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GRANT: Once the calendar gets past mid-October, most hunters are thinking about the pre-rut.

GRANT: Pre-rut’s a common term, but it seems like there’s a lot of leeway and definitions, so let’s define the pre-rut.

GRANT: Pre means there’s something else, so we start at the rut and the rut is when most of the does are bred. Pre means before that main period when most does are receptive. Certainly, when the most does are receptive and all that scent is in the air, bucks are moving a lot, but don’t discount the pre-rut and here’s why.

GRANT: The range of conception dates for white-tailed deer is similar to almost all natural patterns. It’s a bell-shaped curve. A few does will become receptive very early – like maybe even now. And then a few more, a few more, and then it will go up very drastically; not stay on that plateau very long – start tapering off. And that leg – depending on the adult sex ratio – may stretch out on there for quite some ways to the end of season or even after the season closes. So the pre-rut, it’s on the left side of that bell-shape curve. It’s where it just starts ramping up, and there can be a lot of excitement in the woods during the pre-rut.

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GRANT: Leading up to the pre-rut, a lot of scrapes will be opened up, and scrapes are simply a form of communication. They’ll paw on the ground, urinate, defecate, everything on the ground part, and then lick and smell that overhanging limb – and that’s just used to deposit pheromones, external hormones. And it’s communicating various messages to the deer in the area.

GRANT: When the first couple of does are receptive, well gosh, they’re still moving around and they’re depositing a lot of scent throughout the woods that’s saying, “Hey, it’s time.” And all the bucks are not sitting on the couch going, “Uh, I’m gonna wait a little bit.” They’re gonna start moving and seeking trying to find a receptive doe.

GRANT: Several researchers working in different areas have clearly shown that bucks move more distance – they spend more time on their feet – during the pre-rut all the way up to the peak of the rut.

GRANT: I’m gonna take just a pause right here and probably make a few folks upset out there. I’m sure I’m gonna get some nastygrams after this. There’s a lot of folks out there that believe the moon defines when the rut occurs or when does become receptive, but I’ve gotta tell you, research project after research project after research project proves unequivocally that’s not true.

GRANT: Before you start fighting, and typing, and sending me hate mail really quick, let’s slow down and think about the biology of why deer breed when they breed.

GRANT: When deer breed, it’s not based on when it’s best for them to be running around and chasing and breeding. It’s actually based on the end result – when the fawns will be born.

GRANT: There’s a lot of science behind this, but I’m gonna break it down real simple, in a way I believe we all can understand. Let’s start at the northern portion of the whitetails’ range. Does breed there in a relatively narrow window, and there’s a big reason why. If does breed way too early, well, those fawns would likely be dropped when there’s a lot of snow on the ground. There’s almost no chance that fawn would survive.

GRANT: At the other side of that bell-shaped curve, if the fawns are born really late – the doe bred really late – well that fawn is not gonna have enough time to mature enough – to gain enough body mass – to survive the oncoming winter. It’s all about when the fawns are born to maximize the chances of survival. Everything a deer does is about surviving.

GRANT: Coming on down in those central latitudes – let’s just say, you know, Virginia, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio. Come right through the middle there – it’s about the same thing. Except if a doe was bred really early, fawns not being born when there’s snow on the ground but spring green-up may not have occurred, and that doe needs really high-quality forage – high-quality nutrition – to produce enough milk so that fawn can survive.

GRANT: Does that are bred really late, well, it’s warm. The fawn would not die from exposure to cold temperatures. But if it’s born really late, that spring flush of vegetation is over, and the quality of vegetation is decreasing. Mother’s milk may not be near as good, and that fawn is gonna get off to a slow start in life if it survives.

GRANT: There’s much more evidence about this. Some of you all may or may not know that in very South Florida that rut is late July, early August. If you think about it, you back up and breed then because their spring flush – when that vegetation is at its best state – is gonna be earlier, much earlier, than here in the Midwest or at the northern end of the whitetails’ range.

GRANT: That spring flush of vegetation is important. It’s full of protein. It’s high quality, and those does can consume enough protein to make enough milk for healthy fawns.

GRANT: We started this portion of the conversation talking about the moon doesn’t have an influence on when deer breed. We get full moons all throughout the month over time. But deer can’t have the flexibility in breeding like that or fawns would be born when there’s snow on the ground or when it’s likely to be dry or the vegetation’s matured and not as high of quality.

GRANT: The calendar date is much more important than the phase of the moon when determining the peak of deer breeding activity.

GRANT: The same is true with current weather conditions. Gosh, it may be 80 degrees here in mid-November, but the rut is still going to occur. Because what’s important, again, is when the fawns are going to be born.

GRANT: You may not see a lot of deer activity during daylight when it’s 80 degrees. They’ve got a big winter coat on just like you and I. They probably don’t feel like moving all over. But it is date season, so they’re more likely to be up and moving during the rut then let’s say in an 85-degree day in middle October.

GRANT: To really fine-tune when the rut is going to occur in your area, it’s probably best to visit with your local state game and fish agency. Almost every agency or the university in that state has done some research based on collecting fetal data.

GRANT: They look at fetuses from roadkill does or maybe late season hunter-harvested does, and they measure that fetus, and by the length of the fetus they can backdate to the date of breeding or conception or date ahead to when that fetus would be born. That’s the most accurate way to know when the rut is going to occur where you hunt.

GRANT: With that data, you need a hunting strategy. You know when it’s going to occur, but how are you going to hunt? Well, let’s just think about it. During the pre-rut – that’s what we’re talking about now – the pre-rut – bucks are sensing a few does are receptive, and they’re seeking. They’re moving a lot, but even though they’re moving a lot, they’re not cruising all day long yet. They’re still on a crepuscular cycle. They’re moving at dawn and dusk. And this research has been done over and over and over with bunches of deer fitted with radio collars and GPS collars from Texas to Canada.

GRANT: Folks, it just doesn’t change. On any given day, deer are gonna peak around that dawn and dusk period. It may shift just a little bit based on weather conditions, hunting pressure, whatever. But that double peak of daytime movement is a constant no matter where you hunt deer.

GRANT: So we’ve established you can learn the peak of breeding by looking at data collected by university or state agency, and you can just go back a few weeks and know when the pre-rut is going to occur where you hunt.

GRANT: When you’ve accurately determined those dates, you now need a hunting strategy.

GRANT: As I mentioned previously, deer travel more during the pre-rut than they do before that starts, and as that pre-rut progresses into the rut, they’re gonna travel a bit more on average every day. That doesn’t mean they’re just running throughout the county all over. Deer are staying in their home range. They’re kind of scared to get out of their home range cause they know everything about their home range – where the predators are, where the hunters are likely to be, how the thermals work. They’re very safe in their home range.

GRANT: Home range – kind of like pre-rut – is one of those terms that gets thrown around a lot but rarely defined. So let’s define home range as where deer go – and they’re almost never perfectly a circle shape – throughout the course of a year. But they usually have a core area where they spend 70, 80 percent of their time, and that may shift based on resources in their home range. Maybe ag fields got harvested or a bunch of acorns start dropping. They’re gonna be fairly close to the most limited resource in their area.

GRANT: When determining what portion of a deer’s home range they’re using during the pre-rut I like to look for two types of sign – scrapes and rubs.

GRANT: Scrapes and rubs are both communication posts, and they’re fairly easy to tell if they’re fresh. If it’s a scrape – especially this time of year with leaves falling – it would be pawed out and leaves everywhere else. Rubs, boy they’d be shined up, not just a rub you see off in the woods a few yards, but I mean you get there if it’s on a cedar tree, the sap will still be sticky. If you’re finding that, you know that rub is fairly fresh.

GRANT: Finding scrapes around the edge of a field is one thing. I kind of call those pretty generic. They can be effective but I’d much rather find a line of scrapes and rubs going from bedding to food.

GRANT: That’s a travel corridor, and I mean it’s marked with road signs. Figure out how to get in there, get on the downwind side and not alert deer while you’re approaching those, and you’ve got a great hunting location.

GRANT: We mentioned earlier that deer are moving more distance throughout the day during the pre-rut and rut, so it makes great sense to hunt travel corridors versus a destination like a food plot or a source of water. I want to increase my odds of seeing deer moving and travel corridors are a great bet.

GRANT: With that said, don’t discount food sources. Bucks need a lot of calories while they’re building up for the rut or even moving more, right? They’re exercising more, and they may be going to food sources or on the downwind side, scent checking to see if any does in the area are receptive.

GRANT: Again, bucks are moving more. They’re respirating more. They’re gonna need water, and if it’s dry out and there’s limited water resources, those could be great stand locations during the pre-rut.

GRANT: As the pre-rut amps up a little bit – and by that I mean that a higher percentage of does are receptive every day – there’s just more scent in the air, more excitement. Gosh, a lot of those bucks are gonna be cruising on the downwind side of bedding areas, scent checking to see if there’s a receptive doe in there; and I’ve had success using bedding areas as almost a bottleneck and getting on the downwind side with hopes a buck will cruise by scent checking the upwind area.

GRANT: You remember the graph based on a lot of research that shows deer activity peaks at dawn and dusk. So, folks ask, “Should I hunt in the morning or afternoon?” There’s not a right or wrong answer to that. It’s really based on your hunting location and how you can best approach, hunt, and exit without alerting deer.

GRANT: In a lot of places it’s tough to get in during the morning hunt. You may drive right through the middle of the property or you’re going right by the food source or bedding area, and you’re gonna alert deer before they get to your hunting location.

GRANT: In the afternoon, during the midday – especially in the pre-rut, not the rut – deer are bedded down. You kind of think you know where they are, and you can skirt that so your scent’s not going in there. Get at your hunting location and then let the deer come to you.

GRANT: In summary, at least for me, if I’ve got a location I know I can get to in the morning without alerting deer, I prefer morning hunts. It just seems to take a little longer for the heat to come up. Where in the afternoon it can be hot, hot, hot, and then cool off right as the sun starts going down. I think you can probably hunt a few more hours effectively – average weather conditions – in the morning versus the afternoon. But that afternoon peak – boy, that last 30 minutes or hour before dark – that can be a great time to be in the timber.

GRANT: The pre-rut is one of my favorite times of year to hunt. The reason is simple. Bucks are pretty much still on a food-cover-food-cover pattern. If you’re hunting the home ground, you get the home stadium advantage. You probably know where those travel corridors are. You can get in there.

GRANT: During the rut, gosh, bucks are willy-nilly. They’re just following their nose. And that’s a great time to schedule a travel hunt. You don’t necessarily need to know the habitat quite as well. Get to where you’ve got a good view, a lot of deer sign in the area. There’s a good chance a buck is gonna ramble by.

GRANT: Using the knowledge shared by deer researchers is a great way to have a better opportunity to punch some tags, and we share a lot of those findings on our social media.

GRANT: Hey, I hope you take time to get outside and enjoy Creation. But most importantly take time every day to be quiet and listen to what the Creator is saying to you.

GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.