Whitetail buck chasing during the second rut

Secrets of the Second Rut

AJ Gall 12.2.2016

Unfortunately, Sweet November is a thing of the past and so too is the rut, unless of course, you live in the south.  Those of us who are still left with a tag burning a hole in our pocket are now tasked with battling the cold and last light deer movement. Don’t fret just yet, the best hunting might still be to come.

How you ask? The answer is the SECOND RUT!

Unlike the rut, not much is written about the second rut.  It’s more or less a phenomenon many deer hunters like to throw around and discuss when talking about late-season hunting, but in order to truly hunt the second rut, one must first understand it.

When is the Second Rut?

Quite simply, the second rut occurs almost exactly one month after typical peak breeding.  For states and Canadian provinces north of the 35th parallel, peak breading typically occurs sometime between November 5th– 25th. Thus, the second rut is likely to occur between December 5th-25th respectively.

What Causes the Second Rut?

The second rut is put into motion due to one of two things.  First, you need to have does that weren’t bred on their first go-around.  Does that were not bred during their first estrous cycle, cycle again 28 days later causing another flurry of buck activity.  The second factor that will cause an onset of rutty behavior is fawns becoming receptive.  Fawns attain sexual maturity when they top a specific weight threshold.  In the south, this is typically around 70 pounds and in the north, they must reach approximately 80 pounds to become receptive.  There you have it, in order to experience a second rut, you must have healthy fawns and previously un-bred does.

Doe fawn during the second rut

Herd and Habitat Influencers of the Second Rut

1 – Fawns Reaching Sexual Maturity

Most hunters believe it’s 2nd cycling does that are responsible for the onset of the second rut.  While they certainly can and do, fawns play a much larger role than you may think.  In an article put forth by the QDMA, Kip Adams writes:

“Deer herds with access to abundant high-quality forage and light to moderate winters can have breeding in more than 50 percent of their doe fawns. Conversely, deer herds exposed to poor habitat or severe winters often have less than 5 percent of their doe fawns reach the threshold weight and breed.”

To sum things up, the better the deer habitat, the more likely you’ll be to experience a second rut.

2 – High Doe Concentrations

Like we mentioned in the previous point, most believe it’s the does that didn’t get bred during the first rut that are responsible for the second rut.  To be clear, this is not a false notion, but it doesn’t happen as much as one might think.  Let’s be honest, bucks are pretty darn good at sniffing out stinky does.

One reason you may experience a more intense second rut is if your deer herd is out of whack in terms of BUCK:DOE ratio.  If your area has upwards of two or three does to every buck, there’s a good chance some does get missed during the first rut, simply because there’s plenty of other does to keep the bucks busy.  This is the same reason the first rut may not seem as intense in areas with high DOE:BUCK ratios, as the bucks don’t have to travel very far to find a receptive doe.  The more balanced the herd, the more intense the first rut is, and the less likely a doe is to cycle a second time.  Bottom line, if you hunt in an area with high doe concentrations, the second rut could be even better than the first, as there’s less receptive does for bucks to find.

3 – Big Woods Country

Here’s something that doesn’t get discussed very often when reading about the second rut.  As you read in the first point dealing with fawn weights, habitat can play a large role in deer behavior and activity.  While the first habitat influencer dealt with the health of a deer herd, this one deals with the amount of cover available for deer.

Think of it this way, would it be easier to play a game of hide and seek in fragmented farm country with pockets of cover splattered across the landscape, or in a seemingly never ending block of timber? If I was the seeker (a.k.a. buck) looking for the hider (a.k.a. doe), I’d much prefer to look in the fragmented farmland versus the big timber.  In much of the Midwest, bucks can easily bounce from pocket to pocket scent checking for receptive does.  Thus, the majority of does are sniffed out and bred during their first estrous cycle.  Compare this to big timber country like you have in the Upper Great Lakes region, Appalachians, and Ozarks where it’s much more difficult for a buck to seek out a doe due to the vast amount of cover available, not to mention less deer in general for the most part.  Now you have a scenario where some does get missed during the first rut, and VOILÀ! You are in line for a more intense second rut.

Hunting the Second Rut

Over the next couple of weeks, doe fawns will be cresting the weight threshold for sexual maturity and un-bred does will be cycling for a second time, kicking off what is known as the second rut.  Focus on hunting areas where you noticed a lot of doe fawns feeding early in the year.  Unlike adult does, doe fawns usually aren’t yet smart enough to seek thick cover when they come into heat, thus, they continue their daily routine, which means hunt the food – a smart option whether there’s a second rut or not during the late-season.

Another advantage to hunting the second rut is you can be bold with your moves.  With less than a month left of the season in most states and provinces, you don’t have much to lose at this point in the game.  Maybe you were tinkering around the edges or only hunting the absolute perfect wind direction before, but now’s the time to roll the dice. Get aggressive and you just might tag out after all.


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