The whitetail rut is still on in full force. More and more does are being bred every day as whitetails across the country are busy ensuring the survival of the species. But the breeding phase of the rut is transitioning from crazed bucks running about chasing does to hunter-savvy bucks getting it done on the quiet.

The Rut Still Rules
Hunters across the country are taking very good bucks. The stories follow a common thread: he was following a doe, he was chasing a doe, or he was looking for a doe. The best time to hunt? That’s anytime you can. We are getting all kinds of reports of good bucks being taken from dusk to dawn.

But buck behavior is beginning to change. We watched a nice mature buck work the perimeter yesterday. He was too old and smart to enter the plot proper. Instead, he stayed back in the goldenrod scent checking the does in the plot. A few weeks ago he entered the plot along with the does and got right after them. But that was a few weeks ago and hot does were in short supply. Now they are everywhere and guns have been going off in the neighborhood.

We are also seeing mature does become more wary. They go on alert at the slightest hint of a hunter in the area. They jump at the slightest noise or movement, stand at attention checking air currents often for 20 minutes at a time. They then allow their fawns to hit the feeding spots long before them. Last evening I watched 4 fawns feed in a field for a full hour before any does showed up (when they finally came it was at was at dark).

Biology of the Rut
Right now, roughly 50 percent of the eligible does in whitetail country have been bred. Within a few weeks, most mature does will have bred. That will leave a small percentage of doe fawns (those large enough to achieve estrus) to be bred along with some mature does that did not conceive when bred (10%-15% depending on location). Does that did not conceive will recycle 28 days after their first estrus. Some refer to this as the second rut, but we have never seen enough activity during this second cycle to put it into the same hunting category as the rut. By mid December, smart hunters will be hunting the late-season feeding frenzy.

Hunting Pressure Building
Whitetail watchers across our network are reporting a decrease in older buck sightings. The young guys are still hitting the plots and fields but the old boys seem to be hanging back more and areas with human activity (cameras and stands) more than in the past few weeks. We are also seeing a return to nocturnal behavior by bucks that have lived long enough to know what all that commotion in the woods is about. Deer are hitting open fields very late in the day and mostly after dark. They are also getting pretty scarce in many areas.

Most hunters are reporting deer behavior that suggests hunting pressure is taking its toll. Scouting cameras are picking up young bucks but the old boys are giving them wide birth. No, they haven’t all been shot; they are just acting like they have been shot at. This is how they get to become old boys, they’ve been hunted for well over a month now and they definitely know something is up. Older aged bucks are trying to balance their natural caution and ability to stay alive with their need to breed which can easily overwhelm them.
Food Choices Changing**
Another critical note is a recent change in food preferences. We’ve had dozens of reports of deer shifting off of green plots to high carbohydrate “hot” foods. As the days shorten and temperatures drop, the need to feed on high carbohydrate foods increases. Corn is really drawing them as are soybean fields. Brassicas (rape, kale, turnips, etc.) is also drawing more than it’s share of whitetails. Acorns are still a huge draw but they are getting cleaned up in many areas. Clover/chicory plots and green grain planting are getting less use if “hot” foods are close by. We are seeing fawns and does feeding aggressively.

This Weekend Hunt Hard but Hunt Smart**
This weekend you’re going to have to make some adjustments. If you have been hunting green fields, you may need to find some “hot” foods to key in on. The weatherman is promising deep freeze temps this weekend which will push deer to feed a little earlier and a little harder. It’s still a good play to hunt the does as the bucks are still after them, but the old girls have gotten pretty wary by now. Hunt isolated food sources where they have not been bothered because the does are returning to aggressive feeding patterns. Hunting the same old feeding spots is not likely to produce.

You are also going to have to take hunting pressure into account. If you have some out-of-the-way stands you haven’t hunt hard, now is the time to hit them. Focus on some of the less obvious funnels and neck downs for those smart old guys. Take out a map and look for places you haven’t been hunting. This is where the pressured bucks are likely traveling.

Remember, the rut is still on and just because you might not have seen a deer in 3 sits, it doesn’t mean you won’t see 5 bucks chasing a doe on your next sit. Get out and stay out. This is still an incredibly productive time to be hunting big bucks; but it’s time to start hunting smart, the dumb part of the rut is over.