What is your favorite time of the year to hunt whitetails? The answer doesn’t really matter where you hunt across the country – it’s probably during the rut or immediately before or after it. Why? The rut can be a great time to encounter a mature buck during daylight hours, and any encounters you have will likely be exciting as bucks are actively chasing and breeding does. But there’s a big caveat with this answer. The rut can occur at many different times across the country, particularly in the Deep South. Here are some tips for rut hunting in the south, where the rut can occur much later than other states.
1. Time It Right
First, what triggers the rut in whitetail deer? It is believed that whitetails use photoperiod (the amount of daylight in a given day) to trigger several changes that lead to breeding (i.e., the rut). In the north, there is a drastic photoperiod swing from summer to winter, which creates a pretty reliable indicator. But in the south, the photoperiod doesn’t fluctuate nearly as much and the climate is generally pretty tolerable throughout the year, which is likely why the rut calendar is so spread out from August to February (QDMA rut triggers).
Picture: QDMA Chasing an Explanation for the South’s Odd Rut
As an example, the whitetail rut is fairly consistent across large geographies in the Midwest (provided they have similar photoperiods). But as mentioned, deer hunting in the south can be tricky because the rut can drastically swing from one date range to another depending on where you hunt. If you’re specifically bow hunting the rut in central Florida, for example, don’t pay any attention to the whitetail rut predictions in Georgia. It could possibly be weeks or even a month apart. Do your homework ahead of rut hunting by talking with conservation officers, other hunters, farmers, and by looking up a rut report map for your specific hunting area.
2. Weather and Conditions
If you’re used to rut hunting in the northeast or Midwest, you probably think of brutally cold conditions – subzero temperatures, harsh winds, and lots of snow. But rut hunting in the south is a different ballgame. In some areas, it can still be downright hot (in the 70s or even 80s) and miserable during the drawn-out rut period. To combat the conditions, you need to be prepared in a few ways. One, you should always carry enough water to make sure you stay hydrated. Two, focus on your scent control efforts, since sweat will be inevitable at some point. Third, you should make sure your camouflage clothing is appropriate for southern habitats. Wearing the wrong kind of camo can be almost as bad as not wearing any camo.
The BGO Hunt long sleeve tee is a durable performance shirt that can keep you hidden all day in several different southern wooded habitats and edges. Form fitting and constructed of polyester and lycra, this shirt helps keep you cool and wick your sweat away quickly to keep you as scent-free as possible. It is also tear-resistant (i.e., anti-pill, burr-resistant, etc.) to stand up to the inevitable tough plants you will face and water-repellent to keep you somewhat dry during chance rain events. The BGO Hunt cargo pants are similar in their features and benefits.
3. Know Your Area
You need to know your property well while rut hunting down south. First, if you have a goal of killing a mature buck, do you have any proof that mature bucks even live there? For example, are there sightings, trail camera pictures, or even good deer sign observed while scouting for deer hunting? Additionally, you should know where the likely food sources and bedding areas are. Without those two pieces of the puzzle, it can be tough to identify travel routes. Deer are creatures of the edge, and prefer to travel near or along habitat edges. In the south, that edge might be a subtle transition along a swamp to a pine plantation. Find the edges and scout for deer sign near pinch points, where habitat edges collide or narrow.
4. Focus on Does to Find the Bucks
Hunting whitetail bucks in rut can often come down to finding the does. This one isn’t only true for the southern deer rut, obviously. Bucks are looking for does during the rut no matter where they live across the country. If you have no other good deer sign or reason to hunt elsewhere, try following does or doe groups to see where they are bedding. If you can sneak in close (on the downwind side) to a doe bedding area, you’ll be well positioned to find a cruising buck scent-checking for does in estrous. You may even want to increase the attraction in one of these areas by using doe in estrous scent.
5. Covert Operation
In many heavily hunted areas, pressured deer are very good at detecting humans and staying out of harm’s way. This is especially true with mature bucks. To take a mature buck in one of these areas, the best deer hunting tip for the rut is to really pay attention to your access trails. Make sure your entry or exit trail doesn’t cross a likely deer trail. Stay downwind of where you expect deer to be. Overall, try your hardest to remain as scent-free, quiet, and undetected as possible.
If you plan on rut hunting somewhere in the south this season, we hope you’ll consider these deer hunting tips. They should help you get closer to taking a nice deer.