The Rut is NOT On: How to Properly Read Deer Activity

I know it's hard to believe, but reports of "rut on!" are already starting to find my inbox. Sorry, but unless you are living in some parallel whitetail universe, the whitetail rut is definitely not on. You may have seen some sign or behaviors that are associated with the rut, but the rut we all love to hunt is still a good 45 days away. Hunters are now seeing early indicators of upcoming events -- false positives of the real thing.

Case in point: Last week, while driving home from town, I glanced down from the bridge I was crossing and saw something that almost put me through the windshield. There, in the middle of the river, in about a foot of water stood a lone doe surrounded by 4 very interested, and very racked out bucks. All indications were that this was a doe in heat.

My guess is she will be bred sometime in the next 24 hours. But as far as the rut goes, it was a false positive.

Statistically speaking, the doe was an outlier. She was way outside of the normal breeding curve, ahead of the majority of the pack by 45 days or so.

Chances are, you'll see plenty of rut related behavior in the woods over the next month. The trick is to not mistake rut lookalikes for the real deal. Here's what to keep in mind.

Rubs and Scrapes
Sure rubs and scrapes are starting to show up but bucks work scrapes all year long. They also start making rubs as soon as their antlers start to peel. Don't be fooled by the early rub or scrape, they are part of the picture but only a very small part.
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Buck Working a Licking Branch**
While a buck working a branch is a sure sign that he's on the prowl, it does not necessarily mean the rut is on. Bucks (and does) work licking branches all year long as a means of communication.
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Bucks Sparring **
Bucks spar to establish dominance and assert their maleness; it's in their DNA. You'll see all kinds of sparring between now and November and while sparring bucks is a warm up to the rut, don't read too much into it.
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Bucks Chasing Does**
Early season chases are often mistakenly interpreted to mean "rut on." There is a real difference between a doe being flushed from a food plot by a yearling buck and intense chase by a mature buck with a nose full of pheromones.

These are but a few of the false positives that are mistaken for true "rut on" every year. Taken in isolation they mean little, bundle a bunch of them together and they mean a lot, especially when combined with some fool proof but lesser known indicators.

For more information on understanding and calling the rut check out my book: Whitetails: From Ground to Gun.