A Weekend in the Rut

Mule deer buck and doe during the rut. All photos and video by © Wayne D. Lewis/CPW.

Let me start by stating that I am not a videographer — no awards will be won by me. I’m a decent photographer and an acceptable (I think) writer, but I am fully aware that David Attenborough will not be contacting me any time soon for my video skills. That being said, if a picture is worth a thousand words then a video is worth considerably more of those words.

For years, words and pictures have been all I have had to go by when researching the behaviors of deer (both white-tailed and mule) during the rut, but last weekend I was lucky enough to find myself surrounded by deer acting quite rutty. So, in between capturing still photos, I made use of my Nikon’s video function. According to some of my sources, white-tailed deer start their rut a week or so earlier than the muleys and that seemed to be true last weekend. Whitetail bucks were running through the shrubs and over the hills like hormonal teenagers, but once a whitetail buck found a doe that might be receptive, he tended to her with laser focus, only taking breaks to run off competitors.

However, the mule deer were just ramping up. “They’re not acting very rutty,” said one of the other photographers as we shot different angles of the same buck and doe. The bucks would chase the does to see whether they were ready and receptive. There was a fair amount of thrashing at rubs, snorting, sniffing, stamping and performing the flehmen response. If I capture more of their behaviors, I will update this post.

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A white-tailed deer stamping its hooves signals that it is alert and agitated. It may also be leaving traces of scent.

White-tailed deer bucks will tend to their does a bit more closely than mule deer and will separate the does from the group. The bucks will focus intently and not graze as much as the does will.

This whitetail buck pushes off another buck of lesser size. It also makes use of a scrape.

The same buck later rubs it’s preorbital glands on a branch located above a scrape.

A mule deer buck is chased off by a white-tailed deer buck tending its doe.

This buck stared at me for more than three minutes barely changing its pose, but when the doe it was tending moved, it took off in pursuit.

Smaller buck have little chance of breeding, but they still get caught up in the action.


Play battles throughout the fall will determine rank coming into the breeding season.


Above are two examples of mule deer bucks performing the flehmen response where the deer curls back its upper lip exposing its front teeth, inhales with the nostrils usually closed and then often holds this position for several seconds. It may be performed with the neck stretched and the head held high in the air. Bucks use the flehmen response as a mechanism for identifying the reproductive state of does.

If a buck determines that the doe is not yet receptive, he will move on in search of others.


This buck was seen with this doe for two straight days. A buck can determine hours before a doe comes into the peak of estrous and will stay until the doe allows him to breed her.

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A buck must be constantly vigilant to ward off competitors.

The buck will attempt to breed the doe many times before he is successful.

Wayne D. Lewis is the editor and art director of Colorado Outdoors magazine.


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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 >>