Deer Hunting Rut

whitetail doe in the snow

The rut is a magical time of year. It is the breeding season for whitetail deer. It is the time of year when it is the easiest to see bucks moving during the day. Even nocturnal bucks can be seen moving during daytime hours looking for hot does. During my many years of hunting I have seen more bucks during the rut than anytime other time. I’ve even seen bucks that I hadn’t seen earlier in the season.

Bucks will chase does around especially if the doe is not ready to be breed. She will run from them. Doe’s will run to get away from the buck and not use their other senses as much. The bucks will be focused on the doe that it’s after and not pay attention too much else. I have killed a lot of bucks over the years due to this chasing.

The phases of the rut as always the same. The time frame that they happen will however move around depending on weather and moon conditions.

Pre Rut

The pre rut starts usually around the middle to end of October. Prior to the start of the pre rut, the bucks hang out in bachelor groups. Once the pre rut starts, they will break apart into individual groups.

During this time frame scraps and rubs start to become really active. A scrape is where a buck will kick the ground up in a small circle. They will leave scent from their scent glands in their back legs. A rub is where bucks will rub tree’s with their antlers to show dominance. The scraps and rubs can sometimes form a line.

The pre rut is where the bucks are starting to chase does and starts to ramp up to the actual rut. There will be a lot of buck sign being created and renewed. The bucks will sometimes become more active during the daytime hours. I have killed more than one buck between 11am to 1pm during the pre rut.

During the pre rut I will try and find areas between bedding areas and probable food sources to set up stands. I do this as the bucks will be checking these routes for doe’s that go into heat. I will not use a lot of rattling or calling during this phase. The bucks still are not as receptive yet to these types of tactics until the rut starts.


Whitetail BuckThe rut is the holy grail of deer hunting. You will have your best chance of taking a mature whitetail deer during this time period. The bucks are actively chasing and breeding doe’s during this time frame. I have killed many deer both bucks and doe’s over the years hunting the rut. The Rut usually starts the starts of November and lasts a couple of weeks.

I will try and put in as many hours hunting during the rut as I can. Deer will be moving all throughout the day. Bucks will be checking doe trails for a doe in heat or almost in heat. The doe’s that are not quite ready yet will run from the buck and the bucks will give chase. I’ve seen bucks chase the same doe past my stand several times in a short period of time.

I had many deer that have run past my stands during this phase. Calling and rattling are very effective during this phase. I have also had good success using deer decoys during the rut. The decoys do work very well during this time. I’ve seen bucks come over and go to show dominance over an invading buck.

While we on the subject of decoys. Doe decoys also work very well during the rut. A little doe in heat scent added to the tail area of the decoy can add realism to the decoy. A tip I will give you is if you are using a doe decoy play it facing away from where you expect the buck to come from. Bucks will come focus on the back of a doe decoy and will travel towards that area. Buck decoys are the exact opposite. Bucks will attack from the front. Place them accordingly so when the buck gets close to the decoy it is in an area where you can get a shot into.

Post Rut

The post rut happens after the rut has completed. Most of the doe’s have been bred and start to move into herding up. There is a second rut that happens end of November into December. The remaining doe’s that weren’t bred during the rut or that came into heat late will go into a second rut. The bucks will do minor chasing to breed the remaining doe’s.

A mature bucks go back into being reclusive. By the post rut most states have had their gun seasons by the time the post rut hits. Mature bucks may have become nocturnal again due to all the hunting pressure. It gets harder to find them after the rut ends but they have to eat to.

During this time the bucks are in bad shape. Their mind is focused on one thing and that is the breeding process. They burn off most of their fat reserves and will be eating to rebuild those reserves before it gets really cold.

Calling and rattling don’t work as well during the post rut. I will sometimes use calling but stop rattling for the most part. I have seen bucks turn and run from rattling. Calling does not cause alarm as deer call to each other all year around as long as it’s not a doe in heat call.

Tactics and Strategies

I will implore many different tactics and strategies depending on the phase I’m hunting in. Prior to the start of the pre rut, I will position myself between likely eating places and likely bedding places. The deer will travel from bedding to eating places and back.

Once the pre rut starts I will hone in on where the does are. The bucks will be checking doe’s. I will sometimes use scents sparingly and simple calls. I will rattle on occasion as well. Following the same tactics as I do prior to the pre rut when selecting stand locations.

The rut is magical time of year. I will hunt as much as I can. Find the doe’s and you’ll find the bucks eventually. Spend as much time as you can in the stand. The bucks are on the move and will move throughout the day. I have seen more deer moving during the day during this time frame than any other.

Decoys and rattling work extremely well during the rut. I try and use them as much as possible during this time. Scents also add an element of realism to the decoys and rattling. Anything can happen at any moment during the rut. You can go all day without seeing anything and than deer after deer runs by. A truly magical time of year.

Wrapping it up

By learning the different phases and how to hunt them can make you a more successful hunter. I have made my share of mistakes over the years but learned from each encounter. I used to use tons of scents and use doe in heat calls all season long. Those mistakes made me learn the why. I tried following a few things that I had read in magazines and articles.

By learning how the phases worked and what to try and when helped make me a more successful hunter. Not a season goes by I don’t get at least one deer. I learned the hard way by making the mistakes but I tried to learn something from each one.

Spend the time learning the phases and how to hunt them and it will make you a more successful hunter. I look forward to hearing about your experiences and comments. Please leave them below. Thank you. Dan





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6 thoughts on “Deer Hunting Rut”

  1. Thanks for the interesting read. I’m not into hunting but still like to learn about different peoples passions.

    It seems to be quite a science to hunt down a deer. It must be exciting when you actually have one in front of you. 

    In Switzerland the hunting is limited to seasons and the numbers are limited as well. Do you need a permit to go hunting where you are or is it all free to go?

    • Hello Stefan,

      It has been a passion of mine since I was 12 years old and could go out hunting with the guys.  Science has helped with the success rate but it not a fix all.  The hunter still has to do their part and the deer don’t always do what you expect them to.  Here in Wisconsin you purchase a buck license and depending on where you are hunting in the state you can get doe permits.  In northern Wisconsin there was a limited number of doe permits available and you had to get into a que on a certain date and time to have a chance to get a doe permit.  It wasn’t guaranteed that you were going to get one. 

      When I was hunting in central Wisconsin which is mainly farmland the DNR gives away doe permits like they are candy.  You get 2 with your license and can continue to purchase more as you need them. Thank you for the comment. Dan

  2. Hi Dan, 

    I have to admit I have never been hunting which is the exact opposite yourself. I was absolutely fascinated to read your post. Who would have thought there was so much to know about the different rut phases and how easy it would be to make a mistake without knowing about this. 

    Based on your extensive experience it’s obvious that the best time to be hunting is during the rut. You say that the time frame for the phases of the rut is weather and moon phase dependent, I was just curious to know whether what you mean by this is that temperature triggers the rut and if so how does this work?

    Thanks for the in depth article. A very informative and interesting read. 

    • Thanks for the comment Mark.  From what I’ve seen the phase of the moon has a big impact on when the rut starts.  Temperature also plays a factor.  It may be coincidence that as the temperatures get colder is when the rut starts but I believe that it does play a role. 

  3. Hi Dan,
    Great read. I’ve hunted many years and have learned a lot of what you wrote about. Having the time to put all that good info to use in the field is hard for a lot of us. Hoping to get the chance to use the information in your article this next year if my health allows.. No hunting this year unfortunately.. Thanks for putting this out there for all of us to learn from.. Good hunting..

    • Hello Don,

      Experience is the best teacher but if I can help just one person be more successful then writing this article was worth it. When I started out hunting I had to learn the hard way. There wasn’t many books or guides out and there wasn’t this thing called the “internet” to google it. I learned by making the mistakes sometimes more then once but those experiences helped to make me the hunter that I am today. I had a doe yesterday within 5 yards of me and it never knew I was there. Thank you for the comment. Dan

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