Doe Activity During The Pre-Rut and Rut

During the rut does move shorter distances per day and concentrate their activities to a smaller portion of their range. But there is lots more...

It's often been said that if you want to find whitetail bucks you should look for the does. I've said it often myself, but so have many of the seminar speakers and writers I talk to at the shows, where we often see each other every year or two. So, it's probably good advice. One of the ways to find the any animal is to know what to expect it to be doing during the different times of the year. When it comes to whitetails that means you should know what to expect the does to be doing during their pre-breeding phase, their breeding phase, and their post breeding phase. Fortunately whitetail biologist John Ozoga and Lou Verme have done some research on doe activity, and I have been studying whitetails for 7 years.

During the pre-rut both bucks and does need to bulk up on protein and fat, enough of both to get them through the strenuous activities of the rut and the rigors of winter. So we can expect to find does at or near food sources. But, at what time can we expect them.

Time Of Day

During my studies I found that in October, which is during the pre-breeding phase in my area, most of my morning doe sightings occurred at or near food sources from 1/2 hour before sunrise to 1 hour after sunrise, with sightings from 1 hour before to 3 1/2 hours after sunrise. Most of my evening sightings were at or near food sources from 1/2 hour before sunset to 1 hour after sunset, with sightings from 1 hour before to 1/2 hours after sunset. This is fairly typical fall deer movement. Generally speaking, in the fall, deer move farther distances per hour in the morning than they do in they evening. Which is to say that deer are often in a hurry to get back to the security of their core areas when they leave food sources as the sun comes up, and they are somewhat leisurely as they move from their core areas to food sources as the sun goes down.

However, the movement times of the does changed as they began to come into estrus in November, which is also when the gun season opens in my area. During the breeding phase most of my morning doe sightings still occurred from 1/2 hour before to 1 hour after sunrise, with sightings from 1 hour before to 3 1/2 hours after. Most of my evening doe sightings occurred from 1/2 hour before to 1/2 hour after sunset, but I had sightings from 2 1/2 hours before to 1/2 hour after. Since the sky is often cloudy during the fall in my area I suspect that the earlier movement times of the does in the evening were a result of low light conditions (which make deer feel secure) and temperatures that were warmer in the evening than they were in the morning (which make deer feel more comfortable).

During the breeding phase Ozoga and Verme found that during the rut does move shorter distances per day and concentrate their activities to smaller portion of their range during the rut. They also found that during peak rut the does became more active, but they tended to stay in a small area. They concluded that during peak rut does walk a lot in small areas in an effort to attract bucks, this behavior ceased after the rut.

The researchers found that does became about 28 times more active than normal one to two nights before they came into estrus. They concluded that this increased activity in small area by does, prior to and during the time they are in estrus, makes it easier for the bucks to locate the does. It might also explain why bucks tend to cluster their scrapes in particular areas (such as doe core areas and staging areas near nighttime food sources). The researchers also concluded that if a doe is not locate by a buck by the time she is in estrous, she might begin to wander a lot in order to find a buck.

I can attest to the fact that does often hang out in a small area. In 1997 I watched a doe with two fawns hang out near what I called the "Big Scrape" under a red oak tree for three days. I often saw her at sunset, urinating within 30 yards of the scrape, until a big 8 point buck found her one evening. He chased off her fawns and then went after the doe.

During my studies I found that in December, which is after the breeding phase in my area, most of my morning doe sightings occurred from 1/2 hour before to 1/2 hour after sunrise, but with sightings as late as 4 hours after sunrise. I suspect that this late morning movement was again due to cloud cover, and temperatures that were warmer later in the morning than earlier. Some of this late morning movement was also probably a result of less forage, which caused the deer to spend more time looking for food. Most of my evening doe sightings occurred from 1/2 hours before to 1/2 hours after sunset, with sightings from as early as 1:30 in the afternoon (3 hours before sunset). These early evening doe sighting were correlated with cloud cover and warmer daily temperatures, suggesting the does moved when they felt secure in low light conditions and when they felt comfortable in warmer afternoon/evening temperatures.

The Weather

What you see in your area may differ from what I have seen. As you may have noticed, the weather has a lot to do with daily deer activity. If you hunt deer north of the Iowa/Minnesota State line the deer may be accustomed to warmer temperatures than the deer in my area are. If you hunt deer south of the Iowa/Minnesota State line the deer maybe accustomed to warmer weather. Depending on where you live they may also be accustomed to more or less precipitation or snow, cloud cover, humidity, wind, windchill or heat index. Generally speaking deer often move later in the evening when it is hot, or when there is a clear sky. They often move earlier in the evening when there are cloudy skies or fog, when there is light precipitation or snow, or when it is cold.

What you need to do is figure out what the deer in your hunting area will do under the weather conditions in that area, by keeping a daily log of dates, times of deer sightings, sex of deer, and weather conditions. An easy way to figure out what the deer where you hunt will do is to use my Daily Deer Movement Indicator. To use the Indicator you check the local weather conditions 1-4 hours before you plan to hunt, then mark the scores of the several different conditions on the chart, and add them up. The chart then tells you weather or not it is a good day to hunt, and where to hunt, depending on what kind of a day it is.

The Rut

Obviously when the rut occurs affects how does act in the fall. If you want to know when the peak of the rut in your area occurs, call your state deer researcher or state deer specialist, not the local conservation officer. They should know when peak breeding occurs. If they don't know you can get my Rut dates Chart, it gives the timing of the rut, and peak rut dates for most states and provinces. Remember that the pre-breeding phase usually starts 2-3 weeks before peak breeding.

From the 44th to the 48th parallel the deer may begin to breed as early as the first week of September (with peak breeding anytime in November, depending on where you are. Form the 40th to the 44th parallel the deer may begin to breed as early as mid-September; in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa October 15, with peak breeding around the second week of November). From the 36th to the 40th parallel the deer generally begin breeding earlier and earlier, but peak breeding may occur later and late, because of the long summer weather.

Hunting Pressure

Hunting pressure also affects when and where deer (including does) move. Early gun seasons (like Minnesota's) tend to take out many of the bucks, which results in a lower buck to doe ratio of the deer herd, which results in later, less intense, and longer breeding seasons. Wisconsin and Iowa may have an earlier, more intense and shorter breeding season than Minnesota, because their gun seasons are traditionally held after peak breeding.

Age

Young bucks often come in to breeding condition late than older bucks, which results in the does often coming into estrus later. Any doe that is stressed, whether from old age, or by having several fawns (2-3) to provide milk for may come into estrus later than younger does or does with 0-1 fawn. One study in Minnesota shows that 1 1/2 year old and older does come into estrus from mid-October to late November; fawns come into their first estrus about the first week of November, peak during the third week of November, with breeding continuing until late January.

Nutrition

Nutrition affects when all deer come into breeding condition. When deer herds are too large for the carrying capacity of the habitat (like some areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin) they deer may be nutritionally stressed, which can also result in a later, less intense, longer breeding period. If agricultural crops or acorn production is down in area, or if it has been too hot, too cold, too wet or too dry, the deer maybe nutritionally stressed. In one study, when acorn production was low, it resulted in less rubbing/scraping behavior by bucks, which could result in does coming into estrus later, with a less intense and longer breeding phase than normal.

Conclusions When you are trying to find the bucks by finding the does you need to take into account the habitat conditions for that year. Consider how the habitat conditions will affect the timing of the rut, when the pre-breeding phase and breeding phase may occur. Next, figure out where the does will feed, rest and water. Then look for abundant and preferred food sources to find the does. Then figure out what time the does should be active based on the weather conditions each day.

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