks.
Older bucks will be sticking much more to their home range while they are still in velvet. This is great information because it helps you formulate focal points for buck movements which will enlarge considerably once they start looking for hot does. If you do not locate a buck until it is roaming, you have no idea whether you saw it on an edge of the enlarged territory, or at the center. Do the math on this. You can afford to be a little off when the buck’s home range is, say, 3 square miles. But what if you are looking at an enlarged territory of 100 square miles?
Find him now and it will be much easier to intercept him later.
Young bucks will go through a period of dispersal before the rut, sort of a reversal of big buck movements. In some areas young bucks are targeted by hunters so this dispersal can have a big effect on scouting. Young bucks may move considerable distances.
Get your trail cameras out. Move them frequently until you have essentially drawn an overall picture of the area you plan to hunt.