As firearm deer seasons head into the coldest months of the year, in many northern climes, the whitetail rut is over or winding down. Or is it? The answer to that question, like so many others in hunting, is “maybe…”
Having hunted whitetails in the northern climes for over 25 years, I have seen some strange things happen during the late season. I specifically recall one late muzzleloader season in upper Michigan where I saw two different bucks acting like it was the peak of November. They were chasing does and stumbling around like drunkards. Had they worn better headgear, one of them would have been certainly “reduced to possession.”
Contrast that with the hunting that occurred this year in Wisconsin’s opening weekend of firearm season, where rut and deer activity in general was at a minimum. Noted northern Whitetail biologist, John Ozoga, has declared himself a non-advocate of the second rut. He has stipulated in his book Whitetail Intrigue: Scientific Insights for Whitetail Deer, that though he sees no second rut, it may have a great deal to do with the severe northern climate. Ozoga states, “In milder environments patterns could be different. If important pheromones, whatever their source, accompany silent ovulation in pubertal does additional late season excitation signals could rekindle the buck’s pursuit response.”
Steve Demarais, A biologist with Mississippi State University’s Whitetail research program believes, “Areas with far more does than bucks have some of the best second rut action. This is because there are too few bucks in these areas to breed all of the does during the major estrous cycle in November. So, 28 days after the peak of the rut, those that were missed in November and the yearlings that weren’t ready to come into estrous then give bucks one more chance. A similar situation occurs in big timberlands: bucks are often unable to cover all of the real estate that separates doe groups in these areas in time to breed all of the does.”
I believe that is what I saw during that northern muzzleloader hunt. Based on both my experience and that of these two experts in the field, I believe there is a second rut that can be exploited with some predictability. So, how do I find it? As it turns out, I have a combination of both biologist suggestions. First, I try and locate the key food source in the area I am hunting. Why? The one thing every deer needs, as the weather turns colder is more and more high-quality food. In October, a venerable buffet is available to deer almost everywhere they roam. Once leaves fall and things get covered with snow that can change.
The majority of the hunting I do is in a cold, northern environment, so that usually means easily obtained, calorie-rich foods that are not terribly far from a core bedding area. At times, that may be corn or soybeans. In other areas (even those with agricultural areas in the vicinity) it may be late-dropped or yet-unexploited acorns. I’ve seen deer in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan paw through three to four feet of snow to get to them. If there are any does that are coming into a second estrous cycle, you will know in short order. Bucks in the area will hover, hound and chase the does. The good news is that any bruisers still left around will be vulnerable again, if only for a short period. That’s what I’m hoping for this year.
One thing is certain. If you still have an unfilled tag at the end of November, you certainly will not fill the freezer with venison by sitting on the couch. Dress for the weather, plan your hunt effectively based on target food sources and deer concentrations, and wait for that monster escape artist you have on trail camera to appear.