Stuck In The Rut

by Phillip Gentry

Upstate Outdoors
November 07, 2019 - 10:41 am

Have you ever heard this statement around deer camp– “We need to get some cold weather to get the rut going?” of course you have. You might have even been the one who said it. If you did you’re wrong.

According to Mark Buxton, of Southeastern Wildlife Habitat Services in Magnolia, Alabama, a company that provides deer management services across the southeast and the Carolinas, the rut for whitetail deer is not triggered by weather or temperature but photoperiod – the amount of daylight that strikes a deer’s eye signaling the appropriate time of year.

“The timing of the rut will occur at different times in different areas” said Buxton. “In places like Alabama and Mississippi the rut may not occur until late January or even February while in North and South Carolina the rut occurs in October and November, and will even vary by a couple of weeks across that area, but it rarely varies much year to year because the photo period remains pretty consistent.”

Unfortunately for deer hunters, when the rut does kick in during a period of warm weather, most of the rutting activity, and that means movement –does running and being chased by bucks – occurs during the most temperature comfortable time – at night.

“Temperature will restrict deer movement during daylight hours. By the fall, deer have shed their summer coats and put on their winter coats,” said Buxton. “Just like you and me, they aren’t in much mood to be active while it’s hot and they’re wearing long johns, so all the activity occurs after dark when the temperature is cooler than during the day.”

If the does are not moving, the bucks will not be moving either. It’s an unfortunate cycle that many hunters blame on the moon phase or even hunting pressure when you see the majority of your deer standing on the side of the road on your way home than you did when sitting in the deer stand.

Buxton added that a well-defined rut has much to do with a well-balanced deer herd, and hunters who have never hunted a properly managed property during the rut really can’t comprehend what “hunting the rut” looks like.

“When your herd is out of balance, and by that I mean your buck-to-doe ratio and the herd age structure, you get a trickle rut,” said Buxton. “All does should go into heat within the same 7 – 10 day period. When your herd is well -synchronized, you’ll have bucks chasing does all through the day and all over the property. That’s when you understand what the rut is really all about.”

Buxton concluded that hunters who want to witness a synchronized rut, a week to 10 days when the rut is wide open and you’re as likely to see bucks chasing at noon as early or late in the day, need to focus on three things to get their deer herd in balance.

1. Good buck to doe ratios. Typically, 1 buck per 3 to 6 adult does, but may vary.

2. Properly balanced age structure. This means your property will contain almost as many mature deer as young deer but with an appropriate year class system to replace those deer that are harvested or ago out.

3. Good nutritional plan. Deer are healthy with a well-balanced diet which includes year round food and mineral supplies.

As far as the timing of the rut in South Carolina, Charles Ruth, Deer Project supervisor for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, said the historical data for the Palmetto State shows that most record book deer are taken by hunters during the last two weeks of October and the first two weeks of November.

He also added that time frame is usually a little earlier on the coast and a little later up in the mountains.


Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM.


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