Pre-Rut versus Peak of the Rut: Hunting Tips

The tips I will provide you with in this article come primarily from my experience as a hunter. This is some of the material that I teach in my “Whitetail Deer Hunting” fee-based seminars which I hold in the Midwest. I hope you find them helpful to your success.

“Pre-Rut” is about 10 days prior to “Peak of the Rut” around the first and second weeks of November. During Pre-Rut mature bucks break away from their bachelor groups and begin to fight to establish dominance among the bucks within their home range. This is their way of establishing a pecking order. This time is the most intense time of the season among bucks, when they are the most irritable and frustrated. They often take their frustrations out on trees and saplings in the process of making a rub.

Less mature bucks normally under the age of 1 ½ years old will remain together, as they are not yet mature enough to breed because they are too small and too weak. These bachelors will roam the edges of the core areas avoiding the mature bucks for the purpose of self preservation, yet they are curious about the activities among the mature deer. They will also make perimeter rubs and scrapes. They often behave like a group of juvenile boys, sparing among each other with no intent to harm.

Mature bucks, however, play for keeps with the intent to cripple their equal and make the point that they are not to be messed with. Some deer are able to avoid fights just by the sight of their mass and size, which can intimidate a less mature buck.  Bucks also make themselves known by their own unique scent that they leave on the rubs and scrapes they make. It identifies them as an individual and their scent can be recognized by other deer. This type of behavior is similar to other animals in the wild and domestically that mark their territory by leaving their scent.

How to hunt Pre-Rut:

  • 1 Bucks move more often and begin to roam farther from their bedding area. They start to prowl during daylight hours searching for does. It’s a good time to hunt all day long in a variety of locations, starting with locations that are near rubs or scrapes or where major trails intersect.

  • 2 Mature bucks will move closer to doe bedding spots and begin to watch the mature does for a sign of acceptance. If you can identify a common staging or feeding area for the does or the edge of their bedding area, this is a good location to hunt.

  • 3 Does or subordinate bucks will often be near active scrapes. Setting up 20 yards from a scrape can increase your chances of success. Bucks will often check these scrapes, in the night and early mornings so it’s best to be there before first light.

  • 4 Rattling & grunt calls are most effective during this time. Inject violence in your rattling technique. Bang and grind antlers. Stomp and thrash the underbrush. Rustle leaves and follow it with a snort & growl call. Keep in mind that you have to be prepared for immediate results. Some less secure bucks may come in slowly and cautiously, but others may literally run in.

“Peak of the Rut” also called “Full-Rut” is the time of year when deer come together for the purpose of breeding. It is initiated based on the moon phases, specifically the second full moon the follows the autumn equinox. 1 week after this does begin to breed. The first rut occurs approximately the middle of November and dwindles down by the end of the month for Whitetail deer in most Midwestern states. The second rut normally occurs right around the week of Christmas, for does that were not bred in the first rut. Weather can affect rut to some degree, for example in years when the fall remains hot throughout the day, does in estrus may choose to be more active at night when it is not as hot. It is not abnormal for dominant bucks to prefer to be more nocturnal regardless of the weather. The months of September and October and most of December requires hunting primarily food sources, since they are in a feeding pattern during those times.

During full rut the bucks will run themselves day and night with little rest, to seek out interested does. Often when given the choice a mature buck will select a more mature doe over a smaller doe and the same is true for a mature doe. She will choose a larger buck and not give the lesser ones an opportunity to breed. Does will fight over first rights with a buck if there is a low buck to doe ratio. I have seen on more than one occasion that a mature doe will run off a smaller doe, which has come in to a grunt call or to a buck. During rut, one common scenario is to see 2 bucks fighting over one doe and then have a third buck come in and run her off while the fight is on; so there is no such thing as fair play in their world.

Hunting Peak of the Rut

  • 1 A buck will normally stay with a doe 24-36 hrs. If you spot a buck and doe bedded together or following one or the other as a companion, you need to find a way to get as close as possible to them without them becoming aware of you. Or if you can anticipate the direction they are headed, try to circle in front of them and be waiting for them to come through that trail.

  • 2 During rut some dominant bucks will already be with a doe and leave the fighting & scrape locations to lesser bucks. Once a buck and doe have paired up they will go deep into a core area and even bed down together. This cover offers concealment for them and reduces the chances for further conflicts. This is why I prefer to have at least one stand in a core area that I can enter into in the darkness for a morning hunt. Use reflective tack trail to help you find your way into these thick areas.

  • 3 Bucks will often frequent the inside edge of a doe's feeding ground listening for a doe to bleat, sniffing the air and checking scrapes to find out if any estrus doe is in the area. If they encounter a doe, she will let him know if she is interested or not. If she is not she may just try to run away or may urinate on the ground to let the buck identify that she is not in estrus. If she is interested she will hold her tail straight out and walk in a stiff legged prance. When a doe does come into estrus she has 24 hours to become bred and they will actually seek out a buck during rut, but not until that time. A doe in estrus will not accept an immature buck normally. Hunting at a location near a feeding ground is an excellent location to be.

  • 4 Does in estrus will respond well to grunts during this time. Then if you are hunting for a buck the doe can become your bait. Tending grunt calls can draw in a buck as well as a doe in estrus bleat. I normally try a combination sequence and use different grunt calls as well as changing the direction that I am calling from when grunting.

  • 5 During peak of the rut deer can be found in many areas, but keep in mind that the ones that want to breed will try most of all to make themselves known and visible to each other. This is an ideal time to spot mature transient bucks because they can be seen through out the day seeking a doe. These are the big boys that you see in magazine photos. Often a mature buck will cross a large open area instead of skirting the edge of a field.  I have never seen immature bucks or does make themselves openly visible in this manner. All of the largest bucks I have seen were spotted between mid day and early evening, crossing a large open area, with no cover. I am not a wildlife biologist, but I have 3 personal theories on why they would do this:
    • #1 This is a very mature animal that has solidly established themselves as dominant and therefore is very bold, confident and almost fearless. By crossing an open field straight down the middle they can see at a farther distance in the hopes of spotting a doe. On the same hand they can easily spot trouble easier, such as a predator. This would be similar to animals that live on the plains and find security in open areas, as it prevents predators from easily sneaking up on them without being seen.
    • #2 The buck wants to get from one point to another by the quickest route available.
    • #3 If there is considerable hunting pressure, mid-day is when this eases up because many hunters are in the field more often in the morning and evening.

Regardless of the true reason, the fact is mature bucks expose themselves more during this time of the season in places you would least naturally expect it. A hunting spot near main entrance points into an open field can be an excellent location to hunt from at mid-day.

If you would like more information on a seminar location or time, or would like to request a seminar please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. “Every hunt is a success if you have come away with something you learned.”