The woods are quieter, but some deer are on the move again
By Hayley Lynch
The mid-November peak of the deer breeding season is over. Deer move less and feed more at this time of year, building fat reserves for the winter. Some mature does, however, were not bred during the first rut. Additionally, some doe fawns and yearling does are just now coming into their first estrus cycle. For these reasons a second, less intense breeding season occurs in many areas around mid-December.
Deer behavior during this second rut is similar to the first rut, but with fewer deer moving. “Bucks will do some of their typical display stuff, but they don’t get as crazy,” said Tina Brunjes, big game program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “They’ll still chase does and spar a little bit.”
Whether or not this second rut occurs at all depends largely on the ratio of bucks to does. In a completely balanced herd, with one buck for every doe, very little second rut activity would happen because nearly all of the does would be bred during the first rut. However, this kind of 1:1 ratio is rare. Geographic area, food availability and deer management strategies can all affect the buck-to-doe ratio. The more does there are for each buck, the more likely there will be a second, or in some regions, a third rut.
When the second rut comes in depends on when the first one occurred. Just getting out in the woods and watching deer behavior in November gives hunters a pretty good idea of when the peak of the rut occurred. Add 28 days to find out about when the second rut will peak.
Kentucky’s late muzzleloader season (Dec. 8-16 this year) starts on the second Saturday of December each year and runs for nine days. It is timed to coincide with this late rutting activity. “We time the seasons this way so our hunters will see deer and have a greater chance of harvesting one,” said David Yancy, a big game program wildlife biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.
Hunters should concentrate on the does. Where there are does, there are going to be adult bucks. Deer become more predictable in December as they concentrate on building body weight for winter. Focus on feeding and cover areas.
“If you are trying to hunt that big buck you missed in November, you’ll have to study hard,” Brunjes said. “Where is he bedding? Where is he feeding? What are his travel corridors?”
The second rut can be productive. Last year, more than 9,000 deer were taken during Kentucky’s late muzzleloader season. If you get out in the woods during this last gun hunting opportunity, much of your hunting strategy will be the same as it was in November. “Varying your technique is probably over-emphasized,” Yancy said. “The most important thing is just that you get out there.”