I’m not a morning person. Never have been, never will be. Ok, with the exception of the first two weeks of November; and, maybe the last week in October. Somehow my body just knows. It accepts its destiny of an early morning rise and defies the snooze button by injecting not only a quick up and at ‘em but more importantly the pep in my step that can only signify one thing…the rut is on! Over the last decade I have had the opportunity to live and hunt some of the best trophy buck states in the Midwest. Missouri, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, and now I find myself smack dab in the middle of what is arguably the best of them all, Central Illinois. I mean, come on man, the Mel Johnson Buck, the typical archery world record deer was taken right here in Peoria County, not to mention the crossbow world record deer, the Jerry Bryant Buck, which was shot just southwest of Peoria, in Fulton County. Both of which I might point out are on display in the grand entrance of our store in East Peoria, IL that opened up in September of 2011. For many who visit our store, these deer are merely an exhibition of the hunting heritage of this region. Perhaps a photo op, or a brief discussion of the hunters whom made these monarchs famous. But for me, (and some of you,) these two giants represent something greater.
Beyond my own personal obsession with monster bucks, these two world records represent hope. Not just for the possibility of an unassuming hunter similar to the likes of Johnson or Bryant to harvest a giant that will once again transform the record books, but for the future of this sport and the deer hunting traditions that have roots back to our beginning. It is our responsibility as sportsmen and women to pass along that passion to our youth and keep that flame burning. And there is no better time to do this than when the opportunity to harvest one of these giants is at an all time high.
It seems to me that every year in early October someone tells me that the rut is already in full swing. They have seen bucks chasing does, rubs, scrapes and the like. This always sets in to motion a debate that usually ends in the two sides agreeing to disagree. In my unswerving pursuit to appease, I would like to once and for all clear the air.
At least for the Midwest, the largest determining factor for deer breeding activity is photoperiod, or day length. A small gland deep inside a doe’s brain called the pineal gland is constantly keeping track of the amount of daylight and as the days become shorter it influences the release of sex hormones which ultimately lead to the deer coming into heat. This process happens at the same time that the buck’s testosterone levels are at an all time high which is the time that we refer to as the rut. Photoperiod makes the peak breeding times very predictable from year to year. Why does this matter? There are 3 phases of the rut and understanding them and using this information judiciously will increase your odds for success.
- The Seeking Phase: At this point in the game bucks are starting to look for estrous does. This is typically the first time a hunter will start seeing the more mature bucks mingling with the does. You will start to see more rubs and scrapes while bucks prepare to breed. A buck is approaching the peak in his testosterone level and is willing and ready to pick a fight to establish his dominance. This is a good time to break out the rattling antlers and give it a try. Bucks are starting to get on the move and looking for a receptive doe. The rut has started and you want to be in the woods, period. My recommendation would be to get the most comfortable deer stand you can find and sit all day long. I have found that our API climbing deer stands are extremely comfortable due to the way the seat hangs. It’s like you are sitting in a hammock.
- The Chasing Phase: Does are very close to coming into heat and the bucks just cannot stand it. They are now actively chasing and checking every doe on a regular basis. At this point many of the older does have already started to come into estrous. Most of us have seen this phase. You have been sitting for hours with nothing going on. Then all of the sudden a doe crashes through followed closely by a buck or sometimes even two. This can be a very exciting time to be in the woods. Deer activity is at a peak, however, getting a shot at a monster will require your ability to get that buck stopped which can be difficult if the doe keeps going. Some of the most intense fights can happen during this period as bucks solidify the pecking order. One of the largest bucks I have ever missed, and there have been a few, came during this phase. I had a legitimate booner at thirty yards that I brought in with a Primos Buck Roar grunt call by using the snort wheeze. If you have never used the snort wheeze, come see me in the store today. That call has changed the way the game is played.
- The Breeding Phase: Finally, the doe has entered estrous and breeding has begun. This phase can last up to two weeks and in my opinion is the toughest phase to hunt. Bucks are locked down onto does and they don’t move much. But don’t give up if you haven’t had a shot at a big boy yet. During this period bucks will break off from does that come out of estrous and hit the trails again in search of another mate. Again, an all day sit should not be out of the question.
In looking at the days in which the Mel Johnson Buck (October 29th) and the Jerry Bryant Buck (November 15th) were taken, I believe it is only a matter of time until those world records are replaced. In many aspects it is about being in the right place at the right time. And those who better understand the timing as it relates to the three phases of the rut and use this information to their advantage have already solved half of the equation.
In their annual publication of the best days to hunt of the rut, Field & Stream highlights this year’s days that you’ll want to be in a tree. Here are a few important days you will want to note.
October 24th: This date is being predicted as the kickoff to the seeking phase given the rising afternoon moon and the expected cooling temperatures. Look for bucks to finally get moving in daylight as they begin their early search for does.
November 2nd: According to Field & Stream the photoperiod will trigger a hormone around this time that should really kick bucks into high gear.
November 6th: Around this day should be the transition between the seeking and chasing phase. Calls, scents and decoys can be very effective during this time.
November 10th: This day is Field & Stream’s predicted “best day of the rut”. They predict a lot of daylight activity and mature bucks will be out and about. The breeding period will go for a week and a half to two weeks from this point.
Good luck and good hunting!
Jim Goff, Store Manager
East Peoria, IL Bass Pro Shops