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The Rut Is on in the Northeast

White-Tailed Deer


The Rut Is on in the Northeast

Posted 2023-11-14  by  Tim Kent

Rutting activity should hit its peak this week

All indications say we have hit the apex! That time of year when the woods explode with activity and daylight movement is at its peak for deer of all sexes and age classes. This is a special confluence where rut behaviors of all types can be witnessed at the highest level. This is, one of the best times — if not, the best time — to be in the woods. This week’s conversations validated this 100%!

Getting stuck in the rut can sure have multiple meanings. This week’s feedback brought equal amounts of frustration and elation we’d expect from the “peak” of rut. Some told success stories ending in pumping fists. Others pounded their fists with rut-infused grievance. It's the time year where some are bowing their heads to pay respect, with equal numbers lowering their head in dismay. Welcome to the rut! It’s a wild ride, but you have to be on board to experience it. November can be really great. It can also be really, really hard. Hopefully, this week’s report instills a little motivation regarding the what can happen when you grind it out.

For the sake of semantics, when I reference the “rut,” I am referring to how hunters generally consider the rut — not those camo lab-coat wearing science-centric biologists. Their definition is biological. It refers to actual breeding, some of which we heard about this week. In general, what we’re talking about is bucks and does on their feet in search of, or directly interacting with, the opposite sex. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know we’ve got it wrong, and need to get our definitions right. However, we’re hunters in it for the fun, not the biology.

We continue to have favorable weather, with cold nights and cool days. As a result, deer movement at all hours of the day was exceptional this week. Bucks, does, and fawns were all reported being seen with day-long activity. Some told of a lack of activity, which traditionally means the dreaded “lockdown” phase. This is when area does go into heat leading deer of both sexes to cover less ground as they partake in the sexual rites of autumn. The large dichotomy tends to just be a difference in geography and area/local biology and can vastly depend on micro factors like area buck-to-doe ratio, food, cover, and micro climates. One thing we can all agree on: The rut and deer hunting in general is not one size fits all. What your neighbor might experience may not be the same as you — never mind two states over. No matter what, we’re in the thick of it in the Northeast!

From an anecdotal standpoint, evidence of the hunters’ rut was validated by the burgeoning numbers of fresh buck and doe roadkill seen on Northeast roadways, plus the cornucopia of feedback we received from area reporters. Mature bucks were definitely on their feet — highlighted by two stories out of New York and New Hampshire. The New Hampshire account detailed the multi-year story of a magnificent 14-pointer that had never been seen during daylight hours, with the only scouting camera images of him — both in the timber and the fields — coming in between 12 and 2 a.m. On 11/5 he daylighted for the first time in three years and met a well-placed arrow. His demise came as he trailed three does into a large food plot. The second came from New York’s northern zone where a beautiful, and fully-mature 8-point buck, took a bullet during a midday stroll in search of a hot doe. He too had not been seen in person or on camera during daytime hours in two years!

Many hunters reported significant buck activity in the mornings and midday. Others told of how does were feeding later in the morning and during the midday hours trying to find a little respite from bucks’ constant harassment. Rubbing and scraping were still on the behavioral docket. With the majority of the trees having shed their leaves, scrape activity appears to have fallen off in favor of seeking, chasing, and frustration-based tree rubbing. We heard several stories of breeding parties, balanced by accounts of bucks and does once again using the same food sources, mostly in the afternoons. In these instances, the does weren’t left alone for long, and the fields were cleared before dark as the bucks took up chase, pushing them over the river and through the woods. Morning and midday activity, was primarily noted to be deeper in the woods and closer to area bedding cover. Yet, overall activity was noted in terms of being “really good” most days this week. For the next few days it’s likely a good time to keep working brushy hedgerows, in-woods cover, thickets close to food sources, overgrown “rut fields,” and other areas where bucks might be on the cruise to find a hot doe. I like to “take their eyes away from them,” finding places where they need to work an area hard to find a doe whose embedded herself thick like a tick, trying to hide.

Looking ahead, there would be no surprises if the smorgasbord of activity continues with any and all behaviors witnessed. My crystal ball says there will still be stories of woe from those who are not experiencing action, and working through the process of lockdown or breeding parties. For others, I would anticipate activity to continue to heat up along food sources as some does complete their estrus cycle and rejoin their family units. Bucks will continue doing a little window shopping, while trying to round up the last receptive mate. The pressure-cooker of the rut will start to release steam, letting does start to act normal again, while bucks continue to seek — but at less of a boiling temp.

For those who have tagged out, congratulations. If you haven’t been so fortunate, get out there and stay out there. You can’t kill ‘em from the couch — and most of the NE football teams suck this year — so stop wasting those Sunday and Monday afternoons/evenings. It doesn’t matter what kind of ground you have access to, or what’s already been killed in your area. One of the greatest differentiators between those who experience elation over frustration is their ability to endure the challenging times and keep their head up when things slow down. Like I said earlier, we’re at the apex and it’s all downhill from here. Do your best to work the high, before it all changes and have to wait another year for peak opportunity.


  • Day Activity

  • Rubbing

  • Scraping

  • Fighting

  • Seeking

  • Chasing

  • Breeding

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