Differences in Rut Stages Now Are Both Large and Subtle

I always enjoy checking out the Whitetail Heat Map shown at the top of our Rut Reporters page section. The growing spread of oranges and reds indicate that hunters are seeing improved rutting action across much of the nation, and that map is going to be glowing-red as the days tick off in November.

But here’s the thing. Just because the rut will be rocking doesn’t mean the hunting will be easy. It’s a temptation that even veteran whitetail hunters can fall into from time to time; thinking that increased buck movement and breeding activity means that a monster will appear without effort or hunting skill. That message was hammered home in this week’s reports.

Illustration by Ryan Kirby

It's difficult to figure out exactly when and how to hunt scrapes, and South reporter Eric Bruce pointed to a couple of prime examples of how to do it right. South Carolina hunter Brian Jordan was rewarded with a giant buck by setting up over a scrape line back in the timber, with thick cover nearby. Focusing on these "community" or "hub" scrapes is, in my experience, more effective than waiting over open-cover or field edge scrapes. Scrape hunting can also require patience, as proven by Georgia hunter Mike Lee, who arrowed a fine 10-point by staying in the stand through mid-morning.

Again, a scrape in wooded cover was the buck’s destination.

That's why it's valuable to know the precise stage of the rut where you hunt. Great Plains reporter Steven Hill noted an example when he reported hunters spotting fawns traveling alone.

Seeing these solitary young deer is a sure sign that breeding is happening (or about to), and that pre-rut tactics like waiting along scrape and/or rub lines may get less successful by the day. As peak breeding arrives, it's all about knowing where does hang out, as well as travel routes bucks use to reach those places.
Reports from elsewhere serve as a reminder that the rut is an ever-dynamic and sometimes highly local affair. As we've discussed often here, environmental factors like weather can stifle the rutting activity we see. And reporters Brandon Ray (South Central) and Mike Bleech (Northeast) noted that, despite great rut action in other regions, it just wasn't happening in their regions yet. The good news for hunters in those places, of course, is that the best is yet to come.

But Mid-South reporter Will Brantley filed an interesting report on the same theme. While rut activity in Kentucky and West Virginia was ramping up, Tennessee hunters won't expect peak breeding to hit for several weeks yet. I'm always fascinated by these small variations of rut timing within the same region; they remind me of advice given to me by one of the most successful whitetail hunters I know. "If I'm not seeing things popping in one spot," he told me, "I'll pull up stakes and move to a different farm, even one that's just 10 miles away. And I've been amazed how big a difference that small distance can make."

The takeaway: The rut is a dynamic, fluid event and the best hunters respond to changes, adjust tactics, and—above all—remain patient and confident.