It’s been fun watching the color-coded “heat map” that accompanies this blog every day. Like a whitetailer’s mood ring, the oranges and red that indicate an ever-hotter fire are becoming more prevalent with each day. It seems the rut is gaining steam across the country…except where it’s not.

Let’s face it: The rut is a highly dynamic event affected by many variables. We like to think of whitetail breeding as progressing in an orderly fashion–a bell-shaped curve–of seeking, chasing, and breeding. And in the big picture, that’s basically what happens. But the big picture does not take into account what you’ll see happening around your deer stand on a given day, regardless of how “hot” the rut is supposed to be.

Mid South reporter Brantley noted this in his reports this week, which indicate pretty lackadaisical movement in his immediate hunting area. I’m seeing basically the same thing here in Minnesota. But the tell-tale indicators that show the rut is on are there; un-tended scrapes and a lack of mature buck sightings. These signs tell us that mature bucks are now tending does, whether–as in my case–we missed the excitement of seeing them chase those does or not. It’s tempting to get frustrated by a situation like this (we feel we’ve “missed” the rut, is the most common complaint we make), but the good news is, bucks only stay with estrous does for a couple days, max…And once that buck is alone again, he’s more determined to find another.

Northeast Reporter Bleech noted this phenomenon in his report, as well as another interesting rut dynamic. Namely, can rutting activity be popping in one place, but dead as a hammer only a short distance away? The answer is, “you bet.” Several variables dictate how much rutting activity we witness, and I think the population density (sheer numbers) and makeup (buck/doe ratio) play a huge role. That’s why I like to talk to friends hunting properties in different areas than I do; if I’m not seeing great rut activity and they are, I just stay patient and know that action could be picking up in my spots any day. There’s not a lot (if anything) we can do to affect the intensity of the rut in a given area, but I can do this; I try to hunt several areas around my home (separated by 10 or more miles) and if action is deadly slow in one spot, I go to another to see if more is happening there.

South Reporter Eric Bruce brought up the topic of rattling, and its effectiveness in different regions. Then Eric recounted a successful hunt by a whitetailer who rattled in and shot a buck in an area where rattling is not typically used. This is an excellent reminder that, regardless of region, whitetail bucks are genetically programmed to fight. They know what the sound of clashing antlers means. That said, there are definitely regions where rattling is more effective (the Midwest and West are the poster states for rattling, in my experience, thanks (I believe) to a stronger mature buck component). However, I carry rattling antlers with me on every hunt, regardless of locale. I may vary the frequency and intensity of rattling if I’m in an area lacking lots of mature bucks, but I’m rarely afraid to rattle. Even if my attempts are nothing more than short, “tickling” sessions, I know there’s a good chance bucks will respond. I don’t care if he approaches out of curiosity or aggression, I just want the buck to approach!