Those fall colors are starting to go on display. The days are getting shorter and the temperatures are beginning to drop. It’s the middle of October and all of us hunters are getting excited for that magical time in the whitetail woods we so long for. But before that time comes, we enter the time period known as the pre-rut. What is the pre-rut exactly and when does it officially start?
The pre-rut is the time period between when the bachelor group bucks separate, and the peak rut begins. Those groups of velvet clad bucks you were watching during the hot summer months have been hanging out in their social groups since spring. They have been bedding in the same area and traveling to the food source together. Essentially, they have been best buddies for the better part of five or six months. As summer comes to an end and the velvet begins to fall, that group of bucks turns from best buddies into competition. They branch off from their summer bedding and feeding areas into individual isolated expanses they claim as their home turf. This process signifies the beginning of the pre-rut.
The pre-rut is that timeframe where the bucks are starting to become active and begin to take inventory on the does in their area. Does are not quite ready for the breeding cycle to begin and continue with their daily feeding and bedding routines as they’ve done for months. The bucks on the other hand, are establishing their core areas and checking on the does as often as they can as the month of October closes in on November. Hormone levels in the bucks rise and you will begin to see the young bucks start to chase does. Now that their antlers have calcified, you might notice bucks sparing more often as they start to establish the hierarchy in the area.
How can you tell when the pre-rut starts in your hunting area? As I enter and exit my hunting stands each sit, I take mental notes of the deer sign, more specifically the buck sign, that I see on my travel routes. Typically, that sign will change dramatically in just a few days. I remember one season where I hunted consecutive evenings and walked the same access route both days. The first day, I noticed a rub on a tree that was typical from year to year. The very next afternoon, on my walk to that same stand, there were four new rubs on the field edge and three scrapes that weren’t there twenty-four hours earlier. I instantly knew that the bucks were establishing their home areas and the pre-rut had begun. Once you start to notice a dramatic increase in buck sign in your own hunting woods, you will know that the pre-rut has kicked off. It’s time to start implementing your pre-rut hunting tactics.
Pay attention to the deer sign, especially the buck sign, in your hunting woods. Once you start to see the rub lines popping up, it’s a sign that the bucks are marking out their home turf areas. A buck will make rub and scrape lines to let neighboring bucks know where the boundary of his domain is. Because all the bucks in the area will be trying to establish their own home areas, the number of rubs and scrapes that suddenly appear should make noticing them easy. This is a tell-tale sign that the pre-rut time period is underway.
What makes the bucks decide now is the time for the pre-rut to begin? I will leave the research and analysis on what determines when the whitetail rut occurs to a different article, but the timeframe of the rut has a direct correlation to when the pre-rut time period happens. Essentially, regardless of what philosophy you believe, the whitetail rut occurs around the same calendar date each year. Weather, moon phase, barometric pressure, etc. all might play a factor in what us hunters witness as the whitetail rut, but regardless, it’s happening around the same date every year. What does this have to do with when the pre-rut occurs? Just as the whitetail rut occurs around the same date each year, the pre-rut also begins around the same date each year.
When I check back on my notes from previous hunting seasons, I notice a trend around October 15th. My notes from the field always indicate the increase in both buck sign and buck sightings around this timeframe. Obviously, closer to early November the action really begins to heat up, but around the middle of October is when the pre-rut time period begins. The summer feeding patterns have faded, the temperatures are dropping, and the daylight is getting shorter. Depending on your exact geological location, this date could vary slightly. If you pay attention to the sign in your area and the deer behavior, you will know when the pre-rut has begun.
The pre-rut is that transitional time period between the summer feeding patterns and the peak whitetail rut. The key is to know how to identify when it has started so you can implement specific hunting strategies to take full advantage of it. The bucks will start acting differently, and the local does will begin to take notice. We all love hunting during the peak whitetail rut, but don’t discount the pre-rut action. A well-placed stand in a transitional area between bedding and the primary doe food source, can lead to some very exciting hunting. The pre-rut is starting across the country, be sure to get out there and enjoy it. Good luck!