Lock-Down in Some Areas, Pre-Rut in Others

The rut is on in the Mid-South, but depending on where you live, it's in varying stages. The Mid-South states are at that pivotal latitude where the whitetail rut timing changes fast. A hundred miles north or south can make weeks' worth of difference.

Northern tier states--Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia--tend to follow a typical Midwestern rut schedule, and bucks began seriously chasing does about two weeks ago. Now, many bucks are "locked down" with receptive does; it's the true breeding peak of the rut.

"We had some good weather and a pretty pronounced chase phase of the rut in much of West Virginia," says Chris Ryan, who works for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. "The peak breeding should occur over the next few days. That'll mean bucks are locked down, and it can make the hunting pretty tough. Sometimes hunters actually think the rut is ending at that time, but it's simply hitting the next phase."

Kentucky's gun season has been open nearly a week, and despite warm, windy weather on opening weekend, hunters shot plenty of deer. My cousin Lindsay Arnett, hunting with her husband Zach, was among them. Lindsay shot the 8-pointer in the photo not long into opening day.

"Honestly, I'd complained about not wanting to get up that morning, but I didn't have to sit long," she says. "Zach and I were hunting off the ground on a hillside, and we'd seen a doe just before shooting light. Twenty minutes or so later, this buck came from out of nowhere, nose to the ground, looking for that doe."

Lindsay made good on a 60-yard shot with her .25-06. And, later that afternoon, Zach returned to the same area and bagged a fine 10-pointer. This time of year, a good stand can give up more than one shooter buck. Does are the magic ingredient.

In Mid-South areas farther south, particularly West Tennessee, the peak breeding is usually later, often around the first of December. That trend is holding true this year. Jimbo Robinson, a Tennessee contact who lives in Memphis and hunts river bottom and crop-field ground in nearby Haywood County, says things are just now picking up in his area.

"We're in the early parts of the rut here. Does and fawns are still together, but there are a ton of fresh rubs and scrapes," he says. "We're starting to see a lot of daylight buck movement too. In fact, I saw a big one yesterday, but never could get a good shot at him. He was cruising in broad daylight. Gun season opens this weekend, and I think if you want to kill a big buck in West Tennessee, the next five to seven days should be good."