October 17, 2023
Our Regional Rut Update team of Doug Howlett, Daron McDougal and Josh Honeycutt asked experts from each region for their input on when the best hunting days are during the deer rut.
It seems like just yesterday we were sweltering beneath a brutal summer sun, yet here we are with the 2023 deer season fully upon us. Deer hunters along the Eastern seaboard are already in the woods with stick and string in hand (in some places for a couple of weeks now), and it hasn’t taken long for big bucks to start dropping.
The early season just prior to the rut is a great time to catch deer at their least wary. They are still on their fairly predictable summer feeding patterns, and despite the continued warm weather in much of the region, hunters working ag fields or food plots can find evening success just before dark as bucks edge out behind the does to feed.
While the fanatical hunters among us were chomping at the bit back in August and hit the woods running, fueled by trail-cam photos of tall-tined bucks, on the first morning we could sit a stand, the woods were still relatively quiet in terms of hunting pressure. But now we are marching into the final full week of October. The mornings are becoming significantly cooler, an evening chill settles over the landscape as the sun begins to dip a little earlier and bucks are beginning to prowl, challenging each other more for dominance and preparing to roam in wider ranges in search of those first hot does. As a result, the woods are about to become a little more crowded and we have to be a more strategic about being on the so-called “X” when the big boy shows up. That means being in the woods on the best days possible for the highest chances at success.
I spoke to some hardcore hunters and guides, including Virginia hunter Chase Windley, New Jersey outfitter David Sichik and New England hunter Michael Wheeler, and checked the buzz among guides across the region who’ve collectively spent centuries in the whitetail woods. What follows are the days they feel deer hunters need to be in a stand for the 2023 rut.
Oct. 27–28: The days are getting shorter and cooler weather is usually the trend across the region by now, not the exception. We are cruising hard into the time when deer activity really fires up and bucks are sparring and actively chasing those first does that have already come into estrus. With the full moon in October, called the Hunter’s Moon, on the 28th, you’ll still want to hunt your woods stands in early morning, because brighter woods mean bucks will be scraping and rubbing like crazy. I still like evening stands better during a full moon, but get there early. While there’s plenty of argument over the effect of the moon on deer movement, the consensus among those I spoke with is bucks are moving earlier in the afternoons. The best spots will be unpressured food plots or cut corn or soybean fields bordering thick woods. In more mountainous areas, hunt powerline rights-of-way or open paths where worn deer trails intersect.
Oct. 31: Sichik is a big Halloween guy, and not for the trick-or-treating. "It just seems like in New Jersey, we are seeing deer constantly on the go from about October 19 through the end of the month. After that, we start seeing fewer deer as more of them get locked down to breed," he said. "Halloween seems like that last big hurrah where there is almost guaranteed deer movement in the morning as well as the afternoon."
Nov. 7–8: Talk to enough experienced deer hunters and the majority will say the first week of November is when they want to be in the woods. It doesn’t matter if you are limited to a bow, can use a muzzleloader, or if you’re lucky enough to hunt somewhere the gun season is actually open (not many spots in our region), they say be out there. And there’s something to support that. More B&C trophies have been taken on these dates than any other. Leaves are dropping in the southern tier of the East and gone from the trees in the northern part, so the woods are opening up. Acorns are dropping, and while deer locking down to breed may be a concern in some spots, the activity in most areas is hitting fever pitch. Watch the weather; if a cold front coincides with these dates, call in sick to work or school and sit your best stand all day. Wheeler loves these days that fall toward the end of his favorite five-day stretch to hunt the northern woods (November 3 to 8).
Nov. 10–12: If I was only allowed to choose three days all season to hunt deer, these would be them. From Virginia up through much of New England, the rut is in full swing before a lockdown period becomes more widespread. These are days worthy of dawn-to-dark sits, though I typically change my stands shortly after midday, moving from acorn-laden wood flats and swamp edges in the morning to food plots or just inside field edges off a corner or point where deer like to enter the open in the late afternoons. Windley, who used to always take off the first week of firearms season in Virginia a week later, now takes this week off instead to make the most of the peak rut activity.
Nov. 22–24: Last year, Wheeler saw noticeable buck movement following the lockdown period in this window of time, which may be the true “last hurrah” of the rut period for the year. Does will begin congregating more as many have been bred, but this is a good time to catch a bruiser on the hoof trying to harass those final does that haven’t. Most gun seasons in the region are open now, too, which means more hunters, but also more hunters with a chance to score big. Even better, Thanksgiving falls right in the middle of these days, so most hunters will already have the time off to hunt. You may just have to push that big turkey dinner to after dark so you have the day for the deer.—Doug Howlett
The Midwest boasts the country’s finest deer habitat and annually produces dozens upon dozens of world-class bucks. Frankly, there isn’t a better place to hunt during the rut, and if you’re on social media and follow any hunting groups or pages, you’ll be reminded of that constantly over the next several weeks as a flurry of big-buck photos hits your newsfeeds.
While the entire rut can provide action-packed hunting, most successful deer hunters have a specific day or window of days that they absolutely won’t miss. Consider the following input from a handful of highly successful deer hunters.
Joe Conyers, who runs the Kansas-based outfitting business Conyers Outdoors, likes the first full week of November. He says his favorite time is during the first cold front after Halloween. "In our area, the peak rut is November 7 to 12," he says. "There’s more cruising activity before the peak, which gives hunters better chances at getting a good shot."
Winchester Deadly Passion’s Melissa Bachman is based in South Dakota but hunts several Midwestern states each year. She loves hunting anytime from late-October through mid-December. However, the stretch from November 6 to 8 is her favorite, she says, because big bucks seem to always be on their feet in the daylight and looking for that first hot doe.
"They are rut-crazed and can step out anytime," she adds. "I have great success with rattling and decoying. Regardless of the weather, I hunt from dark to dark on these days because new bucks can appear daily."
Ray Howell, founder of Kicking Bear Foundation, has taken more than 100 Pope & Young-class whitetails, and he loves the pre-rut in Minnesota and Wisconsin. In fact, the last full week of October is his favorite time to hunt. "When we get damp, rainy weather during this time, I try to hunt the very next day over a scrape line downwind of a bedding area," he says. "My second favorite stretch is about November 15 to 25. I’ve killed some giants during that window."
For Whitetail Heaven Outfitters’ Tevis McCauley, early to mid-November seems to be a good window. "Some of our older does in Kentucky and Ohio tend to come into heat in early November, which kicks everything off," he says. "My favorite days to have hunters out in Kentucky are normally November 11, 12 and 13. Those three days always seem to be wide-open, with lots of bucks breeding does and getting lured around by hot does."
He suggests that prime times in southern Ohio and Indiana tend to be just a little bit earlier. Another good day across the Midwest, he says, is November 7. "You’ll usually hear and see tons of crazy rut action every year on that day, from grunting and fighting to chasing and occasional breeding,” he adds.
As for me, November 9 is my lucky day. Over the years, I’ve taken a handful of bucks in different states on that day. I’ve also taken big bucks on November 10, 12, 13 and 15. So, if you ask me what the best 7-day stretch is to hunt the rut, I’m partial to November 9 to 15. I’ve encountered many more mature bucks during this window than any other period of the rut.—Daron McDougal
It’s hard to believe, but another deer season is in full swing, and soon the rut will begin. In some places, such as parts of Florida, it already has. So, it’s only fitting that we talk about the best days of the rut, according to southern whitetail experts.
Josh Raley of The Southern Way hunting podcast hunts in Georgia and Alabama. "My favorite days vary based on where I’m hunting," he says. "For my lease here in Georgia, I really like the November 10 to 17 window. November 13 is my go-to day for seeing bucks on their feet and some chasing activity. For my farm in Alabama, February 2 to 8 is usually really good to us. Looking back at past kills, we’ve taken a good number of bucks on February 4."
Whitetail Properties Land Agent Ben Richardson, also in Alabama: "The rut is interesting in Alabama because of the way deer were stocked here decades ago. The rut in different areas varies throughout the season. But on a specific property, the rut is basically the same time every year. In some counties, the eastern part of the county may see rutting activity one week and in the western part it would be weeks later."
Great Days Outdoors’ Joe Baya in east-central Alabama says that December 28 to January 18 are the best three weeks of the season. "That’s when it’s really going down at my place in east-central Alabama," he said. "The early part of that is more cruising, and the latter part is more chasing."
David Smith of Whitetail Properties in western Georgia said his preferred window is November 8-14; he hunts in Meriwether County.
In North Carolina, Whitetail Properties’ Scott Hick’s favorite window is Halloween to Veteran’s Day. "No matter where I’m at," he says.
Down in Texas, HuntStand marketing manager and big-buck killer Will Cooper has a favorite time period, too. "November 7 to Black Friday is my favorite time of year," he says. "Seems like our bucks are the most rutty then, and we can find them all over the place at any hour during the day."
Obviously, we can’t provide peak rut dates for every county in every state. The southern rut is far too vast in peak rut occurrences. That said, we’ll be reporting the latest information in the weekly Regional Rut Update through the end of November. We’ll offer real-time info on what’s happening in the rut cycle, and cover details on general deer behavior and patterns, too. Stay tuned.—Josh Honeycutt