Every whitetail hunter wants a crystal ball for the rut. When will bucks be chasing? When will breeding happen? When will bucks be moving at midday?
Unfortunately, these questions are easier asked than answered. The whitetail deer breeding season can be wildly unpredictable—or as regular as reading the calendar. Here’s what we can and cannot predict about the 2020 whitetail rut.
The timing of peak breeding is one aspect of the whitetail rut that we can predict well ahead of time and holds true year in and year out.
Study after study have shown that the timing of whitetail breeding across most of the country is directly tied to photoperiod—the amount of daylight in a 24 hour window. Regardless of temperature, moon phase, or horoscope, the majority of deer will breed at the same time every year on average.
“For decades, deer biologists have examined and aged fetuses from populations and shown the breeding season occurs in approximately the same few weeks each year,” acccording to a report by Mississippi State University.
For most parts of the country, this peak of breeding is somewhere around the middle of November. One study from Pennsylvania, for example, looked at road-killed fetuses from 1996 to 2006 and found a median conception date of November 13. If you hunt in the northern two-thirds of the country, you can expect something similar. For a litany of peculiar reasons, there are several pockets in the South where this is not the case (learn more about those here).
The peak breeding dates of mid-November represent the period when the most does are in heat and breeding. This doesn’t represent the period of the most rut-related deer movement or the best days to hunt, though. That typically occurs in the two weeks prior to peak breeding when bucks are traveling far and wide to find a receptive doe. With that in mind, you can plan for great rut activity from Oct. 31 to Nov. 14 every year. Beyond mid-November, daylight buck movement will gradually decline.
While the timing of actual breeding is consistent, the amount of daylight movement hunters see is not. This is can vary from day to day and location to location. Here is where weather- and moon-related theories come into play.
Of all these variables, I believe temperature has the greatest potential impact on daylight activity. Rutting behavior like chasing and breeding happens no matter what, but weather can certainly push that into or out of daylight. With a good cold front and temperatures below average, and you can expect great daytime activity. On the other hand, if the thermometer rises 10 or 20 degrees above average, the daylight activity could be significantly suppressed—especially during the midday period which can otherwise be terrific at this time.
For much of the country, temperatures look average or below average for the first several days of November, during which time we should expect a good uptick in daylight activity. This is followed by a warm spell towards the end of the first week, which might lead to a slight depression in movement, but another front pushing in around Nov. 10 ought to change that fast.
Another factor many use to predict rutting activity is the moon. This was covered in detail in a previous piece, What You Need to Know About the 2020 Rutting Moon. But it’s worth noting that one theory, which keys in on the Oct. 31 full moon, points to particularly good pre-rut behavior on the evenings leading up to Halloween and exceptional morning activity during the first few days of November. Another claim, which is based on the overhead and underfoot moon times, forecasts particularly good activity from Nov. 3 to 7 and Nov. 17 to 21.
It’s fascinating to try to predict the rut. Sometimes it’s more hassle than it’s worth. The rut is unpredictable by nature and that’s what makes it so damn exciting.
While all of the above factors might influence rutting movement, it’s important not to read too deeply into any one thing. Once, while hunting in Iowa, I let a series of warm days in the forecast convince me to bail on the trip and run home for a breather. During those two, hot November days while I was in Michigan, three of my friends who stayed in Iowa filled their tags. I’ll never make that mistake again.
Regardless of the weather, moon, or anything else, the only truly accurate prediction is that when it’s November, anything is possible. So, get out there and let sweet November work it’s magic.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.