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The Midwestern Rut Was on Time (as Expected), But it Felt Muted

White-Tailed Deer


The Midwestern Rut Was on Time (as Expected), But it Felt Muted

Posted 2023-12-19  by  Josh Honeycutt

The Midwest rut is long gone, so our annual Rut Report comes to an end. Here is a look back across Fall 2023

The 2023 Midwestern rut happened on schedule, as expected. We knew it would, of course, because most deer in the northern half of the country (and many in the southern half) breed based on photoperiod. Although each herd’s respective annual rut window might differ slightly from those of neighboring counties or states, each herd tends to rut at exactly the same time each year, plus or minus a day or two. Many research efforts involving back-dated fawn fetuses have proven that.

So, how was the 2023 Midwestern rut? Predictable, as mentioned. But it wasn’t as intense as I expected it to be. I saw bucks chasing. I saw mature bucks on their feet. I even noticed some bucks tending does. But it still felt muted, especially across critical days that historically produce excellent daytime rutting activity.

Looking back across this year’s report, several things were obvious. We had a lot of great weather fronts in October. Rut sign really started popping October 20-30. A lot of 3-year-old and younger bucks started cruising around Halloween. And the big fellows starting roaming around November 5-10. Of course, lockdown really settled in around November 15-20. But by the 25th, bucks were on the move again.

That was the rough timeline, which always occurs as historically established. But the intensity often fluctuates from year to year. Several Midwestern rut report contacts expressed that reality this year. The rut was not as intense, and the daytime movement not as pronounced as some ruts in recent years.

That was largely because of higher-than-normal temperatures during critical periods. That didn’t stop deer from breeding, but it put a damper on daytime cruising and chasing. A lot more rut movement occurred at night.

Obviously, there were many instances of flurried action. Each of the Midwest rut contacts and I experienced it at various points in the season. This led to some great rut hunts, even when it wasn’t very productive at other places nearby.

Now, the primary rut is firmly behind us, and the second rut is here. But don’t expect anything close to the same intensity as round No. 1. Generally, the second rut is driven by doe fawns that reach the weight threshold to breed. And in the Midwest, only 10 to 50% of those do so. Where habitat and nutrition are better, herds hit the higher end of that percentage range. Where habitat and nutrition aren’t great, the opposite is true.

Regardless, don’t expect any second-rut action to save your season. Don’t use it as a primary tactic. Instead, find bucks where they’re wintering. Find good bedding areas and great food sources, and intercept deer along bed-to-feed lines of movement. That’s the gig from now until the finish line.

Good luck the remainder of the season, and don’t forget to check back next fall when the Rut Report shakes off the dust and reports real-time what’s happening in the deer woods. Until then, we’re signing off.


  • Day Activity

  • Rubbing

  • Scraping

  • Fighting

  • Seeking

  • Chasing

  • Breeding

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