If there’s one thing hard-core deer hunters focus on, it’s when bucks tend to be most visible as they search for does to breed – a time known as the rut.
What many hunters may not grasp is does, the female segment of the deer population, play as important a role in the rut as bucks.
“The rut is really the breeding period when bucks are searching for and breeding with does that have come into estrus or are ‘in heat,’ as it is more commonly known,” said James Kelly, assistant Deer Management Program coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission (FWC). “With bucks, the rut begins with the decreasing photoperiod or periods of daylight, which triggers certain hormonal changes, including increased testosterone.
“In turn you see bucks developing hardened antlers, establishing dominance among themselves via behavioral cues or through signposts such as scrapes and rubs. As things progress, they actively begin searching for does to breed.”
Kelly said during the peak of the rut is when the large majority of does come into estrus. Bucks are able to pick up on behavioral and olfactory cues (or scents) from the does to sense when a doe is in estrus. During this time, bucks, particularly larger, older, dominant bucks that are seldom visible, do the unexpected and are apt to show up anywhere in their search for does to breed. It’s also when many of the larger bucks are taken by hunters.
It’s also when bucks are most responsive to vocalization calls that hunters use, including grunt calls and rattling antlers, which simulate a fight between mature bucks. One of the relatively newest calls on the market for deer hunters is the “snort wheeze,” a sound that dominant bucks sometimes make during the rut.
“These are all sounds bucks hear from other deer or themselves when there is competition to breed a doe or for dominance status to breed estrous does in the near future, and that’s what makes them effective,” Kelly said.
Unlike some states whose peak rutting period is within a short time span, that’s not the case in Florida. Bucks begin rutting in south Florida in August and the peak rutting dates are later as you move up peninsular Florida, including the panhandle.
Kelly said FWC staff have spent considerable time over the past several years collecting and posting updated “peak of the rut” dates and information on the FWC website, MyFWC.com/Deer.