I’m sure you’ve heard the term “second rut” during conversations with other hunters, while watching your favorite outdoor-TV show, by thumbing through hunting magazines or browsing online forums. Obviously, a second rut during a single season is too good to be true, isn’t it?
Is There Actually a Second Rut?
Does a second rut really exist? While December breeding happens every year, I wouldn’t distinguish that behavior as a separate rut, per se. In my opinion, it’s simply a less-intense continuation of the primary rut.
Quality Deer Management Association founder Joe Hamilton agrees. “Labeling it as a second rut means something stopped and restarted, but that just doesn’t happen with regard to whitetail breeding,” he said. “Rather, it’s a continuation of the breeding season with peaks occurring at somewhat regular intervals — approximately one month apart.”
Hamilton also said that does can have multiple estrous cycles, a major reason why breeding extends into December and beyond (in some regions). “Does are seasonally polyestrous, which means their estrous cycles begin in autumn across most regions, and can repeat as many as five or six times until they breed and conceive,” he said.
Doe fawns also can become part of the extended-breeding mix. “Doe fawns breed in the Northeast and Midwest when they reach 70 pounds,” Hamilton said. “In the Southeast, some doe fawns breed in January or early-February, even if they haven’t reached breeding weight. In regions where breeding begins in October or November, some adult does are entering their third or fourth estrous cycles by the time doe fawns reach their breeding weight.
“The second rut — technically the second peak in rutting behavior — may be in response to does not being bred during their first estrous cycles, and/or does entering it late,” Hamilton continued. “It must be emphasized that whitetails breed in the U.S. from mid-July (Southcentral Florida) through late-February or early-March (some portions of the Florida panhandle and Alabama). However, most whitetails breed in October and November, with some activity occurring well into December.”
Regarding buck activity, the second peak in breeding is far less intense than the first, particularly on pressured turf. You’ll rarely see bucks cruising throughout the day as you did in early to mid-November. Hunting pressure from firearm seasons has the real big boys moving primarily after dark, unless a cold front pushes them to food sources. December buck movement consolidates to a very narrow period, so all-day sits aren’t nearly as productive as they were during the first estrous cycles when bucks ran rampant.
In areas practicing QDM, Hamilton believes the second breeding peak is an excellent time to target bucks. “It’s been my experience that peaks in breeding following the initial one are extremely exciting with regard to buck behavior,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for more than one buck to pursue an estrous doe. Because most does have already bred, remaining estrous does draw serious buck attention.”
How to Hunt the Second Rut
So, what’s the secret to hunting the second breeding peak often dubbed the “second rut?” The answer varies by region, but in general, food sources active with does are a best bet. Bucks lose substantial weight while dogging does during the first estrous cycles, and once the first breeding peak has passed, bucks buckle down on groceries to prepare for winter.
One example of hunting a food source successfully during the second breeding peak comes to mind from the wind-swept fields of North Dakota. On December 16, 2006, I was hunting a private parcel, and had 40-some deer around me throughout the evening. I was quite surprised to hear several does estrous-bleat while bucks nudged them around. It wasn’t the full-throttle action you’d see in November, but it made my mid-December outing incredibly exciting.
About half an hour before dark, I spotted a heavy-duty 9-pointer with a split G2 heading in my direction. He soon locked antlers with another buck. The battle was short-lived, and the 9-pointer continued his course. Before I knew it, my arrow blasted through him. The hunt was a real thriller, perhaps more so than most November hunts I’ve experienced, proving Hamilton’s claims that subsequent breeding peaks can produce quality bucks, especially when buck-to-doe ratios are regulated.
It’s not uncommon for mature bucks to paw scrapes again toward the end of November and through most of December. Scrapes that laid idle during the initial breeding peak often get a second round of tilling. On unpressured private land, hunting near active scrapes could get you a shot, but nocturnal visits are normal on public land or pressured private land. All factors considered, I believe food sources are the best bet.
Just Go for It!
Regardless if you’ve ever encountered a secondary breeding peak in the area you hunt, productive hunting can be had in December. You probably won’t bang in a buck with rattling antlers or catch a monster running across a wide-open field at noon, but you won’t know what is happening out there if you don’t go.
If you haven’t filled your buck tag yet, why not hunt? Get out there and see what there is to see. Comment below if you’ve ever experienced a secondary breeding peak occurring at the end of November or into December.