The Second Rut—Myth or Opportunity?

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.

Have you had success in the late season? Have you ever seen bucks responding to a second rut? Share you observations in the comment section.


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Comments (3)

  1. @peteyraymond, I have seen it, and I don’t know where you’re from, but the deer in northern climes are a great deal bigger than in mid and southern.
    If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t believe it either!
    In 2003, we experienced 37 inches of snow over a 24 hour period. Add that up. We couldn’t get out of deer camp for 4 days.
    Deer still have to eat. They will try to go to areas where there is LESS snow, but still have to dig. There is minimal browse available during that time as well. It was rare I saw deer browse at all during the late season.
    I did see them eat, of all things, tree fungus on half a dozen occasions.
    You are also mostly correct about deer yards. The deer that we hunted migrated for miles from fall haunts to winter yarding (it’s also why the introduction of wolves have had such a detrimental effect on the population there) However, they don’t yard for food as much as they yard up in thermal cover. They are very inactive and sometimes don’t eat for very long periods of time.

  2. I’m in Texas, and haven’t hunted this millinium, but used to hunt in the hill country. It usually doesn’t have as long or harsh cold weather and snow, as the northern states, but I’ve seen some unique and un-explainable behavior out there.
    The last paragraph of the article pretty well sums it up though. You gotta be out there every available moment you can be, and at some point, it all comes together, and sometimes with added benifits. The the things you experience in the woods are yours, to reflect on by the fire for years. Those memories and experiences last long after the meat has been enjoyed.

  3. Ace – I’m a very skeptical person. Although I’m not from Missouri, someone has to “show me” before I’ll believe what they’re saying. Have you really seen deer in the UP paw through three to four feet of snow to get to acorns? The deer would have had to walk on or through 3-4 feet of snow to get to the acorn location. At the top of its head most deer are barely 4 feet tall. Seems like the deer would burn a lot of energy to plow through that much snow; more energy than a few acorns would provide. If it was a crusty snow, it would have been almost dangerous for the deer to walk through that kind of snow. If they broke through the crust they would be virtually trapped in the pocket under the crust. I’ve read many articles stating that during periods of heavy snow deer will “yard up” in the thick stuff where they at least have something to browse on (Multiflora rose, scrub brush, etc.). Plus, with that much snow I’d think survival efforts would curtail much rutting effort.

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