Overall activity status: Depending on where you are in the South, this season’s rut could be over, peaking, or still to come. It seems to be peaking in Arkansas and Georgia, but may be over in portions of Florida and South Carolina. Andrew Baxter hunts in South Carolina and says that buck behavior has been changing over the years: “Rut activity is still going on, but not like it was in October. For some reason the deer in South Carolina are really firing up in October, and it seems to get earlier every year. This pattern has been going on for the last eight years or so. I saw deer this year on October 1st chasing just as hard as they could. They are ready to breed but the does still aren’t ready.”
Though the weather is not as frigid as it is up north, it’s still pretty chilly for us Southern hunters, and if you can bear it, there should be good activity. Colder temperatures get deer moving as they have a need to eat more.
Fighting: No reports of fighting, but a buck without a doe may respond to rattling under the right circumstances.
Rub making: Rubbing has tapered off in rut states and is increasing in pre-rut states such as Alabama and Mississippi. Bucks gearing up for the rut should be rubbing more and more in preparation for breeding and fighting.
Scrape making: I checked a scrape in Georgia on Tuesday that had been hot with activity weeks earlier and it appeared unused. With the rut ongoing, many bucks have a doe and are not advertising. But look for scraping to increase in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Chasing: There is some chasing in Arkansas, South Carolina, and Georgia, but many bucks already are with an estrous doe and are on “lock down.” But there is still some chasing for does still coming into heat and those bucks still looking for theirs.
Nick Sampey hunts in Louisiana and is optimistic of future rut activity. “There have been three good bucks that I know of killed within 20 minutes of my house,” Sampey said. “One of my buddies in Winn Parish actually tagged out his bucks by the first week of November. All were good bucks and one great one, also this is on public land. None of these bucks were chasing, they all just seemed to leave the bed a little early. I do know that the smaller bucks are starting to do all of their pre-rut rituals: chasing, roaming, and showing up way too much in daylight for it not to be getting close. I have heard reports of chasing going on but from what I gather, it is all young bucks trying to push the issue. This is something that happens every year around this time and I’m figuring we still have a week or two before you will start getting good reports from my area. There are lots of scrapes showing up, which tells me it’s all pre-rut behavior. I’m looking forward to getting after them and with the bit of colder than usual weather we’re getting this year, I think it will be an awesome time to make a lot of midday sits. From what I have seen in the past, our deer are like no other and on a lot of cold mornings they won’t move until the sun is already up and heating the woods.”
Daytime movement: The colder weather and the rut have whitetails moving well across the South. The only caveat is the bucks on lock-down with does, which may have diminished buck sightings. But they’ll come out eventually. A friend who hunts central Georgia went out two prime days this week and only saw a few does. Frustrated by the lack of buck sightings, he attributed it to the lock down.
Peter Signorelli, another Louisiana hunter, is anticipating rut activity soon: “The rut occurs later in the season, about mid- to late December. However, all the deer we killed last year was during the first cold snap before Thanksgiving, such as is this coming weekend.”
Estrous signs: All the chasing by Georgia, South Carolina, and Arkansas bucks point to estrus does. The mature bucks have been active for a few weeks now which also indicates real does in heat. Pre-rut states are a week or two from any estrus does, but there always could be some early does.
X-Factor: Bucks locked down with their estrus does can be a real problem for hunters. The buck will not leave their doe for any reason. Best bet is to hunt for bucks that are looking for a doe. If you find a locked down buck, try to lure the doe away with a bleat call. Also, it may be possible to sneak up on the pair from downwind under the right conditions.