We’ve come nearly full circle in the rut cycle now, but this last of our Best Days is certainly no slouch. One month ago, does were entering estrus all over your hunting area, and bucks were running wild trying to service every doe. Guess what? Those bucks failed. Does are in heat for a 24- to 36-hour period, and if they’re not bred during that small window of time, they re-cycle a month later–which is, as you’ve surmised, right now.
It gets better. In addition to these missed does, a certain number of fawns–up to 40 percent in some areas–will enter their first estrous cycle, and the bucks will chase and breed them with abandon. This secondary rut will by no means match the main event in duration, scope, or intensity. But if you ignore it, you may miss out on a wildly successful season finale.
Many of the areas frequented by deer during the primary rut will be barren now. We’re in the early stages of winter, and whitetails will be focused mainly on feeding. So your No. 1 priority is to seek out the best late-season food sources in your area: waste grain and cut corn in farm country, clear-cuts and mast crops in the big timber, and food plots if you’ve had the ability and foresight to plant them. Any late rutting activity will focus in and around these high-value feeding areas, and you need to find them.
If there’s snow on the ground, a scouting trip will quickly reveal the top food sources. Minus the white stuff, wait until the sun sits well above the treetops before visiting the best feeding spots in your area. Fresh rubs or scrapes will reveal where bucks are spending their time. Look for tracks that indicate a running deer: If an estrous doe enters a feeding area, any nearby buck will go after her.
The moon will be visible in the late-afternoon sky today, so make sure you’re settled into your stand by midafternoon at the latest. If the temperature is below normal, set up earlier; deer may be feeding actively as early as midday to take advantage of the warmer temps. More important, bucks will often swing through a food source early in the day to scent-check for estrous females, especially if the site is secluded, or if they’ve gotten a whiff of a hot doe nearby but haven’t found her yet.
To see all the Best Days of the Rut, visit the Rut Reporters page and view the calendar to the right.