Normally at this time of the season I report that the deer are still a few weeks away from even pre-rut conditions. And for the most part, most of the deer are. Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas and parts of Louisiana typically experience their rut in mid-November, with pre-rut coming in around late October. Based on past history, there shouldn’t be any bucks chasing does now, but I’ve been getting some unusual reports lately that make me question what we’ve thought all along.
The rut is controlled primarily by photoperiodism, which refers to the amount or length of sunlight during the day that decreases as we move along toward winter. Other factors affect the rut such as the weather, buck to doe ratio, and hunting pressure. It varies widely in the South, from August in southern Florida to January and even February in some southern regions. So when we hear stories about bucks chasing does in late September or early October, we often write it off to an over-aggressive buck that can’t wait. The does are not ready and are annoyed by the advances.
One South Carolina hunter arrowed a nice Palmetto buck last week and reported that the buck he shot was one of five bucks chasing one doe. I can understand one early amorous buck after a doe, but five? The hunter said “They were all chasing her. The one I shot was grunting every few seconds. Not sure if she was in heat or not, but they wanted her to be.” One would have to conclude that the doe was in heat to attract five bucks.
For the past several weeks there have been numerous reports of rubs and scrapes, particularly around areas littered with acorns. It’s not that unusual for bucks to start rubbing and scraping by now, but it seems that there has been much more than we typically hear about at this time. One Georgia hunter said “this may be the best acorn crop I’ve ever seen.”
Perhaps the bumper acorn crop has the deer fat and full of energy, causing them to feel frisky. A healthier deer, like one full of acorns, will have more energy to expend on extra-curricular activities such as rutting instead of just trying to find food and survive.
Another bowhunter was hunting a location with some white oak acorns next to a thick cutover. Anytime you find thick cover next to a food source, it’s an excellent place to ambush a mature buck at dusk because they like to stay close to cover. The hunter, Zach Petty, describes the scenario. “I heard a heavy walking sound off to my right so I turned and looked. All I saw were tines coming through the thick cover. He came in eating white oak acorns about 50 yards in front of me and he kept coming up the hill like he was on a string. When he got to 30 yards, he locked up and wouldn’t come any further so when he turned broadside, I took a shot hitting him in the shoulder.” After a long tracking job, Zach and his friends found the 115-inch 8-pointer. “He did have signs of rutting on his horns, but his glands were still white,” Petty observed.
Some signs seem to indicate an early rut in certain areas. A variety of reasons may be the cause, but if it’s happening early in your area, try some grunting and maybe even some light rattling to see if you can draw in an early rutting buck. All the South is bowhunting now except for Alabama (Oct. 15) and a few areas in Louisiana.