I can't think of another facet of whitetail deer hunting about which more pure recycled pasture has been written than the rut. (Maybe the horse hockey about rubber boots and scent control is close?) Every year, I see countless articles written that are just flat wrong.
Most, designed to sell you a product.
So, let me try and set something straight. First of all, throw your moon wheel or moon calendar away.
The moon has absolutely nothing to do with the rut.
The rut, here in Tennessee, will peak within a week of when it did last year and 100 years ago. The moon has nothing to do with it.
It is started by something called photoperiodism. Basically, that is this: as the amount of light that reaches a deer's eyes decreases, as the days shorten, does begin to go into estrous.
They may cycle as many as four times, unless bred. And, they do it about the same time every year.
Now, what we see may vary considerably depending on the weather and more specifically, the temperature and the amount of rainfall. The warmer it is or the rainier it is, the less daytime activity we see.
But the does are getting bred. The rut is on. We just don't see it. If the weather was right last year, and is the same this year, you should see about the same activity.
The peak of the rut is when the largest number of does are in estrous. The ones that do not get bred then, cycle again in about 28 days.
Prior to the peak of the rut -- a week to 10 days -- is what is called the chase phase. This is when we see bucks chasing does.
Some mature does come into estrous as much as 28 days prior to the peak. During the peak of the rut, mostly, the does find the bucks. They don't have to chase them. That brings us to scrapes and licking branches.
Thousands of words have been erroneously written about scrapes and scrape hunting in general. In fact, hunting over a scrape is probably the least effective way to get a shot at a mature buck.
A mature buck, one 4.5 years old or more, may not make any scrapes or he may make 50. It doesn't matter.
Over 85% of the time, a mature buck will check a scrape at night or from some distance downwind. Seldom, will they approach a scrape in daylight. But if they do, how do you know which one to hunt? Answer is, you don't. The appearance of a scrape is of no value in deciding what scrape a mature buck will visit or if he will.
Scrape hunting, especially communal scrapes, (that is the great big one that is all cleaned out), is good for does or young bucks. They get big, not from big buck usage but from lots of smaller deer of both sexes using it.
The most valuable scrape for a mature buck is the small one, way back in a thicket. If you simply must hunt a scrape, that is the one. Just make sure it has a licking branch over it.
Your odds are far better if you can locate a rub line and then locate a signpost rub. Look for a gleaming fresh rub back in thick stuff. That is where the mature buck is likely to scent check a scrape. These rubs should start showing up just about now and we should be approaching our chase phase any day if not already. Often, they are in the same general area if not on the same tree, year after year.
Let me now, explode another great myth. The single best deer attractant that is always handy is your own urine. I use it to freshen scrapes to attract does and young bucks. I use it to start mock scrapes and have had great success using it to stop all deer in a shooting lane. Throw away your P-bottle. The myth being, it scares away deer. It does, in fact, attract them
Bucks do not check a scrape, pick up on the scent of a hot doe, and follow her trail off. That is not what happens.
But your own fresh urine smells just like a deer's and of course, so does cow or goat or pig urine. Yours is just handier and a lot cheaper.
So when you "freshen" a scrape or rub line, it says, "A deer has been here and it was a male/female depending on your proclivity.
We are right in the heart of our muzzleloader season, the best time of the year for mature buck hunting is from now until the first of December.
The bucks are traveling, now, venturing into strange territory. They are somewhat if not totally unpredictable.
They may show up anywhere, anytime. Use some common sense, hunt safely and all day if you can.
And don't be afraid to take a whizz in the woods.
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