When you hunt in areas with a low deer density, like the Texas Panhandle where I hunt mostly, it’s hard to get a real good feel for where the rut is. Seeing just one or two bucks per setting, a common event on my turf, it’s hard to say for sure what is going on. One morning, you see a buck chasing a doe like a cutting horse. The next day, you see a handful of deer, bucks and does, and they show no interest in each other.
This morning, for instance, I was scouting big country with a spotting scope. A mile away, I spied a buck with six does. The buck was a respectable 8-point. He sniffed them a couple of times, but mostly the whole herd of deer had their heads down, feeding on weeds along the creek.
Past experience and data from experts says that the whitetail rut peaks one week either side of Thanksgiving Day in my area. So hunting from mid-November through the first week of December is usually a good bet. From what I’ve seen this year–or have not seen–I saw the most chasing and bird-dogging from bucks from about November 9-15.
Here are two tips when you’re trying to figure out rut status in your area:
First, talk to other hunters in the general area. By comparing what they’ve seen and you’ve seen, it’s easier to get a feel for the bigger picture.
Second, talk to local wildlife biologists. Biologists for Texas Parks & Wildlife can usually tell you when the rut peaks in your hunting area based on accumulated research data. A common method for determining the peak of breeding in a given county is to harvest does late in the winter, measure the size of the fetus in pregnant does, and backtrack the age of that fetus to determine date of conception.
The date of the peak rut and its intensity can vary year to year, but networking with other hunters and talking to biologists can help you decide what the deer are doing. And from there determine what hunting tactic makes the most sense.