Ranking Whitetail Rut Phases

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Everyone wants to hunt the “peak rut.” But should they?

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it 1,000 times — peak rut is the best time to hunt. In fact, it isn’t, especially when targeting specific bucks. And in a few moments, I’ll explain why. So, before you book those vacation days, check out what we have to say, then make your own informed decision on when to hit the woods.

Here are the phases of the rut, ranked, courtesy of the opinion of a lowly country boy from south central Kentucky.

1. Pre-Rut (October 20-31)

Of the four whitetail phases, this is the best time to target specific bucks you’ve been after all season. Why? Because these are most likely still on a bed-to-feed pattern. And if you know what that pattern is, you’re more apt to cross paths with a specific deer. This takes some work, though. Scouting with trail cameras, glassing from afar, and limited boots-on-the-ground scouting (when it makes sense to), are all part of figuring out what deer do. If you do that, and figure out a target buck, best use that information by the end of the month. Things will start to change soon after.

Pre Rut Whitetail HuntingThe pre rut offers hunters deer that are largely still on their late summer patterns, but wild weather swings, commonthis time of year can help get the deer moving and put one within bow range.

2. Early Rut (November 1-10)

Some buck’s pre-rut patterns carry over into the first few days of this phase. Others have already abandoned those. Still, if a deer is still predictable, this might be an even better time to target a specific deer than before. Testosterone levels are rising, and deer are moving more during daylight, which gradually increases throughout the year and peaks during the rut. Most bucks are no longer patternable, though. These deer are cruising. While you can still hunt high odds stand locations to see that movement, there’s no longer a guarantee of seeing specific deer. If you’re hoping to cross paths with just any mature buck, and you don’t have the time it takes to pattern deer, then this is the best phase of the rut for you.

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Rut Hunting for Whitetail DeerThe weather is changing and so is the focus of the whiteail buck.

3. Peak Rut (November 11-20)

This is the phase everyone loves to talk about — peak rut. It’s when most bucks are paired off with female counterparts. While the old saying that all deer are “locked down simultaneously” is a myth, there is some truth in it, as a high percentage of deer are paired off and bedded during this phase. Generally, that lasts 24-48 hours, and then bucks are on the move again, though, and they still oftentimes move while paired, too. This is the period when most deer are the least predictable. Not all bucks participate in the rut, mind you, but most do. These deer are more difficult to hunt during this phase of the season. It isn’t impossible to make things happen, but it can be difficult when deer are spending more time bedded down. Just hope you catch one cruising, and don’t be afraid to call and rattle, or even get aggressive with a well-planned stalk. You might even relocate to stands closer to where you’re seeing deer activity, especially if that’s in the distance.

4. Post Rut (November 21-30)

This is most hunters’ least favorite time to hunt. Many have either tagged out, tired, or discouraged. Those still packing tags oftentimes think all mature deer have been shot, and it’s easy to believe that falsity with all the big ones they’ve seen on social media for months. And of the buck’s that survived, with all the recent hunting pressure, there’s no chance those deer will move during daylight, right? Wrong. While this is my least favorite time to hunt during the rut, it’s still a great time to be afield. Some bucks are still alive, and those that are, are searching for the last receptive does. In fact, the record books show just how many top-shelf, record-class bucks are taken during this phase. It’s staggering.

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Late-Season Whitetail HuntingLate season sits can be brutal affairs in nasty weather, but the need for bucks to feed heavily to recover from the rut makes them as huntable as they have been since October.

Other Notable Times

The pre-rut and rut aside, I still prefer two other times of the season over these, especially when targeting a mature buck. My favorite time of year is the early season when deer haven’t been pressured. My second favorite time is the late season when deer are predictable and reliable on food sources. My third favorite is the pre-rut, and fourth favorite is the rut. That’s food for thought.

Article by Josh Honeycutt

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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 >>