This season's peak breeding phase of the rut has made the action painfully slow for many mid-South hunters
The 2021 rut in the northern fringes of the Southeast region will go as one of the slowest I've seen in years. Back in mid-October, deer blogger Mike Hanback predicted a trickle rut for latitudes like Kentucky and Virginia, and that's exactly what I saw myself, and what many of my hunting buddies in the field reported too.
I had a great hunt in Tennessee on Nov. 1 — one that would actually prove to be my most exciting rut hunt of the season thus far. I've analyzed photos from a dozen trail cameras scattered across multiple properties, and I saw that in my areas there was a definite spike of buck movement, including from some big ones, from about Oct. 29 to Nov. 2. I saw plenty of little bucks on stand during that first week of November and expected to have a big one cruise through at some point … but it never happened. Instead, it seemed, as many of us hunters were patiently waiting for things to get good, mature bucks were finding receptive does and enjoying one three-day relationship after another in thickets unknown. Opening weekend of gun season in Kentucky (Nov. 13) was as slow as any I can remember on the overall deer movement front — and maybe the first opening morning in my life when I didn't see a deer of any sort.
Still, the weather was great, and hunters did kill deer. I filled my own buck tag with a nice 8-pointer right before dark on opening day. I checked my 7-year-old son out of school early on Monday afternoon, and he filled his buck tag with a nice 6-pointer, and a doe tag, too. In the past few days, I've noticed stops and starts of deer activity on my cellular cameras, a good percentage of which have been nice bucks. On Wednesday, I had pics of a big 10-pointer on his feet at 3 in the afternoon.
I've been out in Nebraska myself this week, hunting in the Sandhills where there are both mule deer and whitetails. The guides here have reported a crazy rut this season, and a few hunters in camp who sat whitetail stands in the river bottoms yesterday saw plenty of action. Me, I was after mule deer, and we saw plenty of them. Every buck of 3 1/2 years of age plus was locked down with a doe, including the one I shot yesterday afternoon at 1:45, when we bumped him out of his bed in a thicket with half a dozen girlfriends.
Unlike most of the country, though, areas of the Southeast — particularly in the Deep South — are just starting to pick up. Down around Memphis and into northern Mississippi, where I used to live, Thanksgiving weekend was always a prime time to be in a tree, as the bucks were usually seeking and chasing pretty hard. In that area, peak breeding happens around the first of December. Elsewhere in the region it can be even later, with the action in Alabama's Black Belt culminating in January.
In states like Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, and most of Tennessee, the peak breeding is about over — but that can mean some pretty good hunting within the next few days. In fact, over the past few years, family, friends, and clients of ours have tagged some great bucks — usually still following does — right around Thanksgiving. Many does will be relaxing a bit and becoming more visible around food sources, and in my experience, during this final phase of the rut, you can have some luck by once again backing away from the thickets and posting along edge cover near ag fields, food plots, and other open food sources. Bucks will be cruising those areas again, and in my experience, the cruisers in late November, though they may be fewer, tend to be bigger.
There's plenty of deer season left, and some good hunting to come. Stay safe and hang in there.
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