A buddy and I were drifting slowly along the shoreline, tossing bass plugs just shy of the overhanging branches when he remarked that some of the swamp maple leaves were already turning red. It was a tad early for our part of the world but not all that surprising given what a dry summer we’d had.
I was about to mention that when he continued, “The rut’s gonna come early this year.” Knowing his proclivity for defending even the most dubious assertion, I simply grunted and took another cast.
We humans are forever trying to solve “the riddle of the rut,” and over the years have come up with some pretty novel notions about what triggers it and when it occurs. Theories run the gamut from sunspots to solunar tables, moon phase, position overhead and proximity to earth to drought, mast crop and relative humidity.
If you’ve tried anything and everything the whitetail pundits proclaim and still come up empty I’m about to let you in on a little secret. I’m going to tell you how you can accurately predict peak rut each and every year, regardless of what changes occur from one year to the next.
Consider the Source
Rather than folks who are trying to sell books and magazine articles, gadgets, calendars or widgets designed to help predict the rut, I went to an unbiased source: the biologists who work for all our state wildlife agencies. They want to know when peak rut occurs purely for the sake of science, and it’s empirical scientific techniques they’ve been using since the dawn of wildlife management to determine the exact dates.
So, to get an accurate and unbiased assessment, I contacted deer biologists from every state and province where whitetails occur. Here’s what they and I found.
Like so much of the whitetail’s daily and annual routine, timing of the fall breeding season is determined by — drum roll please — photoperiodism, or changes in the amount of daylight. Furthermore, because those changes occur at the same rate and time every year, so does the rut (with very little exception). What follows are some general guidelines from states that responded to my query. If you want more specific details for your particular area, simply call up your state biologist and ask.
Before we continue, it should be noted that peak rut and peak breeding are not the same thing. The rut includes all breeding behavior: scrape making, rubbing, seeking, chasing and breeding. Peak rut to a hunter is when breeding related movement (seeking and chasing) reaches its height.
To a biologist, peak breeding is a relatively narrow window (7-10 days) when the majority of adult does are bred. Hunters sometimes refer to it as the lockdown, as deer movement abates considerably. What follows are peak breeding dates. If you want to know when peak rutting activity is likely to occur, just back up a week or so.
- Maine – November 17-23 for mature does, followed a week later by yearling does.
- New Brunswick — Onset around November 8-10, followed by a surge around November 17-19, and peak breeding from November 26-29.
- Vermont — Third week of November.
- Massachusetts — Latter half of the second week of November.
- New Jersey — November 3-23 for adult deer; November 17 through December 7 for fawns.
- New York — Mid-November. (Sorry, that’s all they would tell me).
- Delaware — November 10-20.
- Pennsylvania — A few days either side of November 14.
- Maryland — November 1-15.
- Virginia — Just after mid-November.
- West Virginia — November 8 through November 14.
- Ohio — November 3-23
- Indiana — “Same as surrounding states.”
- Kentucky — Middle two weeks of November, but may vary from 3 to 7 days from west to east, earlier in west.
- Tennessee — November 21 in the West, November 25 in the East and November 17 in the two Central regions.
- Minnesota — Week of November 12.
- Illinois — November 10-20.
- Iowa — November 8-15.
- Missouri — November 16.
- Kansas — Mid-November.
- Arkansas — November 18 with a standard deviation of ±15 days.
- Montana — mid to late November.
- Colorado — November 1-15.
- North Carolina — Statewide: average peak rut is around November 15; Lower Coastal Plain on October 25; Upper Coast Plain on November 1; Piedmont on November 15; Foothills on November 21; Mountains on November 11/28.
- South Carolina — Last week in October and the first week in November.
- Florida — Highly variable, varying from as early as late July in the extreme South to mid-February in the Northwest.
THE DEEP SOUTH
- Georgia — Varies across state (see map).
- Alabama — Northern half fromChristmas until mid-January; Southern half from mid-January to first week of February; Black Belt will have a mid-January rut.
- Mississippi — Northwest from December 6-13; South-Central onDecember 27; Central on January 6; Southeast from January 20-31.
- Louisiana — Northwest on November 28; Southwest on October 29; East on January 26; Southeast on December 26.
- Gulf Prairies and Marshes — Northern study area on September 30; Southern area on October 31.
- Post Oak Savannah — November 10.
- Pineywoods — Northern on November 22; Southern on November 12.
- Cross Timbers — November 15-17.
- Rolling Plains — North on December 3; South on November 20.
- Edwards Plateau – East on November 7; Central on November 24; West on December 5.
- Trans-Pecos — December 8.
- South Texas Plains — East on December 16; West on December 24.
As for the rest, you’ll have to fill in the blanks yourself. From the mid-Atlantic through the Midwest and North, peak rut is fairly consistent. It gets more confusing and varied in the South. If all else fails, as noted above, you can always call the local state biologist and ask. Then mark your calender for this year and the next, and the next because it won’t change. After that you still need to know how to hunt different periods of the rut; but we’ll save that for another day.