2020 Georgia Rut Map

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Rut Map 2020 2020 Georgia Rut Map

Deer season is cranking up, and the chaos of the rut is almost here, at least for many parts of Georgia. One of the glories of this great state is the fact that if you wanted to, you could “chase the rut,” and with enough free time, you could theoretically be hunting rutting whitetails from mid-October to the first week of January.

To figure out when the rut occurs in your neck of the woods, take a look at GON’s Rut Map on the opposite page. The time frames you see on the map are actual dates when bucks are breeding does, based on more than 30 years of historical accounts. The pre-rut time before those breeding dates is often the best time to catch a mature buck covering ground as he seeks out the first hot does of the season.

I think of the rut kind of like a big football game. We spend all year thinking about it and many hours planning and preparing for it. Then, all of a sudden we are right in the middle of it, and then it ends seemingly as quickly as it began. It usually all goes by in a blur, and it can leave you scratching your head when things don’t go as you planned.

We speak of the rut so fondly that we can sometimes forget that it still requires just as much planning and strategy as the rest of the season. While deer are moving more in daylight hours and covering larger distances, they are still deer, and they still use their environment to their advantage.

I fell into a mid-season slump last year as I struggled to find any deer sign or deer activity. I was desperate to locate a hot white oak that was dropping, thinking that finding a hot food source such as that would be my season’s saving grace. Unfortunately, my area had an off year for acorns last year.

Several of my hunting buddies scolded me on the kinds of areas I was focusing on, which was mostly hardwood bottoms, small streamside management zones running up into pines, and other open spaces where I could see good distances. They insisted that I move to better cover and focus on where the deer were, rather than where I wanted them to be.

Their persistence paid off, and I finally decided to hunt the thickest cover I could. On a bitter, cold, rainy morning, I snuck my way to one of the best thickets I knew. It was an area that was mostly young pines with a small patch of hardwoods in the middle of them. Some of the pines and mature hardwoods in the area had died, opening up the canopy and allowing full sunlight to penetrate to the forest floor, causing a flood of vegetation to spring up over the summer months. I climbed as high as I could in a pine next to the area, and to my delight I had positioned myself into a great vantage point to observe the inside of the thicket.

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It didn’t take long for me to get to feeling pretty miserable. The rain was cold, and the wind was blowing hard. I was freezing and soaked to the bone as I debated on whether or not I should get down and leave. As I shifted my legs to get more comfortable, a doe jumped up just 20 yards from me and ran off blowing. I had walked right past the bedded doe before daylight, which gave me confidence knowing that not only was this thicket holding deer, but I had gotten into the area without blowing them out.

Just five minutes later, I looked up to see antlers coming through the thicket right toward one of my best shooting lanes. A buck was slowly working his way through the thicket, and he was leaning over and smelling each individual bed he walked by. My impression was that the rain hindered his ability to wind the area, so he resorted to grid searching it for a receptive doe.

After a few long minutes, he stepped into my lane and I made a good shot on him at just 20 yards, and my dry spell was over. Interestingly, just 2 miles away one of my hunting buddies was hunting a similar area and witnessed a buck doing the exact same thing that mine was doing. His buck was also easing through a thicket smelling every bed and track he came across.

Those few days of hunting were a great lesson for me in the fact that even though it was the peak of the rut, the deer were still being deer, using security cover to their advantage.

The classic rut hunting trip consists of those who sit in open areas and sit through many dead hours on the stand with the chance at short bursts of action when a buck, or several bucks, come running a doe all over creation. After my success hunting in the thicket, I couldn’t help but think back on all those dead hours in the stand during the rut spent watching a gas line or a green field.

While I was sitting out in the open, the majority of deer were still hanging out in the thickets, the same thickets they had been living in for months. There is no doubt that whitetails know how to keep themselves alive, even in the chaos of the rut.

Adrian Farley, of Bibb County, is one of the most successful public-land rut hunters I know. I interviewed him on my podcast, and his episode not only quickly became one of my favorites, but it also became one of our most popular interviews to date. Adrian specializes in hunting thickets for rutting bucks.

Adrian’s strategy means that he ends up hunting the type of woods that most people would rather not hunt.

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“When I say thick, if you can see 20 feet in front of you, it’s not thick enough,” said Adrian. “I’ve probably been 60 feet up just trying to see into it, and when you can see into it, you’re only seeing these little patches, but the deer walk around in there like they’re at home. They’re just not alert.”

The best way to visualize the kinds of places Adrian is talking about is to think about rabbit hunting rather than deer hunting. If you would turn beagles loose in it, it’s probably the right amount of thickness. Adrian has told me several times that it should be so thick that a human should not be able to walk though it easily. Although we may find it hard to navigate through these areas, the deer essentially have tunnels running through them, which allows them to move through the secure cover easily.

However, how thick is too thick? Based off my own experience, as well as the opinions of several biologists I have talked to, as long as a deer can physically walk through an area, there is no such thing as too thick. The only thing to deter deer from a thicket is the presence of a high number of fallen trees that form impassable barriers that deer can’t just push themselves through. When it comes to briars, vines and saplings, deer end up just pushing through it enough times that they will form trails and tunnels through the thick vegetation. The beauty of hunting deer in these areas is that they use those areas as their daytime hideouts and will typically move in those areas throughout the entire day.

“I have killed somewhere between 20 and 30 deer that are 3 1/2 or older,” said Adrian. “I killed a 5 1/2-year-old buck two years ago on national forest at 7:30 in the morning, but all of the other bucks I’ve killed have been between 10 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon, with most coming from between 11 in the morning to 1 in the afternoon.

“I guess it has something to do with the time span that they need to lay up or bed down. You know they’ll chew their cud for four or five hours. You got your activity around daylight, and probably some before and then some up to 8 in the morning, and it seems like 8 is the magic time to see a lot of deer movement. Then after that phase of movement, the sun comes up and everything gets bright, and the wind starts moving. Then, it can be as early as 10, but really 11 seems to be the magic time for midday hunting.

“You can probably relate that somewhat to other hunters coming out of the woods because most people are wanting to get out of the tree around 10 in the morning. I try to make sure, especially in the rut, to at least be in the tree by 10 in the morning, and I don’t need to come out of it any earlier than 2 in the afternoon.”

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Many people shy away from public lands due to the pressure that many hunters believe they receive. Similarly, in most hunting clubs there will be a pretty high amount of pressure on weekends during firearms season. The pressure can cause problems to people who hunt with conventional methods, but it plays right into the hands of people like Adrian.

If you are hunting inside the area that deer trust the security of their life to, then when the hunting pressure rises, like on weekends in firearms season, the deer should get pushed right to you. Whether it’s a guy going back to his truck at lunch, or someone blood trailing another deer, when other hunters spook deer, they retreat to the areas they trust.

In the last few seasons, I have taken the plunge and really started hunting thickets like Adrian suggested. I have not only seen more deer, but I have also started seeing them during all hours of the day. It’s not uncommon to see deer up and milling around the bedding area midday and in the early afternoon. I have also discovered that deer will often work past me well before dark.

I also noticed that deer in these thickets behave entirely differently than they do outside the thickets. In the secure cover, they are entirely relaxed, like they know that nothing can touch them while they are in their secure cover. Once the same deer crosses the threshold into more open woods, it becomes the skittish, wary deer that most of us are used to seeing.

With Georgians moving full steam ahead toward the rut, I asked Adrian what his best piece of advice for people wanting to hunt thickets during the rut.

“The best advice would be to spend as much time in the stand as possible,” said Adrian. “Don’t shoot the first buck you see if it doesn’t fit what you would actually rather have. Learn to read does, especially when she’s acting crazy running everywhere, and if her tail is straight horizontal. She’s in heat and spreading her scent, so get ready. Knowing different information like that during the rut pays off big if you know it.”

Editor’s Note: Andrew Maxwell is the owner and co-host of the Southern Outdoorsmen Podcast and YouTube channel and sits on the Board of Directors for the Southeastern Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. He grew up hunting and fishing in central Alabama, mostly on Public Lands. He now hunts public lands exclusively around the Southeast for any game species the South has to offer. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>