The Chess Game of Rut Phases

The Chess Game of Rut Phases
Every phase of the rut is unique, which takes hunters through a roller coaster of activity. This buck in Missouri was never seen until the “clean-up” phase. Unfortunately the author was not in the stand above it! (Jeremy Flinn photo)

For many areas of the whitetail’s range, there isn’t a more magical time to be in the woods than November. Fall has set in and colder temperatures meet your face as you walk out of the house in the mornings. But more than either of those, the whitetail rut is on.

We often use the term “rut,” and commonly relate it to the breeding season. This is partially true as breeding does occur during this timeframe, but more often what we call the “rut” are the activities before and after the peak breeding dates for a region. These “rut phases” are what get our blood pumping every November.

This year, to increase your success in the stand, make sure that you attack each phase of the rut independently. Ultimately, the encounters you have may not be as luck-driven as you originally thought.

Cruise Phase

The first sign of things starting to ramp up, the “Cruise Phase” is not necessarily the most exciting time of the rut, but it can often be the most successful. This is mainly because bucks are relatively predictable in their behavior. Scent checking scrapes during daylight hours for the first time all year, the opportunity to get on a target buck is pretty good. Trail cameras can be one of your greatest assets, allowing you to determine the time of day he is passing through. Scents/lures, rattling and grunting can be extremely effective during this phase as bucks are anticipating the first doe to come into estrous.


Chase Phase

Likely my favorite seven to ten days to be in the woods each year. The “Chase Phase” is the time in which that giant could appear out of nowhere, crashing through the woods, hot on the trail of a doe. This is the phase when most hunters say “the rut is on.” But in all actuality, the breeding in the herd is just beginning. This phase usually has the most activity level because the number of receptive does is relatively low. You may even see numerous bucks trailing a single doe. Every day of the chase phase, more and more does will begin to become receptive. The best times are still typically the first few hours of the morning and evening, as bucks are scent-checking feeding doe herds.


Peak Breeding/Lockdown Phase

Though you might think this is the time to “be in the woods,” activity begins to decrease during the peak breeding phase. In fact, it can often be referred to as the “lockdown phase” as many bucks are locked down with a receptive doe for 48 to 96 hours at a time, often with very little movement. However, this is also when you can catch a monster cruising at any hour of the day. The moment his time ends with one doe, he is on the search for another. Though it may not be constant excitement, all-day sits can pay off huge for those with patience.


Clean-Up Phase

Does that were not successfully bred or missed, will recycle in 28 days. As they come back into estrous, the activity of chasing can actually pick up. Scrapes “re-open” and bucks begin to look for receptive does. It’s often best to adapt back to the “Cruise Phase” strategies. Although by this time many gun seasons are open, and the hunting pressure overrides most of the natural movement.

The “Second Rut”

The best analogy for the second rut is actually spring turkey season. The first big peak in gobbling activity is around when most hens are available to be bred. However, massive predator populations often cause hens to lose their first nest. They will then come back available for breeding, causing a second, smaller peak in gobbling activity.

Whitetails are very similar. Though some of the so-called “Second Rut” is actually caused by doe fawns reaching a critical weight to be receptive, the most likely is does that were not successively bred. Does will recycle into estrous 28 days later on average, and because it is long after the “Clean-up Phase” ends, it gives the impression of a second, less intense rut.


Although it covers no more than 30 days on average, the Rut is such a diverse time of year. It is critical to develop a strategy for each phase. For those lucky enough to harvest a buck early, they avoid the constant chess match between man and beast.

But isn’t that why we all hunt in the first place?

Recommended for You

 Several factors need to be evaluated before reaching a conclusion about what fly, lure or bait Trout & Salmon

How to Catch the Biggest Trout in the Stream

David Paul Williams

Several factors need to be evaluated before reaching a conclusion about what fly, lure or...

Try these tips to improve your wild boar hunting skill set. Hogs

Quick Tips: How to Spot and Stalk a Hog

Ian Nance - May 28, 2019

Try these tips to improve your wild boar hunting skill set.

Now that you know you might screw it up the next time a big fish bites, let's fix it. Fishing How-To

Why You'll Lose Your Next Big Bass

Larry Larsen

Now that you know you might screw it up the next time a big fish bites, let's fix it.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

New Spinning Reel for Finesse Fishermen

New Spinning Reel for Finesse Fishermen

As Pure Fishing's Andrew Upshaw explains, reel making giant Abu Garcia has done it again at ICAST 2019 with a new spinning reel geared towards finesse fishermen.

Simms

Simms' Solarflex Ultra Cool Armor Hoody

John Frazier of Simms Fishing Products helps OSG's Lynn Burkhead understand the new features of the new Simms' Solarflex Ultra Cool Armor sun protection hoody.

Mustad Skatter Shad Bladed Jig

Mustad Skatter Shad Bladed Jig

As Mustad continues to expand into an all-around tackle company, Reid McKinstry shows off some innovative features that make the Mustad Skatter Shad bladed jig a winner in big bass waters.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? There's more to successful long-range Ammo

10 Best Long-Range Cartridges Ever Made

David Hart - January 14, 2015

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? There's more to successful long-range

Unless you live in Antarctica, the only continent they aren't known to inhabit, there is a species Catfish

10 Biggest Catfish World Records of All Time

Jack Vitek - December 08, 2014

Unless you live in Antarctica, the only continent they aren't known to inhabit, there is a...

North Dakota Game & Fish Department said the 16-9 walleye doesn't qualify for record. Walleye

Record-Sized Walleye Was Foul-Hooked, Agency Says

G&F Online Staff

North Dakota Game & Fish Department said the 16-9 walleye doesn't qualify for record.

See More Stories

More Whitetail

Use the latest gear to make your deer hunting dream a reality. Whitetail

Deer Gear: New Ammo, Accessories for Whitetails

Brad Fitzpatrick

Use the latest gear to make your deer hunting dream a reality.

Early season prep includes more than practice and tick protection. Find the mast in order to place the best stands. Whitetail

Follow the Mast to Find Whitetail Success

Bruce Ingram - August 06, 2019

Early season prep includes more than practice and tick protection. Find the mast in order to...

Modern optics are high-tech machines equipped with everything from onboard computers to thermal imaging cores and Bluetooth. Optics

High-Tech Optic Choices for Deer Hunting

G&F Online Staff - August 08, 2019

Modern optics are high-tech machines equipped with everything from onboard computers to...

See More Whitetail

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×