Hunt the Rut

Depending on where you live, if you want to kill a big buck, the next couple of weeks or so is your best chance all season. The rut is starting in our area and bucks that are normally careful and spooky lose their minds, looking for does and putting themselves in places where they are easier to kill.

Georgia Outdoor News publishes a rut map each year based on hunter and biologist input. It shows the peak of the rut in Spalding and nearby counties to be mid-November, with November 15 being the peak. Counties not far east of us start a little earlier, with the peak on November 9.

The rut seems to have started a little early in this area, with online pictures showing big bucks taken last weekend and comments from hunters about them chasing does. And I saw scrapes a little earlier than normal on my hunting land.

When bucks start shedding the velvet on their antlers, they rub them on small trees, helping to get it off. A good sign that a buck is in your area in early October around here are saplings and small trees with bark peeled off near the ground.

The bigger the buck the higher off the ground these marks will usually be, and bigger bucks use bigger trees. They seem to favor cedar saplings, but rubs are found on pine, sweetgum and others.

When hormones start flowing in November, the bucks paw a scrape near trails and urinate on it, leaving their scent. They also rub their head and antlers on overhanging limbs leaving more scent.

When a doe’s hormones make her ready to mate, she stops at scrapes and leaves her scent. Bucks leave scrapes in lines spaced out along trails and will run them as often as they can until they locate a suitable doe. They move at all times of day and night in this quest, throwing their usual caution to the quest.

In the Georgia Outdoor News Truck Buck competition where big bucks are entered into a contest, data from them show 43 percent killed from daylight until 9:00 AM, 18 percent from 9:01 to 11:00 AM and 1.6 percent from 11:01 AM to 1:30 PM. Then it goes back up, with 2.4 percent killed from 1:31 to 3:30 PM and 34 percent from 3:31 to dark.

Part of the reason 77 percent are killed early and late in the day is that is the time most hunters are in their stands. Every year some very big bucks are killed during the middle of the day, so it is a good idea to be on your stand all day if you can.

The rut timing is based mostly on length of day with some influence from weather. “Common sense” would seem to tell you the rut would get later due to climate change, but I guess any change fits that narrative.

It is interesting to me to compare the rut map for Georgia to the one for Alabama. Again, “common sense” would tell you areas with the same length of day and temperatures would be similar, but science shows they are not.

Directly west of us in Alabama the length of day and weather are the same. But in Alabama, south of I-20 in the same area of the state we are in here in Georgia, the rut peak is late January. Even further north in Alabama the rut peak is in January, about two months later that similar areas in Georgia.

I killed my first two bucks, way back in the 1960s, while they were following does. I try to be in the woods during the rut, not to kill a big buck but because does also move more during it. It offers meat shooters better odds, too. Doe days here run from
November 4 until January 13.

This season is frustrating. I had a port put in just before gun deer season. Although I asked it to be put in on my left side, so I could shoot my 7 mm mag, it is on my right shoulder very near where I put my gun stock. I switched to this higher power, and stronger kick, gun about 20 years ago after hunting deer with a 30-30 for 30 years.

I do have an AR-15 with a good scope on it and its .223 caliber bullet is suitable for shooting deer. I will use it this year. This much lower caliber bullet, along with a lot less powder, had a very light kick. That seems contrary to “common sense” if you listen to the gun banners claim that AR-15s are big, high caliber guns that spray death. The .223 is actually just about the smallest, lowest power bullet legal for hunting in Georgia.

A .223 has just over 900-foot pounds of energy at 100 yards. Compared to my 7 mm mag, with over 2700-foot pounds of energy at the same range, that makes shot placement more important. Even my old 30-30 has about 1300-foot pounds of energy at 100 yards.

Tips on hunting the rut include: Hunting near bedding areas where does are concentrated. This puts you where the bucks are looking. Going to areas where you hear bucks chasing does. And hunting in high wind since it makes deer move more for several reasons.

Most important, stay on your stand and eat lunch. Many expert trophy hunters say little bucks move earlier and later, but the real trophy bucks wait until the does bed down in the middle of the day and are easier for the bucks to find.

Get out in the woods no mater what you goal, meat or antlers. This is the time.