***New Article: Make sure to check out my 2015 Whitetail Rut Forecast
This will be the "quick version" of a guide to the 2014 rut, complete with a timeline of mature buck events. I can't wait to share the details of this article with you because these are the buck behaviors that I have experienced will help you find success this hunting season. This short article is partially titled the "2014 Whitetail Rut Guide", when in reality you could apply this concept to the history of seasons past, let alone in the future. I will greatly look forward to expanding on each point in the timeline in the future, but for now here are the hard-hitting aspects of the rut that I have leaned on to offer enough of a perspective to grant me a definitive pattern of success for over 20 years.
1. Late Summer Boredom
Until Summer food sources mature, and hardwood canopies open-up and lose their cool daytime shadows, a mature buck experiences an incredibly lazy and stable existence unrivaled by any other time during the rest of the year. Mature bucks move very little from June to September, and as long as the security of their cover, and quality of their evening food sources remain unchanged-why would they need to? But a huge change is on the horizon!
2. The "Shift"
Beans begin to mature, native forages are slowly disappearing, and the nutrition and attraction of alfalfa is being shattered with the first late Summer frosts. This is the time of year where the savvy land manager has hopefully prepared for, and the public land hunter has pre-scouted within a hidden Fall honey hole.
A seasoned monster rarely lives during the Summer, where he lives during the Fall. During the Summer he enjoys the shade, canopy and open air-flow of a mature hardwood hangout, as well as a nearby Summer food source. However when the temparatures of Fall are on the doorstep, he often re-locates to his hunting season hangout. Is he then on your property...or on your neighbors? If you have outstanding Fall cover and food than my bet is that he will be on your property, where he will begin to establish is cool-season core area.
3. Core Area Opportunities
The beginning of the rut is still 3-4 weeks away and many of your neighbors may be waiting for the seemingly easy pickings of the mid-rut. But why wait? If you have a mature buck present that has established his core area in and around your parcel the time to kill him is now...not later. A buck that has established his core area on your parcel will offer game cam pictures frequently and close to shooting hours. A non-core area monarch may have been a star of the woods during the months of Summer, but he will soon become extremely shutter shy! Why? Because his core area is on another parcel that carries a higher level of quality Fall food and cover. Often what appears to be a shift in nocturnal movements to start the bow season is really just that the buck you watched all Summer-long has re-located to his preferred Fall habitat.
With each passing cold front, you will be blessed with oustanding opportunities to potentially harvest a great core-area buck while he follows the rollercoaster of feeding presented to you through the weather changes of the early season. Is October 7th generally a great time to hunt? Not really. However, if you procede 10/7 with a 23 degree temperature drop, heavy winds and hard rains or snow; a 10/7 hunt with high pressure, blue skies, light winds and cold temps can offer an INCREDIBLE sit! The good news is that the "October Lull" pattern of feeding and opportunity will continue and be valued parallel to the harshness of each weather transition. If you have a core area target buck on your parcel, do your best not to miss the incredible opportunity to hunt him early! As long as an October buck's food, cover and security stays consistent he isn't going anywhere until deeper into the rut as his focus shifts elsewhere, or if you spook him away.
4. Pre-Rut High Value Sits
"Nothing is happening". "The rut hasn't started yet". "The big boys aren't on their feet yet". Those are all common thoughts during October, but if you have a core-area buck near or within the acreage that you hunt, there is nothing that will hold his annual urges down when his pre-rut juices start to take hold. The only problem is that if is living 3 parcels away, it isn't your time to harvest him yet unless your neighbor is practicing sloppy huning tactics and bumps him your way. Rubs, scrapes and even a little chasing will fill the several acres that surround a giant's bedding area as soon as the first cold fronts hit during the last 10 days of October. An experienced buck has no problem picking up one of the first does to experience estrus within his core area, and he will begin laying down a prolific amount of sign! He will spend a few days with his first doe, and although the next doe he finds will probably be a little tougher to locate, she will still most likely be located near his core area. If you are waiting for a buck to come to you from another parcel this could be exactly why the pre-rut just isn't happening for you yet. It is for this reason that I have experienced that while the rut may appear non-existent in one location, it can be going nuts on a parcel only a mile away.
As each weather front passes, yet another opportunity presents itself to shoot a mature buck. When the pre-rut hits, morninig hunts can be an incredible time to hit the woods for a calm, cold sit! The first "pre-rut" opportunity is typically around the 20th of October with a passing front, and often takes place multiple times within the last 10 days of October. The larger the temperature drop, the better! As each front passes, the quality of the hunting will continue to improve -until- the period of the middle of the rut reduces the activity levels to a flat line that will soon be drastically decreasing.
5. Mid-Rut Gambles
Depending on the area of the north 1/2 of the country that you hunt in, the middle of the rut could fall anywhere between early to mid-November, starting about 10 days after the first signs of a pre-rutting monster within his established, core hunting season location. This is the period of time when a lot of folks are just entering the woods, but unfortunately have already missed some outstanding hunting opportunities depending on the number of core bucks they that have had available within the areas that they hunt. I am fortunate to live, work and hunt within one of the best areas of the country when it comes to monster whitetails. I am not sure that I fully agree with this statement, but there is a thought around here that I have heard from multiple, accomplished mature big-buck hunters that goes something like this, "The best mature buck hunters consistently kill their bucks in October". Of course this depends on your ability to control or take advantage of the habitat on your parcel, your individual resources to hunt the best weather days to be in the woods and how far that you actually live from your parcel, but I can see their point. If there are mature bucks in the woods you hunt, why wait? However for those that either have to wait or want to wait...the mid-rut can be a great time to gamble on consistent quality opportunities!
I say "gamble" because once a seasoned buck has experienced 1-2 estrus does within his own core area, he begins to establish a "3 mile home range" that is often reported. He will still have the taste of the rut, and will often search long and hard for his last doe or two of the first rutting period. Sure, he may travel the vast majority of those acres under the cover of darkness, but as the rut deminished to the later 1/2 and especially the last few days, he may cruise heavily; even during the daytime. If you are hunting a core area buck, this is the time when he has the best chance to leave your parcel, and if you are hunting a non-core area buck this is the period of time that you can gamble on him showing up on your parcel.
A mature buck goes from Summer boredom, to October feeding frenzies, to the beginning of the rut and finally through the mid-rut on his way to a steady decline of daytime activity. Each peak of activity in my experience is directly a result of every passing cold-front from the bow season opener to the start of most gun seasons. Of course each period of feeding and rutting activity has their value, and I like to think of that value in terms of a scale from 1-10 like this:
*Early Season (Mid-Sept to the 20th of Oct) Weather Feeding Frenzies-"4"
*Pre-Rut to Start of Rut (Last 10 days of Oct) Toe-Numbing Mornings-"10"
*Pre-Rut to Start of Rut Late Afternoons-"6"
*Mid-Rut to End of Rut (First 2 weeks of November) All Day Sits-"7"
This is just a quick guide to a timeline of activity, but I encourage you to try and hunt this pattern of mature buck observations. I have greatly enjoyed this experience of mature buck feeding and rut-related movements for over 20 years and as I continue to hone my efforts to capture the hard-hitting high level opportunities discussed in this whitetail rut guide, I enjoy an ever-increasing level of consistent success. I hope that you can too!