By John Trout, Jr.
Major misconceptions surround the second rut.
Deer hunters know the second rut provides a second chance. You know how the second rut works: A doe comes into estrus about a month after the peak rut. The bucks go on a rampage and the hunter once again takes advantage of a rutting buck’s mistake.
Well, that’s what some of us would like to think happens. But not so fast. As they say, “There’s more to the story.” Granted, I wish it worked that way. However, major misconceptions surround the second rut and its impact on deer hunting. It doesn’t compare to the first rut. Moreover, if it did, even fewer bucks would ever see their second birthday.
Understanding the Deer Breeding Cycle
Like the peak rut, we know that the timing of breeding also governs the second rut. Meanwhile, the bucks are always ready. Nevertheless, what percentage of mature does will come into estrus a second time? If you are thinking one-third, or maybe one-fourth, think again.
It’s true that if a mature doe doesn’t breed the first time she comes into estrus (usually during the peak rut), she will cycle again about four weeks later. Unfortunately, very few mature does don’t breed the first time they come into estrus. In fact, even if very few bucks are around, you can bet that 90 percent or more of the mature does are impregnated by the time the second rut begins. They won’t come into estrus again.
In reality, breeding doe fawns trigger the second rut. A portion of healthy fawns and early- born fawns will come into estrus. In one study of pen-reared deer that were consistently fed high-protein nutritional food, about 1 in 5 doe fawns bred their first year. A few bred during the peak rut, but most doe fawns bred several weeks later, initiating the second rut.
Timing the Second Rut for Deer Hunting
Knowing when to hunt during the late season – when to take advantage of the second rut – is downright difficult. You cannot count on the second rut to occur one month after the first rut. Any mature does that didn’t breed the first time would come into estrus at that time, but don’t count on them to trigger the second rut.
In the Midwest where I hunt, I have seen fawns come into estrus a month, and sometimes two months after the peak rut. Although the peak rut is usually around November 12 where I reside, the second rut occurs anywhere from December 10 through the middle of January. Surprisingly, it could occur on more than one occasion – several weeks apart.
In all reality, the second rut is hit-and-miss. In other words, you could see a buck in pursuit of a doe four weeks after the peak rut. Avid late season deer hunters might see it happen again a few weeks later.
With that in mind, let’s just say that you can’t assume when more breeding will occur once the first rut ends. But that’s not the worst news. The second rut is less intense and could occur without you even knowing. The second rut is sometimes no more than a flurry of action, because there are few unbred does to trigger it. If you don’t sit in the right spot at the right time, you would swear that no second rut occurred.
Fresh Rubs and Scrapes For Late Season Deer Hunting
If I have a tag to fill, I hunt consistently during the late season with bow and arrow and during the muzzleloader season. Conditions are typically harsh and bucks difficult to find.
Such was the case a few years ago as I sat perched in a huge maple tree along a trail where buck sign had nearly vanished. Out of nowhere, a doe fawn skirted past me with three bucks on her tail. Although the last buck was a huge 8-pointer in easy bow range, they passed by so quickly that I never even had a chance to draw the bow.
The following day I returned to the stand hoping the doe would still be around. She wasn’t, but I discovered two new rubs and several fresh scrapes.
Although bucks leave very little telltale sign during late season, it could all change if a breeding doe shows up. Once a flurry of action begins, some bucks are prompted to produce scrapes and rubs almost anywhere.
My point is that fresh rubs and scrapes found during the late season often provide indication that second rut activity occurred. If you locate such an area, I suggest you set up and hunt nearby. Does that come into estrus usually don’t travel far, and they will likely have a buck, or bucks, near them for the next 24 to 36 hours.
Summing Up the Secrets to Deer Hunting the Second Rut
- Most mature does are already bred when the second rut comes.
- The second rut means some healthy and early-born doe fawns are entering estrus.
- The second rut is less intense, and sometimes only a brief flurry of action.
- Fresh late season rubs and scrapes might signal breeding interest of bucks.
The second rut is similar to a thief in the night. Blink and you could miss it. Then again, if you are on stand in the right location, the second rut might just pay off.
Southern Indiana hunter John Trout, Jr. is a full-time freelance writer and photographer specializing in whitetail deer, wild turkey and black bear. He has authored eight books and his work has appeared in nearly every publication in North America. You’ll enjoy a visit his website at www.troutswildoutdoors.com.
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