Kids, work, traffic… kids…
Is it getting more difficult to find time for that other passion — deer hunting? With our lives seemingly more busy each year, every opportunity to get out in the woods to spend a morning or evening in a stand is some- thing to be cherished. For those who just don’t have as much time to hunt these days, for whatever reason, picking the right week to dedicate time at the deer camp has become even more crucial to whether there will be meat in the freezer or a rack and cape for the taxidermist.
If you want meat, go when the white oaks are raining. But if it’s the rack and cape of a good buck you’re after this fall, there is no better time to be in the woods than the peak of the rut.
Well, in Georgia the timing of the peak of the rut is as varied as the habitats and geography of our diverse state. Here, the peak of the rut extends from early October on the coast to early January in southwest Georgia. There are also small pockets within the state where the rut varies from surrounding areas.
If you’re new to a club or you just aren’t confident about your own observations about the timing of your peak of the rut, GON’s Peak of the Rut map takes out much of the guesswork. This map shows the historical timing of the rut across Georgia. The timing and intensity of the rut often varies slightly from year to year, and in some years it can vary a lot, but the map is very accurate at showing the historical peak.
Most biological definitions of the whitetail rut include all breeding behavior, from pre-rut rubbing and scraping to breeding of does that come into heat a second or third time. Our map shows the peak time when older- aged, more dominant bucks are chasing does, and the map’s origins come from actual biological data of when does were bred in certain parts of the state.
The first Georgia rut map was developed by former WRD biologist Kent Kammermeyer, who used data from hunts on more than 20 state WMAs scattered across the state. These hunts took place late in the year when biologists were able to age the fetuses taken from does.
At GON we have recorded anecdotal evidence of rut activity for more than 15 years. Still, even with thousands of accounts of mature bucks chasing does, we are very cautious about making assumptions on the timing of the rut. Based on instances where mature bucks were seen actively chasing a doe, GON began to tweak the map — again, very cautiously. In other counties and pockets of counties, it was striking how many instances of mature bucks chasing does that GON had compiled. It was enough information that we began to make subtle shifts to the original map. Each season we continue to compile and collect accounts of mature bucks chasing does, but adjustments of the map are only made when we see an overwhelming trend in a certain area.
The huge variations in the peak times when does were being bred in Georgia is attributed to the genetics of deer that were restocked in the state in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Deer were brought in from Texas, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and North Carolina. These deer brought along their traditional breeding times.
The thousands of accounts of mature bucks chasing that we compile are broken out by county. This information showed something very surprising. In some areas where we had hundreds of accounts of mature bucks chasing does, year after year the exact date kept showing up, regardless if that day fell on a weekend or weekday when fewer hunters would have been in the woods. This specific-day information spawned the “Magic Day” points that are identified on the Peak of the Rut map.
We also try to keep up with new WRD data from biologists. Two years ago an entire new category was added to GON’s rut map. A WRD study that back-dated fetuses showed that peak breeding occurs in late December and early January in extreme southwest Georgia. More than 100 does were collected in Grady, Early, Baker, Decatur, and Thomas counties. The peak timing of does being bred in Grady and Seminole counties was found to be December 16-23. In Early County it was December 19-22, and in Baker County it was December 24. In Decatur County, the average conception date was January 3. In Thomas County it was much earlier, with the peak in late November. While the map shows the historical peak of the rut, hunters should be aware that the rut map is far from a magic bullet. A single doe might go into estrus long before the peak, and when she does, there will likely be a mature buck chasing her. On some tracts of land with high doe populations, many does won’t be bred and will come into heat again a month later.
When a doe is ready to be bred, a buck is going to go where the doe leads him. In many cases, a mature buck will lay up with a receptive doe for more than a full day, often in a thick area like planted pines, where he’ll never be seen.
There has been much speculation about factors that can negatively affect the rut. Although not scientifically proven, most hunters have seen that a poor mast crop (or lack of other foods normally available to your local deer herd) or hot weather can affect the timing and intensity of rut behavior. Bucks will still breed does, but chasing activity, which is what brings those mature bucks out and into the sights of hunters, is often diminished.
What will this fall bring? Get in a stand and find out!
There are no guarantees in hunting — thank goodness — but it sure doesn’t hurt to use the best available information to your advantage.