Tips to Help You Tag a Buck This Fall

Whitetail deer have been extensively researched because they are the most widely distributed and accessible large game species in North America. The largest bucks’ breeding instincts cause them to become more vulnerable and exposed as they disregard caution and travel during daylight hours; drawing attention to their sex life.

The timing of whitetail deer rut cycles is still widely speculated. Despite various philosophies being talked about, the photophase drive remains. Respectfully to those who believe in lunar phase theories If there are no unnatural intrusions into the world of Whitetail deer—the most productive and approachable type of big game in North America—we can keep track of time based on the timing of their individual estruses that have been widely researched. The attention is now on their intimate life since the most affluent ones are more prone to exposure and vulnerability while taking risks for daylight travels in order to fulfill their instinctual urge for breeding.

Many still wonder if whitetail rut cycles happen early or on time. With all due respect to those who adhere to lunar phase theories and despite the various philosophies being circulated. It’s the photo-phase drive. Allowing all things Whitetail to occur without man made impositions guarantees a reliable timing for each estrus.

The Whitetail Rut has 4 Key Stages.

Breaking down the Whitetail rut into four basic stages can help us simplify this admittedly complex subject. Knowing the motivations of deer during each season will certainly assist you in successfully tagging your next deer.

1. Seeking Phase of the Pre-Rut

Urine and glandular secretions include pheromones which signal breeding readiness. The hormonal scents left at these sites can be detected by other deer in order to identify which deer were present and their gender. In the pre-rut stage that comes just before most does enter estrus is when you can describe the seeking phase as a period lasting about two-to-three weeks.

If you ask hunters to explain this stage most of them will say that it is the time when young bucks become excited about breeding and start moving more freely during daylight while looking for does in heat.

The pre-rut is actually a far more extensive and elongated process than what many of us comprehend. During this second phase of the year bucks move throughout their home range and mark their territory while also taking inventory of does.

During late October when daylight hours shorten across most of the continent and bucks are prompted to prepare for breeding season they understand that does will soon be receptive. From about October 24 until November 8 or so—give or take a few days—is when the broadly defined seeking phase occurs.

Rut cycles determine the survival of each species. The process is as assured as the rising and setting of the sun. For bow hunters or those who live in areas with legal rifle hunting seasons, now is a fantastic time to be in the deer woods. Doe bleats and buck grunts along with rattling are responded to eagerly by bucks during the seeking phase. The best technique for stand or blind hunters during this stage when primary scrapes become visible in the last week of October is to locate themselves above one of these primary scrapes or in a recognized funnel or transition area adjacent to a heavily used scrape line. The commotion caused by light rattling and grunting along with doe estrus bleats can often attract younger bucks (and sometimes older ones) during this phase.

2. Chasing Phase, Still Pre-Rut

The pre-breeding period that follows the seeking phase and comes before actual breeding can be hard to distinguish at times.

To clarify: at this particular moment does are almost in estrus and bucks recognize that. Both young and older bucks scour the woods feverishly during the chasing phase and pursue does around checking them for breeding readiness. Their specific aim is to locate and service a doe that is in heat.

It can feel magical being in the woods at this time. To attract curious testosterone-driven bucks during the seeking and chasing phase where there are healthy buck-to-doe ratios using doe bleat calls along with rattling and grunting can be very effective. Under specific circumstances, a snort wheeze can coax a hesitant but driven buck within shooting range.

Your best strategy will involve locating and setting up over a primary scrape. These are the principal scrapes that both bucks and does in the region frequent often (typically daily), and they are double or even treble the size of border scrapes. During this chasing phase focus your efforts on a primary scrape again for improved chances of encountering deer.

Typically, from late October until the second week of November every year is when the chasing phase generally takes place in the Midwestern and Northeastern United States and Canada. In some southeastern states with different subspecies present, the timing can be delayed by four to six weeks. Although most of us can foresee that the search phase will occur during the dates spanning November 9 to November 13.

As scrapes are now the primary communication tool during this phase bucks and does increase their frequency of servicing them. This is the point where only select primary scrapes will be visited with high frequency. Your probability of encountering increases significantly if you locate one of these primary scrapes.

3. The Estrus, Peak Rut

For serious Whitetail hunters waiting all year long for the breeding phase or primary estrus period—the peak of the rut—is widely acknowledged. When buck movement breaks wide open like this is when the bucks start moving around. When does enter their mating season or estrus they become more open to the breeding attempts of enthusiastic male bucks.

The Whitetail estrus peak intensifies between November 14th and 16th across most of the continent. In Southeastern states with different subspecies of Whitetail deer being hunted there could be a hunting season variation of up to four to six weeks. For instance in several locations where I hunt the peak primary estrus usually occurs from the 12th to the 14th of the month. The variance may be a few days in other places. Deer trails may show the initial signs of estrus blood during this particular period.

We can expect bucks to travel around the clock in search of hot does, so effective hunt strategies should persist over primary scrapes and at major trail intersections. Having this in consideration as a priority hunt strategy involves establishing hunting setups on open outlines and right-of-way areas where bucks tend to cross through open spaces. This phase maintains high effectiveness for rattling and calling.

4. Lockdown Phase

During the breeding phase of hunting season the main challenge for hunters is that once a buck has found a hot doe he will remain nearby until she’s bred. Actually mature deer will physically hold the female deer. They’ll trail the doe in heat and keep them secluded.

During the breeding period the lockdown phase is more pronounced every day. Bucks appear to be almost nonexistent during this span of three to five days and their visible movements are abruptly halted. I watch this specific time happen every year without fail. The period clearly falls between November 17 and November 20.

The priority now is to move between feeding and bedding areas during the transition of early morning and late evening. Stand hunters must exercise patience since bucks without does will continue to search for females who have not yet given birth.

This time can also be an opportune moment to harvest a fully grown trophy Whitetail deer as the males tend to lower their defenses due to their top priority being breeding and searching for female deer in heat. They have a single aim of breeding without considering caution. During the lockdown period calling and rattling can work occasionally, but it is generally an ineffective process now. In case of snowfall those primary scrapes can sometimes even be left untouched since most bucks visit them less often.

Additionally, we contacted some of America’s top whitetail biologists. By going through several white papers and articles authored by prominent deer researchers from various regions of the country we arrived at our findings. These five science-based hints we devised will help you tag a buck this fall.

1. Key on the Buck Shift

Using trail cameras and reconnaissance, you should be able to find at least one large 10-point shooter and two or three great 8-pointers in your hunting region during the next months. During the season’s opening will the target bucks still remain?

Maybe, maybe not.

So let’s revisit the bucks that you have been observing. A few of them will still exist during the commencement of the season; however there is a 50% probability that the remaining ones may not be there. What is the extent of their potential travel distance? As per Woods’ statement the distance can fall anywhere between a few hundred yards and several miles.

Don’t sweat it if you hunt 1,000 acres. The bucks that shift will mostly remain in your area–just conduct more scouting after September 20th to locate their fall core areas.

The issue occurs while hunting properties sized between 50 and 300 acres as done by many of us. If a good buck on a small property shifts half a mile away it may move off limits to your property.

All is not lost if and when that occurs. During mid-September up to half of the mature deer might leave your spot. However, for this season many more bucks that summered elsewhere are likely to move in and settle on your property.

2. High or Low?

Dr. With GPS-collared deer as their subject and Wood’s expertise in bow hunting makes him conduct many movement tracking experiments.

Mature bucks tend to bed down just over the top of a hill or ridge which is usually on the east side. This is one interesting finding. It is probable that Woods’ statement results from wind currents typically coming from the west during fall. When a hill is met by an upward and westward breeze that swirls around its top creates an air cone. This air cone can pick up and spread scents all around.

Avoiding the top of hills or ridges with swirling air currents where bucks could smell him is something Woods does when setting up his bow stand. When positioning himself for optimal conditions to catch an old boy sneaking up or down from his bed he chooses the lower side of a ridge or flat area where the wind and thermals are most stable.

3. Best Weather for Big Bucks

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries had Dave Moreland as their Deer Program Leader for many years. After years of researching and managing deer in the scorching climate of Louisiana you acquire insights into how these animals handle the hot weather.

On hot days Moreland says that deer will be less active. Low energy expenditure means that the animals experience discomfort and only require intermittent feeding.

In previous years when Moreland had a few hours to hunt after work he would quickly climb into his best stand even if it was very hot. Not nowadays.

According to Moreland’s opinion hunting on a warm day is not productive as it spreads your scent in the woods and makes it easier for the buck to predict your movements. A big deer becoming more skittish can make it challenging to kill throughout the rest of the season.

4. Top Spot for a Camera

In addition to his Texas research projects Ellison has been carrying out trail-camera surveys on his Iowa hunting property for several years. His aim has been to locate the terrains and covers that mature bucks move best in while always thinking like a scientist.

He says that the location where they have captured the most images of mature bucks is where multiple timber drainages or fingers converge. Regardless of their size these funnels always have thick security cover nearby as a constant. To find bucks locate these spots and set up your cameras.

5. You Need More Stands

GPS tracking collars were fitted on adult bucks by North Carolina State University researchers to track the extent of their home ranges and core areas.

In September and October bucks’ home ranges averaged 400 acres but increased to 600 – 700 acres in November rut. Bucks beginning to roam extensively in search of does during early November has been well known by both hunters and scientists. It is therefore not unexpected.

The study indicated some noteworthy news: Big 8 and 10-pointers may occasionally get antsy and take part in “rut excursions,” wandering distances beyond their usual habitats ranging from one to four miles.

Expanding your hunting acres and increasing the number of stand sets can increase your chances of spotting and shooting a giant on the prowl. October welcomes your hunt for three stands situated on a vast terrain of 200 sweet acres near an AG field. When the boys start wandering on Halloween night and if you have proper access and permission granted to do so, keep the stands up but also put up three additional sets of decorations across your property.

You can rotate your hunting spots between multiple stands both old and new throughout November and into the December post-rut. As they broaden their travels in quest of does, your chances of running across a giant on a trip increase along with your chances of sighting a 10-pointer that may have crossed a neighbor’s property.

Captain Hunter is a seasoned hunting mentor with over 20 years of experience in the field. His passion began as a young man on trips with his father and grandfather in the Colorado mountains. Today, he shares his unmatched skills in survival, tracking, and marksmanship through his website CaptainHunter.com. When he's not volunteering with youth hunting programs, you can find Captain Hunter providing expert hunting tips, gear reviews, and answers to your most pressing questions. His decades of experience make him the trusted guide to help any outdoorsman master the sport.

Scroll to Top