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Whether you hunt in the Northeast or Midwest, around this time of the year you will often hear hunters begin to talk about seeing the “second rut.” Scrapes open up, and like in early November, bucks can be seen dogging does.
This is all true, and this time of the year can be very successful for those braving colder temperatures. But to fully take advantage of this “second rut” you have to realize two main things:
1) Realize it is really a continuation of the primary breeding season, and not a “second rut”
2) Understand what is driving this rut activity that may help get your tag on a buck in the late season
This group of bucks got into some serious sparring in the latter part of December. This type of activity sparks hunters to talk about the "second rut" kicking in.
The easiest way to describe the “second rut” as an extension of the main breeding season is to talk turkey. What? I know, it seems very confusing, but if you hunt spring turkeys, then you probably know what I am talking about.
Each spring, there is a main peak in gobbling activity around the highest breeding activity. Then, later in the season, there is a second prominent – but smaller – peak in gobbling activity when hens that lost their nests to weather or predators become receptive again. So how does this relate to the “second rut” with deer?
Just like gobbling activity, peak rutting activity – chasing, response to calls, etc. – occurs in and around the peak breeding season. Several weeks to a month after this occurs, hunters will begin to describe seeing a “second rut.” There are two main causes for this.
The first is any doe that was not bred, is coming back into estrous about 29 days after she initially came into estrous. Not bred doesn’t always mean no buck tended to her, it could mean that the breeding was just simply unsuccessful. This happens quite a bit, but in herds with extremely skewed buck-to-doe ratios (in favor of does), bucks can simply miss does because they are occupied with other available partners.
This doe stops and checks a licking branch. Although deer use licking branches year-round and not just during the rut, there is a chance she was getting ready to come back into estrous after an unsuccessful attempt a month earlier.
Although a low percentage, the other cause of the “second rut” is the entrance of doe fawns into estrous. Although reports can vary, as little as two percent to as many as 50 percent of doe fawns can come into estrous during the season. Not all will be successfully bred, but the pheromones released by the doe fawns are what will drive the bucks crazy … again.
The most common areas to see this type of behavior is where fawns are born in the late spring or very early summer, and nutrition is of great quality. Doe fawns will need to reach a critical live weight, typically 65 pounds, in order to be bred successfully. Though outliers occur, this is the most likely threshold.
The “second rut” should not affect your strategy for the late season, especially when temperatures begin to drop. Hone in on the best food sources, and not only will you find the does and fawns, but you will find the bucks regardless if a “second rut” is occurring.