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Signs of a Second Rut in the Northeast

White-Tailed Deer


Signs of a Second Rut in the Northeast

Posted 2023-12-12  by  Tim Kent

Northeast hunters report a mixed bag of deer behavior while signs point to a second cycle of estrus does

Things are getting pretty thin out there with fewer and fewer reports coming in each week. Whether area hunters have already found success — or hung their hat for the season in frustration — we’re slimming down to a skeleton crew. However, those with tags left in their pockets, and still hitting the hardwoods, continue to find meat on the bones of the remaining days.

Much of the inbound dialog this week carried a mantra on the foundations of food-based hunting strategies — especially over the past weekend. However, as the new week started, so did reports of a second rut, with several detailing distinctive behaviors that made them say, “Second rut on.” With that, some adapted their efforts to cut closer to the bone and move off the food in search of higher-stem count heavier cover or transitional areas. This strategy brings to focus a two-fold vision that helps bucks and does avoid the pressure provided by hunters and their own. Others still kept their sights on the food, with stories proving both to be a seasonally appropriate strategies.

On Friday I watched five young bucks trail a doe and fawn before parting ways after realizing both were sans buck-lust. After their split from the slick heads, the 5-buck bachelor group, for the better part of thirty minutes, staged up less than 50 yards off a food source waiting for daylight to diminish. They literally walked in circles until there was almost exactly one minute of legal shooting light left. As if they knew how to tell time, on cue, they found their way onto the field — walking single file, then dispersing and quickly dropping their heads to refresh their rut-worn fat reserves on a recently cut corn. Though their focus was food, sex was still high on the priority list, as they paid close attention to the doe and her fawn.

As the new week began, hunters across the Garden State brought out their shotguns and blaze orange along with renewed dialog of breeding behaviors. Many told stories of New Jersey bucks chasing does, scraping, rubbing, and seeking. Several ended in holding a tight grip on antlers — big and small. This includes one friend who sent a slug into the rib cage of a high and wide 8-pointer. The buck found his demise as he badgered three does between a thicket and a hardwood edge. He was chasing hard, and wasn't the only buck in the area with a healthy dose of testosterone running through his now-drained veins. Many other NJ hunters told of bucks slinking through the woods and fields carelessly following does or cruising in hot pursuit. One reporter even told of how he saw seven, yes, seven bucks lumped onto one hot doe! Talk about things heating back up!

This time of year it feels appropriate to say that the only thing that's consistent is that things can be inconsistent. Unless we have cold temps and deep snow that create significant hardship for deer, it can be difficult to take advantage of a pattern — even on highly managed hunting land. With a roller coaster ride of weather, the area saw forecasts and field conditions from sun to snow and everything in between. The wind blew, rain fell, snow piled, and the mercury rose, fell, and rose again. As did the frustration of hunters opining for some element of consistency in the last few weeks’ bi-polar patterns. BUT! If you still have a tag, you still have a chance, and any time is a great time to be afield.

As we draw nearer to the season’s end, it’s becoming harder and harder for some to stay hard at it. This week, there were more than a few conversations filled with colorful language painting disgust of how this season went, or is going. Meanwhile, an equal number of hunters voiced their elation, having the best season of their lives. A friend stopped by the house this morning with a good-looking butterball buck in the back of his truck that he arrowed during the last few minutes of daylight last night. He told of how the buck slowly followed a doe as she leisurely fed on acorns on an oak-packed hillside. While we discussed the year in review, he put it best, “Some years it’s easy. Some it’s hard. You just never know what you're going to get, and it can all change in just a second.”

A testament to that and one of the highlights of last week’s stories was that of a buck that took and arrow in October — only to survive the wound. After going underground for more than a month he reappeared, working his way toward a doe group as they fed on the edge of a field of greens and grains. The hunter took steady aim at less than 100 yards, and with a well-placed bullet ended the two-season story of his relationship with the massive-framed 8-pointer. The anatomy of this hunt, focused on food, fornication, the will to survive, and a hunter’s dedication to follow through until the bitter end. These are the precursors for success in the deer woods, and proof that even when it seems like your chances seem slim, there’s always a way to muscle your way through and flesh out success!


  • Day Activity

  • Rubbing

  • Scraping

  • Fighting

  • Seeking

  • Chasing

  • Breeding

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