Late October was on fire in the upper South, but the activity sputtered through November
Yes, I know it’s difficult to recap a rut that hasn’t even started yet in parts of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. So, apologies to those Deep South readers. But in the Southeastern Region at large, the rut is finished, and another year of the Realtree Rut Report is coming to an end.
I’ve been a Southeastern Region rut reporter for almost 15 collective years, for Realtree.com and Field & Stream. Back when I started, trail cameras were relatively new, and cellular cameras didn’t exist. There were no mapping apps (and for that matter, not many smart phones). Podcasts weren’t much of a thing, but printed hunting magazines were.
But the rut report format hasn’t changed much. From Day 1, simple weekly check-ins from real hunters with firsthand observations on the deer activity from numerous states have been extremely popular. The reason for that is simple: Half the fun of hunting the rut is the anticipation that comes with it. It is without a doubt the best time of year to kill a mature buck, but it’s short-lived and quite fluid. Though peak breeding dates don’t change much year to year, they can vary by geography (especially here in the South), and the activity you see from stand depends heavily on local weather and food sources. When you’re planning a hunt, it’s good to know what others have been seeing.
Food and weather certainly played an outsize role in this year’s rut. I hunt in southwestern Kentucky and just across the state line in northwestern Tennessee. But I also lean on contacts from Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas to help inform my weekly updates. This year in particular, late October and the first few days of November stood out as being better than normal — and I’d say the same was true in the Northeastern and Midwestern regions, too. Those years of reporting have led to me to believe a few elements came together to create that perfect storm of early rutting activity.
Mast: We had a bumper acorn crop across the region this year. Locally, the white oak drop was as good as I’ve ever seen, and the red oak crop wasn’t far behind. Years ago, a West Virginia deer biologist told me that heavy mast crops often correlate with a slightly earlier, more concise rut because deer enter the breeding phase with high fat reserves and in better overall physical condition.
Moon: The full hunter’s moon was on Oct. 28 this year, a bit earlier than normal. Realtree blogger and whitetail expert Mike Hanback pegged it when he wrote, “This season, the rutting moon goes full on Oct. 28. I predict good to great deer movement Oct. 24 to Nov. 4.”
Cold fronts: October was warm and dry overall for much of the region, but a couple of well-timed cold fronts broke that up. The most notable one moved through my area Oct. 29, dropping inches of rain and sending the temperatures plummeting. I shot one of my best bucks to date the evening of Oct. 30, and he was dogging a doe. Halloween morning was frigid, in the 20s across much of Kentucky.
Late October through early November was excellent, but I would say that early action was tempered a bit by stop-and-start activity the rest of the month. In much of the region, a good day of rut hunting seemed to hinge on the local does. If a hot doe was near your stand, the rut seemed very good. But many hunters reported a slow season with minimal deer sightings overall, an observation that seems validated by early harvest reports (Kentucky’s statewide modern rifle take was down a fair bit this season compared to the previous season).
Though the Rut Report program is finished, plenty of good late-season hunting remains to be had in the region. And of course, hunters in those Deep South states are gearing up for the peak ruts in their areas, which are still to come. If you’re still holding a buck tag, grind it out to the end, and good luck. We’ll check back in with you next October.
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